What If a Teen With Divorced Parents Wants to Live With the Opposite Parent?

by Barbara R. Keane, Ph.D.

Custody considerations are a priority for divorcing couples with children. It is a difficult process for many parents who are anxious about the impact of divorce upon their child. Once a plan is in place, it can be hard to consider revision. So what happens when your teenager presents a request to reside with your ex-spouse? Take a deep breath, exert a healthy dose of self-control over your emotions and work hard to really listen to your teen’s request. Your goal is to determine whether a move will support your youngster’s well-being.

Reasons a Teen May Want to Move

Adolescence is, by definition, a tumultuous time. Teens naturally crave independence at the same time they are facing emerging sexuality and shifting social demands. A teen may seek to move in with the non-custodial parent as an impulsive expression of intense emotions (angry outburst), in response to the belief that stress will end with environmental change (escape) or from a true desire for sustained contact with the non-custodial parent before the opportunity is lost. The possibilities are plentiful but, regardless of motivation, the task of adults is to maintain stability in the face of turmoil.

Parental Reaction

It is common for a parent to feel extremely hurt when a youngster asks to move in with the other parent. Even the most reasonable individual can react to the sense of betrayal that such a request can evoke. However, it is important to maintain your composure in order to provide necessary stability and to determine what is in your teen’s best interest. While it may be tempting to try and talk your teen out of his position, careful listening should prevail at this point.


If your child’s desire seems genuine, a conversation with your former spouse is crucial. This is a time that challenges the strength of co-parenting. It is tempting for youngsters to play one parent against the other when seeking to achieve certain goals, so parental collaboration is essential. In determining whether a move is even an option, the impact upon all family members should be a part of the conversation. The work will be easier for those who have established a respectful relationship. Those who are embattled should consider seeking professional assistance.

Legal Considerations

Many states now consider older children’s preferences regarding residence. Periodic reviews of custody plans have been recommended in recognition of the changing needs of childhood. Factors that currently guide the court when there is a petition for a custody change include the youngster’s rationale for the desired move, overall parental stability, the youngster’s social and emotional maturity and intellectual development, parental support of the plan, and possible benefit to the youngster. When considering a change in residence, take care to understand the legal ramifications of the change, i.e., whether legal documentation is required, the impact on child support and the flexibility regarding possible future changes.


If you and your former partner come to the conclusion that a move is not in your teen’s best interest, you will need to stand together as you support your youngster through disappointment. If custody is amended, all family members will have adjustments to make. You will now be a non-custodial parent, at least with regard to your teen, and it may take some time to adjust to that role. Although emotions may be understandably mixed, the change can afford everyone an opportunity to relate differently and to gain a new perspective regarding family life.


About the Author

Barbara Keane is a licensed psychologist who has enjoyed a variety of experiences in 25 years of practice, including work with adolescents and their families. Dr. Keane, who believes that warmth and humor are essential components of the therapy process, emphasizes creative problem-solving based on the individual's strengths and resources.

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