When Your Child Wants to Change Residency

Dad and kids playing among moving boxes

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Separation and divorce can be tough for kids and parents. If your child announces that they want to live with your ex, it can bring up a mix of emotions—even if the announcement doesn't come as a total surprise.

You'll need to take the emotional and practical aspects of a new living arrangement into account as you plan a discussion with your child (and your ex). Here are some dos and don'ts to keep in mind when discussing a change of residency with your child.

What to Do

You need to engage your child in a meaningful conversation about your family’s residential custody arrangement before deciding whether it's the right time to make a change. Here are a few tips to help you have a productive discussion with them:

  • Encourage open communication. Let your child know that you’re open to hearing what they have to say—even if you disagree. Be sure that you back that claim up by forcing yourself to calmly listen to your child as they open up to you rather than cutting them off with your own opinions.
  • Set communication ground rules. While different opinions are welcome, rudeness is not. Let your child know that they need to speak politely when they want to be heard. If they forget and blurt out something rude, like, “You always say no! That’s why I want to live with dad!” gently remind your child that you’d like to talk about the issue after they have calmed down.
  • Be empathetic. Try to put yourself in your child’s shoes. If you’ve never been through a divorce, it might be hard to do, but a willingness to see—and feel—life through your child’s eyes and heart can go a long way toward establishing true, meaningful communication with them. Make the effort to consider your child's perspective before you flat-out reject their request to live with your ex.
  • If possible, bring your ex into the conversation. If your ex is in the picture, your child will probably bring their wishes up to them, as well (if they have not already). Instead of fighting it, let your ex know that your child has vocalized this request and set up a time to discuss it. Working on having a healthy co-parenting relationship will help you put your child's needs first.
  • Express your fears. If you don’t talk about what you’re most afraid of, those fears will poison your words and actions. Whether you write in a journal or pour your heart out to a trusted friend, take steps to express your feelings and work through them. If you're secretly questioning your own motives, consider speaking with a mental health professional about the root of your reluctance.

Even if you’re confident that modifying the child custody agreement is not in your child’s best interests, knowing why you feel the way you do can help you stand your ground in a way that supports a healthy relationship with your child and your ex.

What Not to Do

When you're discussing your child's desire to change residency, it can be a sensitive and difficult conversation for you both. As a parent, there are a few things that you'll want to avoid to ensure that the conversation is productive and flows as smoothly as possible.

Here are a few things you should not do or say when addressing your child's wish to live with your ex:

  • Avoid the conversation. Refusing to talk about things that are unpleasant doesn’t make them go away. Your reluctance to discuss the matter might also make your child feel as though you do not care about their needs and wants.
  • Take your child’s point-of-view personally. Your child's request to live with your ex doesn’t have to be seen as a negative evaluation of who you are as a person or a parent. If you’re having a hard time viewing your child's request objectively, talk with a friend or counselor about how you can separate your child’s request from your identity as a parent.
  • Bad-mouth the other parent. Even if you believe that living with the other parent would be harmful, avoid saying negative things about them to or in front of your child. You can express your concerns without name-calling or being harshly judgmental of your ex.
  • Rush to judgment. Chances are, it took a lot for your child to tell you that they want to live with their other parent. Don’t brush the request off. Let your child know that you’ve heard the request, listened to their reasoning, and will give it some thought.

Once you've had a few days to think about your child's request, bring the topic up again. Calmly communicate your point of view while continuing to listen to what your child has to say.

A Word From Verywell

If your child asks to live with your ex, the discussion is not doomed to be a totally negative experience. There are also positive aspects for you to keep in mind. For one, it's healthy for your child to openly express their feelings, wants, and needs.

While the conversation might not be an easy one for either of you, the fact that you are having it is a sign that you've raised an articulate, thoughtful, emotionally intelligent child—something for you to celebrate as a parent.

By Jennifer Wolf
Jennifer Wolf is a PCI Certified Parent Coach and a strong advocate for single moms and dads.