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How to Florida judges determine child custody? P.2

In our previous post, we began discussing some of the factors Florida judges take into consideration when making child custody determinations. As we noted, the aim of any child custody and parenting time arrangement is to ensure that the best interests of the child are served. To that end, judges are given significant discretion in considering various factors that impact the children involved.

In addition to the factors already mentioned, judges are also able to take into consideration the moral fitness of the parents. This is an important issue, and one that can provide an occasion for airing of dirty laundry in court in contentious cases. Although Florida has abolished fault as a ground for divorce, fault—in the sense of moral failures that impact the children—may still be considered when determining custody.

In terms of fault, judge may look at things like chemical dependency, sexual addiction, criminal involvement, and any other moral issue that could potentially impact on a child’s best interests. The idea isn’t that a spouse should be punished for behaving poorly, but that children do not thrive in an environment where a parent is given over to morally reprehensible behavior. This is especially the case when moral failings involve physical and sexual abuse of the children. Unfortunately, the fact that judges can consider moral failings in making custody determinations also provides bitter ex-spouses a motivation to lie in court, and this can be an issue in some cases.

Of the various other factors judges may look at in custody determinations, we’ll mention one more: the wishes of the child. State law provides that judges may take into consideration the “reasonable preference of the child,” as long as the child has the “intelligence, understanding and experience” to express his or her own preference. Consideration of this factor can become problematic in cases where a parent intentionally alienates the other parent from the child’s affection or bribes the child into expressing a preference.

Child custody can be a particularly difficult issue for couples, and it is important to work with an experienced attorney regardless of the circumstances, but especially in cases where contentiousness reaches the points of presenting false evidence in court.

Source: Florida State Legislature, “2014 Florida Statutes: Support of children; parenting and time-sharing; powers of court,” Accessed Dec. 18, 2014. 

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