child wants to live with the other parent

What if a child wants to live with the other parent?

Dr Maree Livermore
Founder & CEO

Children can have very different views about where they want to live after their parents separate. Some children have no preference or are not able to form one. And some children feel that they want to spend equal time in both households.  But many children strongly feel that they want to live mainly with one particular parent after the separation. It can be a tough challenge, emotionally, if it becomes clear that your child wants to live with the other parent. But there are ways to think this through and to find a way forward that will actually enhance your relationship. 

What is really going on? 

The first step is to take such steps as you need to explore the authenticity of the expressed wish on the part of the child to live with the other parent.  Are you confident that your child speaking for themselves or are they echoing the words and wishes of the other parent? Discovering the true views of a child can require special skills. Even the child might not know what they are! But there are child-inclusive mediation practitioners who can help with this. They spend time with a child and form a professional opinion about the child’s views and experiences in the separation without bringing too much pressure.  

Let’s assume, however, that you have come to believe that your child truly does wish to live with the other parent rather than you. Let’s assume also that the other parent wants the child to come to live with them.  

What living arrangements are in a child’s best interests? 

The second step, then, is to think about whether it is in the child’s best interests that they should live with the other parent. This, rather than your feelings, or the other parent’s, is what matters after all.  The Family Law Act has a lot to say about this. The main principles are: 1. that the child’s safety, both physical and mentally, is the most important factor; and 2., that the child has the right to enjoy a meaningful relationship with both parents.  After these, there are several other factors that a court will consider when assessing what living arrangements are in a child’s best interests.  

One of them, a powerful consideration, is what the child’s views are. If an older child, particularly, expresses a strong preference for a particular living arrangement, the court is going to take some notice of this. In the end, however, what is in the child’s best interests is an overall assessment, and likely will not depend on just one of the factors.   

Going to court about where the child lives 

If the parents disagree about whether a child should live with the other parent, and they end up in litigation, athe court may ask a child psychologist to make an independent expert assessment. The psychologist will take the child’s views, their age, maturity and experience into account in doing this. In most cases, the court will follow the recommendation of the expert in making orders about parenting arrangements.  

To get to this point in family court litigation, however, will likely have cost both parents an amount of time, stress and expense. The child, too, is likely to be conscious that they are the reason for major conflict between the parents, and may be suffering some psychological damage as a result. 

It is worth thinking about whether, as parents, it is really necessary to ask a court to work out what is in your child’s best interests.  Consider, also, what the effect on your relationship with the child might be if you continue to resist their genuine urges to live, at least for a time, with the other parent. Instead, you may be able to agree with the other parent—either with or without the help of a mediator–about new arrangements about where the child will live, that preserves your relationship with your child, your cooperative parenting relationship with the other parent, your financial security and your mental health. 

Letting your child live with the other parent if they want to may be better for your relationship 

Just because your child would like to have a period, at least, of living with the other parent does not signal that they do not value you or your relationship with them.  It may simply be a phase in their development: many teenagers decide, for example, they they would like to spend more time for example, with their same-sexed parent. 

If the child recognises that you are supporting their feelings, the child may feel less guilt (about disappointing you), possibly even some gratitude, and may be ready and more comfortable to spend emotionally uncomplicated time with you again in the future.  

If you would like to know more about how to help a child into living arrangements that are in their best interests, including by having them live with a particular parent, feel free to contact Tribe Family Lawyers to work through the problem with you.