Florida Best Interests Factors: Protecting Your Child From Your Legal Dispute

Going through a divorce or custody battle is stressful and exhausting. Dealing with the dispute occupies much of your time, and is always on your mind. It is important to have a place to vent about what’s going on and get support. You probably want to turn to the people closest to you to get your emotions off your chest, but if those people are your children, think twice. Not only is it bad for your children to hear about their parents’ legal battle, it can be bad for your custody case as well. Here’s why protecting your child from your legal dispute is a consideration in Florida parental responsibility and time-sharing cases.

Florida Statutes section 61.13(3)(r) talks about “the capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child.”

How to Talk to Your Child About Your Florida Custody Matter

If you are going through a divorce, or if your partner has moved out of the home, all but the smallest children will know that there is something going on. You may need to talk about it to some degree. But the law is clear that you should limit conversation with your children about your divorce or custody matter as much as possible. Although it naturally affects them, it is the adults’ business to figure out, and the adults’ job to protect the children from the potential ugliness of a court case.

To the extent you must speak with your child about your litigation, it is important to take into account the child’s age, experience, and intelligence, as well as what you know about their ability to process information. Plan in advance what you are going to tell your child, and try to hear it as they would.

If you have a hearing on time-sharing, you might say to your child, “Mom and Dad are trying to figure out the best way for you to get enough time with both of us, and the judge is going to help us.” That keeps things factual, focused on the child’s needs, and reasonably positive. Compare that statement with something like, “Your father/mother is dragging me into court again, trying to waste my time and money and keep me from seeing you. You don’t want that, do you?” A comment like that is not going to inform or reassure the child; rather, it will probably make them anxious and fearful. It also seems calculated to manipulate the child into worrying for one parent and being angry at the other. That’s not putting your child’s needs first.

Even if you manage to avoid talking about your litigation entirely, remember that the Florida custody statute also instructs parents not to make disparaging comments about the other parent to the child. You may feel, especially if your ex caused the breakup of your relationship or did harmful things to you, that your child should know “the truth.” But the truth is that children want and need to love both of their parents. Disparaging or badmouthing your child’s other parent to them puts your child in a terrible position: having to choose between two parents they love and depend on. Your child may also that, if you think their other parent is so bad, you might think the same of them. After all, half of who they are comes from their other parent.

How Your Words Might Come to the Court’s Ears

You may be wondering how the court would even become aware of what you say to your child about your divorce or custody case or about their other parent. It could happen in one of several ways. If your child repeats what they’ve heard (as children often do) to someone else, like a family member, counselor, teacher, doctor, or neighbor, their words might be revealed in witness testimony or in a written report to the court. If a guardian ad litem is assigned in your case to represent your child’s interests, it is likely they will become aware of what you have said to your child, and it is certain to be reported if they do.

It is rare for a child to be asked to speak directly with a judge, but it does happen in some unusual circumstances. When a judge speaks to a child, they usually try to understand what a child has heard from one parent about the other parent and the litigation.

If you have questions about protecting your child from your legal dispute, or about Florida time-sharing and parental responsibility, please contact Miami divorce attorney Antonio Jimenez.