My Teenager Doesn’t Want to Stay With Me Anymore – Can I Force Them To?

After divorcing your former spouse and gaining custody, you’ve probably grown specially attached to your child. It can be devastating, therefore, when your child no longer wants to stay with you and intimates a preference for the other parent. Nothing is as unsettling as hearing your teenager burst out, “I hate you. I do not want to live here. I want to live with [mom/dad/not you].”

While you cannot physically force a child to stay with you, your legal rights to custody as enshrined in the custody order remain intact. A Pennsylvania child custody lawyer can provide more specific information on your custody rights.

Here’s what to you should know when your teen no longer wants to stay with you.

  1. Do Not Take it Personally

    Many times teenagers say hurtful things out of anger. For example, your teenager wanted to stay out late or play adult video games and you put your foot down and said no. Your teenager got upset and reacted by saying something that would hurt you, and threatened to live permanently with the other parent hit the spot. 
    Some kids know exactly which buttons to press to get parents completely derailed. Do not counter with equally hurtful statements. If your child threatens to live with the other parent, don’t spurt out, “If you don’t want to stay here I should just ship you off to your dad! That way, he can deal with all your drama!” Fighting fire with fire will only lead to more emotional damage, especially for the child. Your child may even think your love for them is conditional; you only love them so long as they stay drama-free. 
    Keep calm. Be the adult. Take it as an opportunity to set a good example. Instead of retaliating, how about saying, “I’m glad dad understands you. However, talking about where you’d like to live in an argument is not good. When you have calmed down, we’ll talk about it further.”

  2. Custody Orders Are Court Orders

    Your teenager cannot decide who is a better parent to live with. At the end of the day, a custody order is an enforceable court order and failure to comply with it does carry legal consequences. 
    Before the judge issued a custody decision, all relevant factors were put into consideration, including the age of the child, the need to ensure the child is safe and in a stable environment and the child’s preferences. 
    That’s right. Before issuing a custody order, especially in the case of older children who can pronounce their preferences based on more mature judgments, a judge considers the child’s preferences. Your teen’s preferences were already taken into account. If you were granted custody, it is likely because the judge saw that doing so was in the child’s best interests.
    Noteworthy, while custody orders can be amended through a court application, a minor cannot seek to change a custody order, only an adult parent can. When such an application is made, the court will make a determination based on the best interests of the child. 

  3. Age of Majority

    According to Pennsylvania law, the only time a child is free to determine where to live is after reaching the age of majority (18 years). Before that, a child cannot legally choose where to live in contravention of a custody order. This is the case even if the teen is close to attaining the age of majority.    
    Ultimately, custody is a choice that has to be made by parents. The court only steps in when the two fail to agree. A custody order issued by a competent court is a conclusive court order that should be respected. 

Know your custody rights and how they are enforceable. Consult with a Pennsylvania custody attorney today if you are worried your child wants to live with your former spouse full time.