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6 Factors That Can Affect Child Custody Decisions
You may be wondering how judges determine child custody decisions in a divorce. According to Florida Statute §61.13, when establishing or modifying parental responsibility, the child’s best interests must be considered. To determine a child’s best interest, the court must evaluate factors that impact the interest and welfare of the child.
The statute lists 19 factors the court should consider when deciding what is in a child’s best interest. However, the statute also states that a judge may consider any relevant factor.
Six Factors Judges Consider When Deciding Florida Custody Cases
Six of the important factors that a judge considers when make custody decisions include:
Allegations of Abuse or Domestic Violence
Family courts take allegations of domestic violence or abuse very seriously in child custody cases. If a parent has a criminal record of abuse or domestic violence, the judge may decline to grant joint custody. If one parent accuses the other parent of domestic violence or abuse, it triggers an in-depth investigation of the allegations.
A parent who is facing domestic violence or abuse allegations should contact a child custody lawyer immediately. The allegations could have a negative impact on custody decisions—even if they are false.
Stability of the Child’s Current Home
When parents divorce, it can turn a child’s world upside down. Even when the parents part on good terms, the child feels the absence of a parent. Therefore, judges generally try to reduce disruptions to a child’s home life as much as possible.
If a child is in a stable home environment, it may be in the child’s best interest to leave them in that home. The judge may encourage parents to develop a time-sharing agreement and parenting plan that minimizes disruptions to regular routines and schedules.
Ability of a Parent to Meet the Child’s Needs
Florida uses child support guidelines to calculate the amount of financial support a parent must pay for their children. However, the ability to meet the child’s needs is more than just a financial responsibility.
A parent needs to be able to meet the child’s emotional and physical needs as well. The parent should demonstrate a willingness to participate in the child’s education, extra-curricular activities, and social life.
Meeting a child’s needs also means providing a clean, safe home. In addition, it means encouraging a close relationship between the child and the other parent and assisting the child in developing healthy habits.
Other Individuals in the Home
During custody deliberations, a judge will consider the individuals that reside in the child’s home, including extended family members, step-parents, step-siblings, and a parent’s partner. If there are allegations of abuse, neglect, or violence against the other people in the home, that could impact the custody decision.
Also, the judge may consider how removing a child from a home they share with close family members may affect the child’s emotional wellbeing. In some cases, it might be in the child’s best interest to remain in a home with step-siblings or other family members who have a significant role in the child’s life.
Allegations of Substance Abuse
Substance abuse may include alcohol and drug abuse. It is not in the child’s best interest to be in a home with someone who has an addiction or substance abuse problem. The risk of abuse, neglect, and other harm increases when substance abuse is present.
The Child’s Preference
The court may consider the child’s preference, which may carry more weight if the child is older or demonstrates a high level of maturity.
Judges are aware that some parents may try to manipulate children into stating a preference. Parental alienation may take place in highly contested custody cases. Therefore, judges must weigh all the factors together instead of merely accepting a child’s preference for custody arrangements.
Don’t Wait to Seek Legal Advice About Custody Matters
It is wise to seek legal advice about custody matters as soon as you contemplate separating from your child’s other parent. Custody cases can be some of the most hard-fought family law disputes.
Having an Orlando child custody attorney to advise you of your legal rights and the steps to take to protect your child’s best interest can help you avoid mistakes that could result in a less than desirable custody agreement.