When a Florida family court has to make decisions in a case which concern children, the court must make choices which are in the "best interest of the child." The court can look to several factors to evaluate whether a proposed parenting plan term or change is in a child's best interest. While figuring out what is best for a child may seem obvious to the parties, this can be complicated for courts. Here is some information to consider to help in understanding the best interest inquiry:
Florida law requires that when a family court is “establishing or modifying parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, which governs each parent’s relationship with his or her minor child” that it look to specific factors to decide if it’s action is in a child's best interest. The idea behind these elements is to allow the court to examine multiple facets of a child's life carefully. This can be through prisms regarding parental conduct, the child's needs, and the parent-child relationship as well as other elements.
For example, one of the factors looks at each parent's capacity to encourage and facilitate the other parent's relationship with their child, ability to honor the time-sharing schedule and be reasonable when changes are needed. The focus for the court is to see how cooperative each parent has and will be with each other and how much they will refrain from interfering with the other person's relationship with their child. Other factors examine how much a parent is willing to put their child’s first, the stability and safety they have and can offer their child, each parent's mental and physical health, as well as parental moral fitness.
The Child’s Preference
The court may consider a factor which includes “the reasonable preference of the child if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference." This does not mean that a court must consider what the child wants in every case. In fact, Florida does not specify an age when a child is allowed to express their preference in these matters. Instead, what this factor does is allow the court to consider the child's desires as appropriate on a case-by-case basis.
Abuse and Neglect as Factors
Abuse and neglect are issues which family courts take very seriously. The best interest factors specifically look at evidence of “domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought." If the court accepts abuse or neglect evidence of prior or pending actions, it must say in writing that this evidence was considered during its best interest evaluation.
Another factor which the court may consider is whether either parent knowingly provided false information to the court regarding “domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect." This is important because the inclusion of this factor expressly allows a court to examine a parent's untruthful allegations regarding another parent.
Ultimately, the court will have the significant latitude in looking at multiple aspects of the parent-child relationship, each parent’s behavior, the child’s situation, and their needs. While not every factor will come into play, the court will thoroughly examine matters in an effort to make choices which support the child’s best interest.
At the Draper Law Firm, we have family law attorneys who have experience proving best interest and know the most effective means to advocate for you and your children. Please contact us to schedule a free consultation. We invite you to learn more about our firm here.