Judge on the benchThis is the next post in a series of articles discussing how a child’s preferences about living arrangements may impact custody and visitation disputes in Melbourne, Florida. Our previous article addressed when the Court will disregard the opinion of a child in a custody dispute. Depending upon the age and maturity of the minor, the Court may defer to their preference regarding visitation so long as the Court agrees that the choice is in their best interest. When there is evidence that the child’s preference does not serve their best interest, a Judge may override their opinion. This article will address how one parent may challenge the other’s request for the Court to adhere to the child’s choice in a visitation matter. If you need assistance, contact our office to schedule a consultation with an attorney.

It is not uncommon for clients who are going through a divorce or who are already subject to an existing custody order to ask us whether a Judge will defer to their child’s preference regarding custody or visitation. Disputes over custody matters are already emotional and can be made more so when one’s child is expressing a desire to live with one’s co-parent. It may feel like they are “choosing” them over you. Many parents wrongfully believe that the Court will defer to the child’s wishes after they reach a certain age or otherwise do not know how to respond when their ex asks the Court to adhere to the child’s preferences. Like other custody disputes, it is possible to challenge such requests on a variety of grounds. First and foremost, the Judge’s analysis will focus on what outcome serves the child’s best interest. The Court will evaluate numerous factors to reach its final decision. While this may include the child’s preference, it will not likely be the most significant piece of information for the Judge to consider. The challenging parent should be prepared to offer evidence that the proposed arrangement is not in the best interest of the child. This may include information such as the child’s historical school performance, access to friends, family, and support people at the challenging parent’s home, availability of medical care, etc. In addition, if the requesting parent’s environment is somehow harmful or detrimental to the child, such information should also be presented to the Court.

Consider the following example. A father claims that his fifteen-year-old son wants to live with him on a full-time basis. The child’s purported rationale is that he would prefer to attend school in his father’s district which offers improved educational opportunities. The change would mean that he would visit his mother every other weekend, rather than spend half of his time with her as originally ordered. If mom can establish, using objective evidence, that the son’s choice is not in his best interest, then his preference may be disregarded by the Court. Suppose the mother presents evidence in the form of her son’s social media posts showing pictures of his new car bragging that his dad bought it for him in exchange for moving in with him and switching schools. Other comments indicate that he can’t wait to be free from his mom’s strict rules. Based on the obvious parental manipulation and poor decision-making, the Court would not likely modify the order as requested. How the Court will rule in each situation will depend upon the specific facts of the case.

When faced with a dispute over child custody, it is important to consult with an experienced attorney to evaluate your case and explain your legal options. Doing so can help ensure that your parental rights are protected. Contact our Melbourne office today to speak with a lawyer. If you need assistance, contact my office today to schedule a consultation. We also serve the cities of Titusville, Cocoa, Palm Bay, Grant, Valkaria, and Rockledge, as well as in the Indian River County areas of Fellsmere, Sebastian, Vero Beach, Indian River Shores, and Orchid.