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At What Age Does the Child Decide Which Parent to Live With in Florida?

Custody cases can be very complicated—especially if a child is getting along better with one of his or her parents. This raises an important question: When does a child get to pick which parent he or she lives with in Florida? The answer is there is no set age, and a child technically never has the unilateral power to make that choice. Still, the preference of older children—especially teenagers—matters. Here at the Law Office of Denise Miller, PA, our Stuart child custody attorney provides a comprehensive overview of key things parents should know about a child’s ability to decide who they get to live with in Florida.

Child Decide Which Parent to Live With in FL

Dispelling Two Common Misconceptions About Custody Law in Florida

  • There is a Specific Age When a Child Can Make Choices

False. While many states have a statutory age at which a child can give input in a custody case—usually 12, 13, or 14—Florida does not have any such guideline in place. There is no specific age in Florida. Courts can always take a child’s preferences into consideration if he or she is old enough and mature enough to give well-considered input.

  • A Teenager Can Decide Where They Live on Their Own

False. A child does not have the unilateral right to choose which parent he or she lives with in Florida. Even teenagers who are 16 or 17 do not have that right. Instead, Florida allows these children to give input. However, their preference is only one factor. It is not the only issue that matters.

Older and More Mature Children are Permitted to Give Input—and Courts Take it Seriously

As children grow older and exhibit maturity, their preferences and input regarding which parent they wish to live with can become an important factor in the court’s decision-making process. It is official policy in Florida, and it is an acknowledgment that is fundamentally rooted in the principle understanding that older kids—especially teenagers— are capable of expressing reasoned preferences that should be considered when determining living arrangements that will most benefit their well-being. As noted, Florida does not set a specific age at which a child’s opinion becomes relevant. However, as a general rule, 12 years old—or around 6th grade—is a good baseline.

The process of taking a child’s preference into account is handled with careful consideration by a court. There is a strong emphasis placed on ensuring that a child is able to give any input in a safe, secure environment. Children do not testify in open court in custody cases in Florida. Even in a difficult dispute, they will generally only give input in the judge’s chambers. Still, a child does not make the final call on where he or she lives. A family law court in Florida is empowered to scrutinize the reasons behind a child’s preference to assess whether or not that reasoning is legitimate. Even if the child’s reasoning is valid, other factors still matter as well.

A Note On a Child’s Age: Age matters in custody cases where a child’s preference is at issue. While the specific circumstances of the case are always relevant, a Florida court is likely to give more weight to the preference of a 17-year-old than a 12-year-old.

Custody Matters are Resolved With Consideration to the Best Interests of the Child

Florida is a “best interests” of the child state. Under Florida Statutes § 61.13, custody —including matters relating to where the child will reside (physical custody)—is resolved with consideration to what is best for a child’s health, safety, and well-being. While the child’s input is valued and seriously considered, it is balanced against a comprehensive evaluation of all factors that contribute to the child’s best interest, including parental capabilities, the child’s relationship with each parent, and the stability each parent can offer.

It is a holistic approach designed to ensure that the decision on custody respects the maturity and autonomy of older children while also protecting them. For example, imagine that a teenage boy who was already struggling in school strongly preferred one parent because that parent provided little oversight. A Florida court could consider but ultimately disregard that preference on the grounds that the arrangement is not in the teen’s best interests.

Contact Our Stuart Child Custody Lawyer Today

At The Law Office of Denise Miller, PA, our Florida child custody attorney is a compassionate advocate for clients. Have questions about child preference in a custody case? We can help. Contact us today for a completely confidential initial consultation. From our law office in Stuart, we provide child custody representation to parents in Martin County and throughout the area.

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