My Son Wants to Live with His Dad

Updated on April 01, 2010
M.P. asks from Portland, OR
16 answers

I have a 13 y.o. son who just informed his stepdad that when he turns 14 he's going to go live with his dad. My son has significant learning disabilities and some autistic tendencies. In a nutshell my ex was very abusive mentally and emotionally. To that end my two older children ages 22 and 15 refuse to have anything to do with him and do not speak to him.
I want my son to have a relationship with his father but living with his dad just isn't a good plan. He works 45 minutes from his house in a rural town and is an incredibly permissive parent. Added to that the high school our son would be attending ranks in the bottom 25 % statewide, whereas the one where we currently live is #9 in the state.
I don't want to fill my son in on all the lousy things dad did so I'm at a loss as to how to refute the lies he's telling this impressionable 13 y.o. Complicate the whole issue by making this a long distance visitation (we moved 1800 miles away from my ex) and you have the makings of a nightmare situation.
Advice would be appreciated. I want my child to be happy but not at the risk of his safety.

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answers from Seattle on

SO, long long ago, when I was a disrespectful teen, I pulled the same thing on my mother. Now, my son is seven (his dad left for another relationship when he was 1) and his dad always tells him that he can come live with him whenever he wants. So karma has bit me in the butt...BUT, I now use the words that my mom used on me, so here it goes.....

"Over MY dead body!" Seriously, she said, "I brought you into this world and I fully intend to raise you." She had strict rules and high expectations, and it wasn't until way later in my life did I appreciate all that she did for me. As for your son, just say NO...he will be mad, but too bad. If your ex wants to push it, push back...the courts will not likely change his environment. YOU are doing a great job!!!! Smile...hang in there!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

This is a tough issue for lots of families. I myself am going through a similar time right now. It broke my heart when my son "dropped the bomb" on me a few weeks ago. I immediately felt betrayed because of all the life choices I have made to be the soul provider for my son, to give him as normal a childhood I could. I felt attacked personally, that there had to be something wrong with my household for him to want to leave. I felt fear of losing my son at a critical age of development. I felt hate for my ex for supporting my sons wanting to move, like how could he be so heartless towards me the mother who has worked so hard at raising a good kid. I felt alone in how could anyone possibly know the sticky situation I am dealing with.

I told my son that it wasn't gona happen. That I just wouldn't allow it and no court in there right mind would send him to live with a man who couldn't support himself let alone a child. ( My ex hasn't had a job in 8 years now. His family supports him. Child support has never been paid, ever.) The parents are supposed to take care of the kids, not the other way around. We discussed the situation as softly as possible. What I mean by that is I didn't verbally bash my ex (as much as I soooo wanted to) to my son. The only thing that was blemishing was the income situation, and lack of child support over all the years so far. My son seemed to understand that part of it for now.

Now that a few weeks have gone by I have had some time to process. All the immediate things I felt were just reactions. I know that my son loves both his father and myself, no question. I know that a 13 year old boy has lots of changes going on that moms just are not built to understand. I know there is nothing wrong with my household. (recently got married) I know I am not alone in dealing with this. I also know that no matter what I do or don't do, say or don't say, my son has his own mind, his own emotions, his own thoughts. I know that putting "truths" on the table for your child is as damaging as anything. I know that someday is gona come where my son is old enough to choose where he wants to live and I am going to have to let go a bit. I just have to havefaith that I am doing a good job, and continue helping my son learn about the world and prepare him to handle situations I am worried about if he moved. And I can hope that my son starts to way out in his own mind the real truths in his life by observation. No matter what happens I love him always, I tell him that all the time. I don't know if that was any help for you, it helped me a little just talking about it. Hang in there. This too shall pass.



answers from Portland on

Has the child had the opportunity to spend a week or two with dad? If you live 1800 miles away, does he get to visit often enough? This might be the important first step.
"I know you miss your dad, lets see when you can go see him."

