Parenting is hard. Parenting after divorce is even harder. But what if your child decides they don’t like living with you? Can they move in with your ex? Is that up to them?
The short answer is no.
The courts put a child’s best interest above other concerns. This includes their individual preferences.
That said, certain circumstances do warrant a change. If your situation fits, you or your ex petition for a custody modification. This generally involves a significant change in circumstances. For instance, if a previously uninvolved parent has become much more active, or if the current living situation has become unsafe.
One important note: Once in place, modifying a custody agreement often proves difficult. Many courts remain reluctant to alter a preexisting order. At best, you face an uphill battle.
As we said, the court doesn’t generally consider a child’s preference when doling out custody. Again, other factors take precedence. Still, depending on their age, it can be a factor. Emphasis on can.
If the case does go before a court, the court may weigh a teenager’s input more heavily in the final decision. They can, but don’t have to. If a judge listens to testimony and decides a teen’s wishes don’t represent their best interests, they can and often do disregard them.
And if the court does lend credence to a teenager’s testimony, know that it has to be something substantial. It can’t simply be mom lets them stay out later while dad makes them do their homework.
Related Reading: Cinematic Lessons in Fatherhood: Mrs. Doubtfire
What do you do if your teen wants to change custody?
If you have sole custody of your child, you have control of the situation. Even though it might not feel like you do.
The decision as to whether you want to allow your child to change residences will ultimately be yours.
There are, however, exceptions. This includes significant changes in your custody situation since you agreed upon the parenting plan. Changes such as one parent losing a job, facing a dramatic increase or decrease in income, or an altered work schedule represent common reasons.
Relocation or a parent remarrying or having children with a new spouse often constitutes a change in circumstances. If the custodial parent shows a pattern of irresponsibility, a judge may also account for that.
Related Reading: Child Custody Modification
How to React When They Want to Move
Understand why your teen wants to move
Understanding the teenager’s desire to move helps assess what measures need to be taken for custody modification.
For example, what if the child wants to relocate because they feel they aren’t getting enough time with the non-custodial parent?
In this case, facilitating more visitation may provide a possible solution. This increase in contact might satisfy your teenager and eliminate the desire to move.
It’s imperative you allow your teen the time and space to honestly express why they want to move. As a parent, you probably feel hurt that your child wants to move away from you.
While it’s normal to feel this way, how you express this hurt can damage your relationship. If you respond with anger, they may shut down or wall off. It’s important to communicate openly and honestly in a calm manner. Create an environment where your child can tell you what they want and need.
Listen to their concerns. Find out why they want to move. Take steps to address their issues in a way that maintains their safety and well-being. This goes a long way toward assuaging any fear they have. It also bolsters your relationship and helps create a place where they want to live.
Teenagers need freedom and often want to explore. Maybe weekends with the other parent are all super fun while you’re the one who enforces the rules and does all the mundane things on a regular basis.
Sometimes a temporary arrangement with your ex benefits the situation. Sending them to stay there for a time may drive home the fact that things aren’t always as they appear. The whole the-grass-isn’t-always-greener thing.
Related Reading: Child Custody Disputes
Involve your ex In Custody Decisions
Depending on your relationship, discussing the potential move with your ex can be helpful. It protects your child from unnecessary embarrassment if your ex doesn’t want to change the living situation.
Being the primary caregiver comes with a lot of responsibility. It’s not uncommon for teenagers to want to move in with the other parent, only to find out the non-residential parent doesn’t really want the same thing.
Having a teenager who wants to move in with the other parent can be difficult and painful. Remember, as the parent, it’s imperative that you do what you need to keep your child safe. This often means making tough decisions that might not be popular with your offspring but are necessary to protect them from an unsafe situation.
Related Reading: What If Your Kids Hate Living With Your Ex?