No matter how carefully you worked out your parenting plan, older children often decide they want to change the parent they live with.
Children may have a wide variety of reasons for wanting to make a change. They might start feeling like the other parent didn't get a fair shake in the divorce and they want to make up for that. An adolescent or teenage child might start to identify more strongly with one parent and want to have a stronger relationship with that parent. The rules at one house might seem stricter than at the other, leading children to think life will be easier if they moved. Their relationship with a step-parent or significant other might be difficult. Or, they might just simply be curious about what life would really be like at that other house.
Whatever the children's reasons for wanting to move to the other parent's, negotiating this new landscape can be complicated. If the child has been living with you full-time, it's typical for you to be resistant to the idea, argue with the child or refuse to even consider the request. You might even accuse the other parent of manipulating the child to make the request in the first place. For most children, these tactics only seem to reinforce their decision.
Mediation is the perfect tool for negotiating a child's request to change his or her residence. If there is a change in residence, you will be essentially drafting a new parenting plan. Just like your original parenting plan, this plan should detail what parenting time for each parent will look like, how decisions will be made, how holidays will be alternated and what the child support arrangement will be.
If children are old enough to talk about wanting to go live with their other parent, they are very likely old enough to be included in these mediation sessions. It's a good idea for the parents to meet with the mediator alone initially, though, to start the process and have preliminary discussions about the issues. Before even getting into the details of the new parenting plan, it's important to consider how each of the parents feel about such a change, whether the change is even feasible, and if there are any special circumstances that need to be considered.
After the parents have had these initial discussions with the mediator, the children can be invited into the process to work out the details. The mediator will probably meet with the children alone first, to assess their comfort level and communication style. Some children are free with their ideas with the mediator, but do not want to be the ones to tell the parents directly what they're thinking. Other children welcome the opportunity to tell their parents what they're thinking in a controlled setting, knowing that the mediator is there to smooth out the communication.
If your children start to talk about moving in with their other parent, use the tool of mediation to help you through the process of deciding whether or not to make this change and/or how the change will work.
© 2008, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, www.cofamilysolutions.com