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Since your divorce, you’ve probably had some rocky moments with your kids. If you have the majority of the parenting time, you might be on the front lines most of the time. If they were very young when you divorced, they may have been confused and sad, but older children often act out in other ways. For example, you may have seen some aggression or hostility, or your child may have become moody and withdrawn. Hopefully you worked through those issues.

Now that your children are preteens or teens, you can see distinct personalities emerging. They may have no hesitation about expressing their opinions, especially if they have decided they want to live with their other parent.

How should I react?

Your first instinct may be to take the request personally. Whether your child’s announcement came as a thoughtful appeal at the dinner table or an impassioned demand in the heat of an argument, it undoubtedly caught you off guard. However, before you dismiss your child’s wishes, family counselors recommend taking some time to collect yourself and address your fears before taking the following steps:

  • Take your child seriously and allow your words and actions to demonstrate you are considering the request.
  • Contact your ex to see if he or she can join in the decision-making.
  • Establish rules for your discussion, including mutual respect and open-mindedness, but be prepared for handling emotional outbursts from your child.
  • Allow your teen to explain his or her decision without judgement or interruption.
  • Assure your child that you hear and understand his or her concerns.
  • Realize that this discussion does not necessarily have to be a terrible experience for either of you.
  • Do not use this as an opportunity to point out your co-parent’s flaws, even if moving in with the other parent would be a terrible, even dangerous idea.
  • Contact your California attorney for advice about revising your custody plan.

If you decide to honor your teen’s request, it will be important to make your new custody arrangement official so you will have the backing of the court if any disputes should arise. While you may want to give the new parenting plan a trial run, it is wise to seek legal counsel about any long-term decisions.

Your child is at an age where he or she will be testing boundaries. Your reaction to this sensitive and emotional request can make a difference in your future relationship with your child.