Sometimes they glamorize that it MUST be better somewhere else, especially if you put rules & boundaries on them. (even good ones) I would guess that a little time with dad being abusive would make him be wanting to come back home.

Some thing else you might try is to take that trip back to dad's town, & go for a tour of the new school.

The other response suggested also having your other kids have some time with him, explaining how they feel about dad. I agree with this.

If the ex has told him specific lies, you may tell him the TRUTH, with out dredging up all the crappy memories. If dad says you are controlling, explain that Boundaries are for our own safety, not because I am trying to spoil your fun.

Ideally, if HE chooses not to go, he will be happier with the decision. Your goal/task is to help him make the right choice for him. If you at least consider the option, without saying a flat out NO, then you can demonstrate that HIS best interest is being considered. I know that in your gut you know it is the wrong thing for him, but he doesn't have that perspective. It may also be a way to drive a wedge between you and your new husband. Many kids do that in second marriages. It may also be a way to hurt you, if he blames you for leaving, & breaking up the family.

My marriage ended when mine were 3 & 6. They are now 15 & 19. My 19 yr old girl loves her daddy & step mom and "doesn't like" me. She lives with me and visits Dad regularly. I have supported her (dad's child support is very erratic), cared for her, but because I'm the one who moved out, I'm the bad guy. She doesn't move to dad's because her whole world is wrapped around my house, school, friends, & church. My kids see their dad on a regular basis. Now my son has a completely different perspective. The step mom runs the show, & son has little respect for dad when he's around his wife. 2 times now, he has refused to go for his visits for a prolonged period of time, because the step mom treat my son so differently from the girls, (she has 2, plus mine) It's been a year now, since he's been for the weekend. At the beginning of the school year he started visiting with dad when the step mom's not around. (Then at New Years, he decided living in a tent would be better than having to do chores... In the middle of winter. only lasted 1 night, then went to stay with a friend for another week, where he had to do the chores, because it doesn't matter where you live, you still have to take out the trash. He's been fine since he came back home.

best of luck. I don't have to tell you teenagers can be challenging in the best of worlds, but sometimes it helps to get a reminder.
A. V



answers from Portland on

Your son is 13. This is not his choice. He is a minor and you are his mother and what you say goes. What does your custody agreement say? If you have been designated the primary guardian, then you should talk to his dad and tell himn in no uncertain terms that your son will not be moving in with him, and you will take legal action against him if he keeps promising this. Then tell your son that he will NOT be going to live with his father (you don't need to get into dirty details about why), and leave it at that. Just tell him that living with you is the best situation for him and you love him too much to do anything that's not in his best interest.



answers from Seattle on

I agree with Shelby but I would try to keep the tone loving and "professional". Say it like it is without getting too emotional, especially if your son does. Lay out the facts and remind him your job is to decide what is best for him even if it is not what he wants. I would say the school issue with his learning issues is reason enough without all the father drama. Maybe making that the more important reason when you talk to him may be wise. If you are comfortable, offer up an extra weekend with his dad in the summer? (Honestly, I don't know if I would be willing if he is a poor influence/parent.)



answers from Anchorage on

Hi M.,

I would try a visit a spring break so that this way he will have to come back to finish school. Talk to your ex and let him know that this is a trail visit to see how things go. I have found this to work and the kid comes home not wanting to go back because dad is not as much fun as they think. Set down some rules with the ex. so that your son is protested from harm. Make sure you have medical release forms for the ex. to have and call every day to check on your son. I hope this works.

Good luck
C. Johnson



answers from Seattle on

Hi M.,

I am a divorced and still single mother of two children. My son is 17 and daughter 15. Their father has chosen not to be a part of their lives and it has hurt them tremendously. still, they are young people struggling with a change from childhood to adulthood and occasionally use their father as a means to establish their own independance. When there is an issue that I need to enforce they seem to think that living with their father is an option other than abiding by my house rules. So the grass is greener on the other side so to speak. My advise to you would be to go ahead and let your son live with his father for an entire summer so he can experience the differences for himself without having to worry about changing schools (If it becomes dangerous for him you can always pick him up). My children were more than ready to return home after some time with their own father and generally do not use him as an option anymore.



answers from Portland on

Hey M. (my name is M., too!)

