The short answer is when the child turns 18 years.
There is a persistent myth that at age 12, a child can change custody based on the child’s preference. Florida law does not allow a child to pick a custodial parent at a certain age. Obviously, once a child is turns 18, and is an adult, the adult child is free to live where he or she wants.
Parenting Plans Determine Child Custody in Florida
In Florida, a custody order is called a Parenting Plan. A Parenting Plan addresses all custody issues, including decision-making and time-sharing. (An overnight schedule). The court is allowed to consider a child’s preference in creating a Parenting Plan. (If the child is sufficiently mature). However, the court will not change an existing Parenting Plan based solely on a child’s request for a change after reaching a certain age.
In Florida a parenting plan can only be modified if there has been a “a substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances” and a finding “that the modification is in the best interests of the child.” The fact that a child has grown older is not “unanticipated,” so a child simply getting older cannot form the basis for a change in custody.
Parents are always free to cooperatively adjust the time-sharing schedule as a child grows older, and when the child’s needs change. And, there is no question that children’s needs do change as they get older.
For example, in Sarasota most high schools start very early in the day, and high school extracurricular activities can run late into the evening. From a practical standpoint, it may be best if the child spends more time during the week with the parent who lives closest to the school. For example, one parent might be better equipped to help a child struggling with homework. So, it may be best for a child struggling in school to spend more time with that parent who can provide the most help. These changes can be informal, and temporary, as long as both parents agree.
Suggested approach to modifying custody as a maturing child’s needs change
Even though you might not “win” a custody modification, it may still be best for your child to formally modify the Parenting Plan based on your maturing child’s changed needs. My suggestion is first discuss your idea of changing the Parenting Plan with the child’s other parent. If that does not work, or if you know from past experience that an informal conversations will not work, my suggestion is to mediate or use the collaborative divorce model. (The collaborative divorce model can be used for a custody modification). Only if all else fails, do I suggest considering litigation.
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