Whenever a custody dispute involves young children, the parents or court will always determine where they will live. However, as children get older, they are likely to have stronger preferences in regards to where they live.
In Florida, judges may at least take these preferences into consideration when making their custody decisions. There is not any particular age at which courts must consider the child’s preference — it’s up to the judge to determine if the child has the intellectual and emotional capacity to have such input. A child must have a complete understanding of the ramifications of his or her decision, and must have enough experience with each parent to make a meaningful and fair decision.
Ultimately, the judge’s decision tends to come down to what appears to be in the best interest of the children in question. The kids’ preference is only one factor to consider, including but not limited to the following:
- Each parent’s demonstrated ability to raise a child in a healthy, stable environment
- The extent to which moving a parent would uproot a child from his or her school and community
- Each parent’s mental and physical health
- Each parent’s income
- Any evidence of physical or emotional abuse or neglect from either parent
Even if the judge does take one child’s preference into account and grants his or her wish, that decision only affects the child in question. If there are other kids, a judge has to make custody decisions independently based on each child’s needs. Just because a 15-year-old daughter wants to live with her father, for example, doesn’t mean her six-year-old brother will do the same.
For more information and guidance on how judges reach decisions regarding child custody, consult a dedicated Tampa Bay divorce lawyer with the Law Office of K. Dean Kantaras.