A friend of mine went through something similar with her eldest boy. Her ex was emotionally abusive, too. She divorced him when her boys were 4 and 6. Her ex wanted almost no contact with the boys, which she was glad about.

However, when her eldest turned about 15, he started to really act out and get into trouble. When his mom stuck by her rules, he said he wanted to go live with his Dad. His father surprisingly agreed to this. It was very, very tough for my friend. Anyway, two weeks after he left to go live with his dad, he called his mother crying, begging him to let him come home. His father did not try to hit him or anything, but he spent almost no time with the boy. He also said some very unkind things to him.

She told him he could come home as long as he agreed to follow her rules (no drugs, no drinking, go to school, stick to the curfew). He agreed, he came home and, all things considered, did really well the rest of high school.

Your situation is not the same, of course. To begin with, your son is only 13 - 15 is young, but 13 seems really young to me. Your son also has some learning disabilities, which would only complicate the whole thing.

My only point is, try to give your son a dose of reality with his dad.

The pp's advice is good: get the older children to talk to him and/or try to arrange a SHORT visit with his dad.

Maybe one of his older siblings would be willing to tolerate dad for a week, if they were told they would be going to protect their youngest brother? A long shot, I know.

Could you travel with him while he visits dad for one or two weeks - stay a hotel nearby perhaps?

I agree with you about not telling your son all the lousy things his father has done. To begin with, at age 13, he's not going to believe you. If his brothers can tell him, that would be more convincing.

If you son is absolutely convinced that this is what he wants to do, you might want to consider the idea of him going. That would totally depend upon just how abusive your ex is. Another idea: tell you son that when he turns 15 (or 16), if he still wants to live with dad, he can.

I hope this works out - M.



answers from Portland on

I really don't have any experience in this type of situation, but could your older children get together with him and talk to him about his choice to go live with his dad...without you there? Maybe this would help him see the reality without it seeming like you are just badmouthing his dad...

Good luck!



answers from Portland on

Your son probably wants to live with his dad because his dad is permissive, and because he is desprate to please his father to gain his love. He is at a hard time in his life and really needs some extra attention. Maybe his step-dad or older brother could spend more "guy" time with him. Also, talk to him about what he likes better about his dad's house. Maybe it is something at school he wants to get away from, or maybe he likes his room better at his dad's house.

Normally, a 13 year old would have a lot of say in court about where he wants to live. If your ex does take you to court to try to get your son, then you can site the autism as a reason why your son does not know what is best for him.

For the short term, I would just tell your son that this is his home, and this is where it was decided long ago would be the best place for him to live. Maybe you can arrange extra visitation with his father. Eventually, your son will see who his father really is, but nothing you say will make him view his father as anything short of a hero.



answers from Portland on

Hi M.,
That's a tough situation, but there is always an answer. You say he informed his stepdad of this...not you? That would sound like he's wanting his stepdad to take a stand, maybe. It's good that "stepdad" hasn't been agressive about being the father figure, but perhaps your son needs stepdad to assert himself just a liitle stronger(in a GOOD way!). 13 is a difficult transistion time, as you know, and your son may be having a slight identity crisis? I don't know how long your new husband has been in the picture, but maybe it's time that he and your son got to know each other better. You know, bonding type stuff. Give the kid a sense of permanent roots and security. You sound like wonderful parents, and I feel you should stand your ground on this, he belongs with you, and hopefully the law would back you up on that. Just another Mom, sending you positive energy, ~D



