Do Children Have a Say in the Custody Conversation in Florida?
The issue of who ends up with the kids after a divorce if often the source of dispute among parents. Emotions can run high, and there can be heated disagreements about child custody. In Florida, “child custody” has been replaced with terms such as “parental responsibility” and “time sharing”. Parenting responsibility is the decision-making component of the parenting plan, covering areas such as education, health care, religious upbringing, and extra-curricular activities. Time-sharing is the determination of how much time each parent spends with the child during the year.
In Florida, there are three types of parental responsibility:
- Shared Parental Responsibility: This is the most frequent arrangement and the one the state prefers. With shared parental responsibility, the parents must be willing to confer and make joint decisions regarding their child.
- Shared Parental Responsibility with Decision-Making: This is a variation of shared parental responsibility in which one parent has ultimate decision-making authority in certain areas. For example, the mother could have decision-making authority over education while the father may be in charge of health care.
- Sole Parental Responsibility: In this arrangement, one parent has sole authority over all decisions pertaining to the child. Sole parental responsibility is rare and only granted if the court believes it is in the child’s best interests.
There are also three types of parental time-sharing:
- Majority Time-Sharing: This is the most common time-sharing arrangement in which one parent has the child for the majority of nights during the year.
- Equal Time-Sharing: In this arrangement, both parents have the child for an equal number of nights. For example, a child may alternate weeks with each parent.
- Supervised Time-Sharing: This is the rarest arrangement and it is usually only implemented by the courts when either of the other two arrangements would be detrimental to the child.
Initially, parents are supposed to work out parenting responsibility and time-sharing plans among themselves. However, in hotly contested cases in which the parents do not agree, it is left up to the courts to decide. There are several factors that the courts take into account when they determine the allocation of parental responsibilities. These include:
- The willingness of each parent to encourage a good relationship between the child and the other parent, and to honor the parenting plan and time-sharing schedule;
- The emotional attachment the child has with each parent;
- The mental and physical health of each parent;
- The moral fitness of each parent;
- The child’s current living situation;
- The current parental responsibilities and level of involvement each parent already has in the child’s life;
- Any evidence of child abuse or domestic abuse;
- The preference of the child (if the court believes the child has the understanding, intelligence, and experience to render a meaningful opinion);
- Any other factors the court may deem relevant.
When do Children Have a Say in the Florida Custody Conversation?
Florida does not have an exact age in which the child’s preference is taken into account with regards to child custody. This is left to the discretion of the court. The judge decides whether a child should have a say in the custody conversation based on the child’s level of intelligence, experience, and understanding of the situation.
In some cases, the opinion of a child as young as 10 or 11 may be considered if the child is thoughtful, articulate, and able to meaningfully contribute to the conversation. Other times, the court may decide that the opinion of a 12 or 13-year-old should not be considered because they lack one (or more) of the aforementioned attributes. It is important to remember that, while the court can take the opinion of the child into account, it is one of several factors that are considered in making a final determination regarding parental responsibility and time-sharing.
Speak with a Knowledgeable Pensacola Family Law Attorney
Allocation of parental responsibility and time-sharing are very important issues during a divorce. When these issues are contested, it is important to have skilled legal counsel in your corner strongly advocating for your rights and interests. Crystal Collins Spencer, Attorney at Law, has over 30 years of experience representing clients in Florida for all types of family legal matters. Crystal is skilled and compassionate, and she understands the need to resolve child custody issues in a way that fully protects your interests and preserves delicate family relationships.
For a consultation with attorney Crystal Spencer, call our office today at 820-912-8080, or you may send us secure and confidential message through our online contact form.