When parents divorce in the state of Florida, there is a statutory process for deciding where a minor child will live. In most divorces, there is a time-sharing plan. Under a time-sharing plan, parents may split their time with their child equally, or one parent may have the child for the bulk of the time — it all depends on what is outlined in the agreement.
Unless there is domestic violence, abuse or neglect involving one parent and/or the child, parents retain a shared right to make legal decisions for the child, and both parents have the right to have sleepovers, vacation time and holiday time with the child. In some cases, the child may split their time equally between the parents’ homes, or the parents may take turns living in the bird’s nest residence.
Time-sharing (sometimes referred to as custody) plans should be based solely on the best interest of the child. If parents are not able to reach an agreement regarding time-sharing, the court makes a determination based on some standard factors, including:
- The specific relationship of the child to the parent
- The home environment of each parent
- The mental, physical, emotional and financial health of each parent
- The willingness of either parent to facilitate a meaningful relationship with the other parent
In some cases, the court will even consider the opinion of the child depending on their age and maturity. However, children do not testify in court except in very specific circumstances. This policy is based on the belief that testifying against one parent may be psychologically damaging for a child.
Should a child express a desire to live with one or the other parent, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to determine the child’s best interest. The guardian ad litem observes and interviews the parents and the child and any other relevant individuals, such as teachers, babysitters, friends and/or relatives. The guardian ad litem is the legal advocate for the child, and can present the child’s wishes to the court along with their recommendation.
If your child expresses the desire to live with your ex, speak to a family law attorney. There are many factors to consider, and your child’s current desires may not always be in their best long-term interests.