Can children voice preference in custody hearings?

One of the most important decisions to make in any divorce case relates to the matter of child custody. One bill introduced in 2017 in Florida offered the presumption of equal time in all child custody plans, but the governor vetoed the bill.

As for now, if the couple is unable to reach a child custody agreement, then the judge will make a decision. The judge will weigh numerous factors, including evidence of neglect, the parents’ moral fitness and the child’s school history. However, in some cases, the judge may ask for the child’s preference. The child may not always get what he or she wants, but the judge can at least take it into consideration.

Children do not have to provide preference if it is not essential

Many children are not comfortable taking the stand in a courtroom, so unless it is an emergency situation, the court will not force a child to take the stand. In the event the child does want to provide testimony, then the court will have the child undergo a mental health evaluation from a professional. This is to determine if the child is capable of voicing an articulate, mature opinion.

Some states have a minimum age requirement for a child to voice preference. However, Florida does not have such a law. That is why the evaluation is necessary.

It comes down to an independent decision

The child can have a preference, but the judge will need to determine if the child has received coaching from one parent. There is also the possibility the child wishes to rebel against one parent and will want the other, typically less strict, parent to assume a majority of responsibilities. Child custody involves an intricate process that varies on a case-by-case basis. It ultimately comes down to what the judge believes is best if the parents cannot reach a consensus.

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