Almost all divorces require the couple who are parting to make difficult and stressful decisions. When those decisions impact on the children of the marriage, stress levels can rise yet further. In Florida, the court’s primary objective in divorce proceedings where children are involved is to act in the best interest of the children. The main issue to determine is where children will live and how much time they will spend with each parent. Historically, it was mothers who were more likely to be granted custody, with fathers awarded visitation rights. However, in recent years, the trend has moved towards a more equal basis of timesharing and responsibility for children. Unfortunately, parents cannot always agree upon appropriate timesharing arrangements, and it is on these occasions when the child’s opinion may be taken into consideration.
Influencing the court’s decision
In determining an appropriate time sharing plan, the court has a non-exhaustive list of factors that it is entitled to consider. One of these factors is the reasonable preference of the child. The court may consider whether the child is of sufficient maturity and intelligence to realize the impact of his or her choice. However, the Courts rarely allow such testimony to be presented by a child. The child's preferences and the relationship between the child and each parent may be presented through the testimony of a Court-appointed evaluator. In contested timesharing cases, the Court may appoint a psychologist or Licensed Mental Health counselor to perform a "Social Investigation." In such investigations they evaluate the parties, interview the children and other witnesses, observe interactions, etc., and may testify before the Court providing his/her recommendations for a timesharing schedule and what information he or she relied on to make said recommendation.
That being said, third parties and court intervention should be a last resort. The best solution, emotionally and financially, is for all parties, including the children, to agree on what works best for them and to present their agreement to the court for approval.
Discussing concerns about your child’s custody with a family lawyer experienced in such matters can help to clarify your choices. Heather Byrd of The Byrd Law Firm in Sarasota, Florida has more than 16 years of experience advising families on parental responsibilities and timesharing issues.