Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)
314.727.4880

What Should You Do If Your Child Asks to Move From Your “Ex’s” Home Into Yours?

“Dad, I really want to live with you instead of Mom.” It’s your eleven year-old, Kyle, and you’re pleased, but also wary. Since your ex-wife remarried, your boy’s adjustment has been difficult—a new stepfather with two children of his own means Kyle is no longer the center of his mom’s attention. You’ve encouraged him to give it time, but his pleas have become increasingly strident.

 

You’re not sure what to do. The prospect of having your boy on a daily basis is enticing, but you know his mother will resist, likely leading to a contentious custody battle. Your son will be caught in the middle and, no matter who prevails, the litigation will strain family relations for years to come.

 

This father’s concerns are realistic, but does that mean he (or any parent) should avoid accommodating a child that wants to move from one parent to the other? Not necessarily. However, I urge any parent to proceed cautiously, keeping the following in mind:

 

  1. Don’t get your hopes up too quickly. Children can speak impulsively only to change their mind. Sometimes, the request is a flash of temper that fades with time, or the child’s determination wilts as the other parent pressures the child to stay.

 

2.      Work with your ex-spouse exhaustively to find a solution before considering a court action. No matter what you think of your “ex”, your child will be better off if he/she has a happy, healthy relationship with both of you, and if the two of you work peacefully to achieve that goal. Find out what’s driving your child to want to leave. Is it something transitory? Is he/she trying to avoid a problem at school like a bully or difficult teacher? Leaving one parent for another, particularly if it means leaving a familiar school and neighborhood, can be wrenching and should be the last resort.

 

Of course, there may be compelling, on-going reasons behind your child’s request, such as an abusive parent or stepparent. Don’t just rely on your ex-spouse’s assessment. Listen carefully to what your child has to say and cross-check it with teachers, neighbors, and other family members.

 

3.      If you can’t find anything amiss with your child’s environment, and he/she remains adamant about living with you, yet you cannot work out a compromise that satisfies both your child and your “ex”, the only option may be going to court. You will need an attorney who will file a “motion to modify” your existing custody order.

 

The Family Court will make its decision based mainly on two factors:

·        What is in the best interests of the child?

·        Has there been a substantial and continuing change that would require the custody order to be modified?

 

However, before rushing to file, be aware that while a child’s wishes in and of themselves can be the basis for changing the custody arrangement, this outcome is pretty rare without other extenuating circumstances, particularly for children under the age of 12. That’s because until age 12, children are not presumed “competent” enough to understand their own best interests or to anticipate the impacts of what they’re seeking.

 

Judges rarely grant a change in custody based solely on the testimony of a younger child. They are even loath to let older children testify, preferring to hear from experts and the adults in that child’s life as to what is best for that child and how the child feels. However, once a child reaches 14 or so, the court gives much more credibility to that child’s desire to move as the only basis for modifying an existing custody order.