answers from Richland on

I'm sorry about your creep ex, there are so many of them out there.
I would tell your son... the truth. He's old enough to handle it and it will make him feel like your trust him enough to handle it. If it takes telling your son the harsh reality of this creep then that's what it takes. The best defense for liars is the truth and your son may or may not believe you, but you cannot control the creep. The best tactic is to neutralize the threat. If a liar cannot successfully lie, what else can he do?
Be aware, doing this will not be pleasant. Eliminating threats never is. However it is your job to protect your son from the things that can do irreparable harm, and sending him to a evil teacher to learn how to be a man qualifies. Take whatever steps necessary to destroy the threat. You will look like a witch doing it. That is good. feel free to contact me if you need any more help as I have had extensive experience with exactly this kind of thing. Sometimes I wish I was ignorant of these things, but if I can help people like you, it was worth it.



answers from Seattle on

What is your ex husband's opinion on this? Does he want his son to come and live with him? Depending on the extent of the delays your son has, it is very likely a court would respect his wishes and allow the change of custody. If your son is delayed to the degree that he cannot make reasonable decisions for himself, you would probably be able to retain custody.

It is INCREDIBLY common that children want to live with the other parent. In part, this is the "grass is greener on the other side." In part, it is because children have a desire to have both of their parents. When a new spouse enters the picture, it becomes that much harder on the kids.

Perhaps a summer vacation visit would be enough to change his position on living with his dad? Maybe your 22 year old could also step in and be a mentor?



answers from Seattle on

Wow! This sounds like a frustrating situation! I'm wondering if you have asked your older children for their take on this? They might have some insight into how their brother is perceiving his dad, and also some perspective on what it is like to be the kid between 2 parents. If they have a good relationship with your youngest son, maybe they would talk with him?

Also I think maybe allowing an extended visit for your kid so he can see what it is like to live with his dad could help. It might also show him that you are willing to let go a bit (this allows him to feel like he has some power here too).

Best to you!



answers from Eugene on

Dear M., This has to be the most difficult issue we as divorced parents have to go through. Many things motivate a child to want this (been there!) curiosity is the biggest factor though. It doesn't matter what you tell him, but the worse it is, the more he will want to go! Can't explain it, but seems to be the case in most of these situations. Hard choices for you, but I would suggest that you contact the father, without your son's knowledge, and see where he stands on having to be responsible physically and financially for his son. If there is a new wife, she could become a key figure in this. You and your new husband can plan a summer "vacation" give him the opportunity to spend some time with the POS dad with you right there as a safety net, just stay in a nearby hotel. When I went through a similar situation with my daughter, I predicted she would be gone a month, 2700 miles away it was killing me, but I let her, she held out for 6 months, called me every day, and after seeing "daylight" she came home. Don't see this as a do or die situation, he just has to know for himself, once he does he will feel differently. Give yourself some credit, you are a good mother, and your older children are proof of that!!!!



answers from Spokane on

Hello M.
The only issue you should have is just where your son is going to live. Let him go and he will come back if you leave the door open in a loving way. Regardles of how you feel about his dad your son has a right to know his dad. We can't controll the rest of our kids lives and how they will turn out. It could only be healthy to let him do what he wants. My son moved out and in a years time was just relieved to come home. Yes it was very hard on me and I cried for myself because I missed him.
He is so wonderful now and we have the best relationship. Knowing his father can only make him feel compleet and balanced if you are not so mad at his dad. He needs to be able to love the only biolagical father he has without guilt from you. Things always workout and the school and what ever argument you have all sound like valid complaints but it also sounds like you are a loving mother that feels like she is the only one who knows best for her son. I am sure his father loves his son also. I can say I dispise my x with a true passion and he makes me sick to my stomach to talk with him. I found I cant talk with his father but my son also sees both of are flaws and loves us each equally. I must say my son did take my side after the divorce but it only made him angery with his dad because it tore us up. I talked with him and told him to let it go and the issues between us were just that. Letting your children hold on to your gudge will be his anger when he gets older. If his father lies he will figure it out. Children just love us unconditionally with all our faults. I don't know a perfect person out thier including myself. I am just glad my son loves me back.

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