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Joint Custody: 'I Hate You! You're Ruining My Life. I'm Moving To Dad's!'

Alyson Schafer shares some solid advice for when your kid threatens to leave.
Angry girl looking at father outdoors
Maskot via Getty Images
Angry girl looking at father outdoors

If you have ever had a fight with your child and he or she has spit out these words, you know they feel like a knife to your gut. In a joint custody arrangement, these are some of the scariest sentences that could come out of their mouths.

When your children are little, they can threaten to leave. Many kids "run away" from home only to get the end of the block and realize they don’t have permission to cross so they come home. When they are small your custody agreement prevents them from actually moving out, but that is time limited.

At age 14 or so, just when teen angst starts to set in and tension can rise between kids and parents, their rights change, too. The age of emancipation means they can now choose for themselves where they want to live.

So if your child threatens to move out, here are some immediate tips:

1. Don’t freak out and say things you’ll regret.

Don’t go grabbing a suitcase and and saying “let me help you pack.” Instead, acknowledge you are both really, really upset and you need to talk about this when you are calmer.

In a time of calm, be sure to tell them that you understand they are unhappy with things at home, and maybe they need to have a vacation from the tensions and perhaps you could arrange a stay with the other parent for a bit until things cool down.

Suggest you talk about longer term plans AFTER that. Pack a bag, but not the whole room. In fact, suggest as an alternative, that the vacation could also be at a friend’s or family member’s house. A friend can offer comfort.

2. Acknowledge the reasons you want them to stay.

"I love your company, I would miss your singing in the shower and the funny YouTube videos we laugh at together," etc. Kids need to hear you love them and want them. Especially after a fight.

3. Don’t bad mouth your ex. They may be a lousy parent with no rules – but if you slag them, you are creating more problems. Your tween may well move out and live for a year or two with the more lenient parent, but do not be fooled by this. Children know what a healthy home and respectful relationships look like. They will gravitate back to that safety and security eventually. Be patient.

4. Never threaten: “If you leave, you are never coming back.”

Our children need to know the door is always open. Unconditional love and acceptance.

5. Offer family counselling.

Tweens will be offended if you say “YOU need help.” Instead say “WE need help. Let’s go together, it’s about us. I am sure I am making mistakes and could do better with help. We’re in this together!”


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