What Factors Do the Courts Consider in Child Custody Cases?

Child custody is given top priority in cases of divorce by courts and parents alike. If you are dealing with child custody issues, it is crucial to have the strong legal representation provided by Orlando Family Team. We are committed to meeting the needs of our clients in Orlando and the surrounding area by serving their best interests and the best interests of their child. 

Our child custody attorneys have extensive experience negotiating and litigating child custody arrangements, and in getting them modified if necessary. We have a history of successful negotiations with opposing counsel to work out child custody issues in a way that satisfies all parties and we prefer to avoid the courtroom, especially when children are involved. 

Nonetheless, if your ex or soon-to-be-ex is obstinate, we are agile litigators with the tactical skills to take on difficult legal challenges. In and out of the courtroom, our track record of positive outcomes is impressive.

The Broad Range of Factors the Courts Consider When Determining Child Custody

Deciding which parent will have sole custody of a child, or whether joint custody is a workable solution, is a complex matter. It is also a momentous decision that will affect family members, especially the child, for a lifetime. Therefore, such decisions are never made lightly.

Evidence will be gathered by the court, and by our scrupulous child custody attorneys, to clarify the best options. There are a few different categories to be considered: the child’s health and safety, the existing relationships in the family and whether they are functioning to the child’s benefit or detriment, and the child’s own preference.

Though in most cases, Florida courts prefer joint custody arrangements that give the child two safe homes and the ability to spend approximately the same period of time with each parent, this is not always possible. When it is not, the following factors have to be evaluated before awarding sole custody and even, under certain circumstances, parenting time (visitation).

The Child’s Health and Safety

Primary to child custody decisions is making sure the child is safe from dangers (e.g. weapons, drug use, criminal activity, abuse, or neglect) and that his or her needs are met on a daily basis. This requires that the parent:

  • Has the resources to provide a safe and comfortable home
  • Is able to feed, clothe, and otherwise care for the child
  • Is physically and mentally competent 
  • Is morally fit to raise a child (as shown by absence of negative impact of the parent’s behavior on the child’s physical or emotional well-being)
  • Has no history of domestic violence or child abuse
  • Does not abuse drugs or alcohol
  • Demonstrates the ability to put the child’s needs above parental desires

Existing Relationships in the Family

The court will examine the nature of the child’s relationship with each parent, with siblings, and with other family members to determine whether:

  • The child has been living in a stable and satisfactory environment
  • Each parent is providing the child with love, affection, and attention 
  • Each parent is interested in and participates in the child’s education and extracurricular activities
  • Each parent is capable of disciplining the child in an appropriate manner
  • Each parent gives the child access to grandparents, other relatives, and friends
  • Each parent encourages and facilitates a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent

The Child’s Preference

The age of a child may be a factor in the court’s decision relative to child custody, especially if the child is an infant still nursing or at an early stage of development during which separation from the mother may be traumatic. Age also may be a factor in a child custody decision when it comes to taking the child’s preference of a custodial parent into account. 

While Florida courts have not established a set age at which a child’s wishes should be considered, it is commonly thought to be over the age of 10, depending on the individual child’s maturity level. In addition to the child’s own stated preference, which of course will be compelling, the court may also check into existing records of the child’s present reports from school, sports or creative activities, and/or healthcare providers or psychotherapists.

Another factor likely to be considered by the courts is whether the child has special needs or talents and, if so, how they are, or will be, best served.

What is a guardian ad litem and when does the court appoint one?

According to Florida law, a guardian ad litem (GAL) “shall be appointed by the court at the earliest possible time to represent the child in any child abuse, abandonment, or neglect” case.

It is critical that the child be kept safe from a neglectful or abusive parent. Still, it is also essential that the child be protected from a vindictive parent who unjustly accuses the other parent of abuse in order to gain custody.

For this reason, the court must, at times, appoint an objective advocate for the best interests of the child. The GAL’s report after investigation will definitely carry weight, particularly if other evidence has been inconclusive.

When Child Custody Arrangements Have to Be Modified

In addition to giving you excellent counsel when you are in negotiations to set up your original parenting plan, the child custody attorneys at Orlando Family Team are well-prepared to assist you in making changes to your parenting plan if and when they become necessary. No matter how well-conceived and implemented, a parenting plan can become inappropriate or obsolete due to:

  • Death of a parent
  • Evidence of child neglect or abuse
  • Conviction for a felony 
  • Endangerment of a child (e.g. arrest for DUI with a child in the car)

The courts are generally reluctant to take away parental rights and may require a combination of factors to modify a child custody order. For example, if a parent has been convicted of drug usage, that parent may have to submit to and fail at random drug testing before losing custody of his or her child.

Contact Our Child Custody Attorneys Now

Our legal team has the experience, know-how, and determination to protect your rights and the rights of your child. Whatever role you are playing in a custody battle, Orlando Family Team is on your side. Get in touch with us today so that we can begin to strategize the best way to win your case.