What say do your kids have when it comes to time-sharing in Florida?
The dynamics of family relationships are always unique to the particular combination of people in that family unit. With endless complications to and variations among parent-child relationships – and adding to the mix the parents’ relationship – when a family faces divorce, the appropriate time-sharing arrangements are not necessarily going to be obvious and may even be contentious.
When negotiation or mediation does not result in an amicable custody and visitation arrangement, the judge in the divorce proceedings has broad discretion to make those decisions after considering all of the evidence about the family situation in light of what is in the children’s best interests. A parent may submit evidence to support their position on what time-sharing should look like, including a proposed parenting plan that can suggest a detailed schedule.
What about the child’s wishes?
Florida law requires that the judge consider the “reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.” This is one of several factors the court must weigh in determining the child’s best interests when it comes to decisions about custody, time-sharing, visitation and residence.
The judge must first decide if the child is mature enough to express their reasonable wishes. If so, the child may want to live primarily with one parent, may not want to spend any time with a parent, might want a 50-50 split in time-sharing or whatever the child feels depending on the relationships involved. These preferences are important for the judge to consider – but not controlling – along with many other things that contribute to the child’s best interests.
Florida courts have recognized the stress and lack of privacy that testifying in court in front of their parents would bring for a child in this situation. It could be difficult to state a preference for one parent over another publicly. For these reasons, Florida courts prefer to have the judge interview the child privately in chambers (the judge’s office), but if the judge is going to rely strongly on the child’s opinion in making decisions, courts strongly prefer that the interview be recorded.
So, what is the answer to the question of what say will your child have about time-sharing? If they are sufficiently understanding of what is at stake and are allowed to express their feelings about life with each of their parents after the divorce, the judge must consider it as a factor in deciding what arrangement will be in their best interests.