Divorce and custody cases can be extremely stressful for children, especially if parents cannot find a suitable compromise. In certain cases, a Florida judge will take into account the viewpoint of the child in order to ascertain how to protect their best interests. In most circumstances, a child's statements to his or her parents about the child's wishes, will not be allowed into evidence because those statements will be deemed, “hearsay.”
How much weight is given to the child's voice in the interview, however, is dependent on a multitude of factors. This is because custody resolutions must always protect the best interests of the child.
The very best way to give a child a voice in his or her custody case will be greatly determined by the age of the child, and whom did the child talk to about that child's feelings regarding the custody or parenting issues. In cases where a child is of “sufficient maturity” and has spoken to a therapist or other mental health care practitioner, the therapist who has counseled the child can testify and let the court know what the child wishes. Such testimony from an expert is an exception to the child hearsay rule.
Defining the Best Interests of the Child
Florida statutes specify ‘the best interests of a child' as frequent and continuing contact between the child in question and both of their parents. This is unless a parent presents a danger of physical harm, psychological harm, or emotional impairment. Evidence of this danger can be found in prior convictions of violent crimes and other dangerous behavior.
If this is the case, the court may appoint what is known as a CFI – a Child and Family Investigator. A CFI is a professional with specific training that must act as a neutral observer to effectively investigate the presence of a dangerous or harmful parent. They will often interview friends and family to evaluate the situation. More importantly, if there is a neutral parenting expert, that expert will interview the children and include the children's statements in the report to the judge, as long as, the child is of sufficient maturity to be able to provide input and an expression of opinions and feelings about the case.
Currently, professional evaluations are discretionary for family law cases involving allegations of domestic violence. However, if a party does not like the findings of a CFI, they may petition for a PRE or a Parental Responsibilities Evaluator. In this situation, parents may undergo psychological evaluation or testing in order for the court to reach a resolution. This process can be extremely stressful, especially if your parental rights are danger.
Gordon N. Shayne is an skillful family law attorney with extensive experience in this area of the law. He provides the insight and legal guidance you need to navigate every type of parental evaluation during a custody battle.
Factors That Affect Child Testimony
Rather than subject a child to the trauma and pressure of testifying in a courtroom and before their parents, a judge will most likely conduct an interview in chambers in order to ascertain the best interests of the child.
Factors that may affect the weight given to child testimony include:
- Age/Maturity of the Child
- Condition of Relationship with Each Parent
- The Presence of Siblings
- Intensity of the Child's Preference
- Child's Apparent Emotional State
Protecting Your Parental Rights
There are many reasons a judge could choose to give a child's wishes more weight than the wishes of the parent. Protect your parental rights with experienced legal representation from Gordon N. Shayne.
Gordon N. Shayne specializes in Florida divorce and custody law and has over 40 years of experience protecting the rights of his clients. He is available to answer your legal questions about divorce and custody. Contact Gordon N. Shayne today to inquire about your custody situation and schedule your free initial consultation.
Disclaimer: The blogs posted on ShayneLaw.com are offered for informational purposes only. These blogs are not a solicitation for legal business and should not be construed as providing any legal advice or legal opinions as to any specific fact or circumstance. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of an appropriate legal professional. To obtain legal advice or opinions about Florida family law, personally consult with a licensed Florida attorney.