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What if a child doesn’t want to live with a parent?

Quick Answers

If a child expresses that they do not want to live with one of their parents, there are a few quick things to consider:

  • Listen to the child and try to understand their reasons
  • Speak to the other parent about the child’s feelings
  • Consider family therapy or counseling for the child and parents
  • Consult a lawyer about potential changes to custody arrangements
  • Focus on the child’s best interests when making any major decisions

Understanding the Child’s Perspective

When a child states that they do not want to live with one of their parents, it is important to listen to the reasons behind this. There may be a number of factors influencing the child’s viewpoint:

  • Conflict between the parents – The child may feel caught in the middle of parental arguments.
  • Parent’s new romantic partner – The child may not get along with a parent’s new spouse or partner.
  • Adjusting to two households – Going between mom’s house and dad’s house can be difficult for kids.
  • Teenage independence – Older children may resent rules and supervision from one parent.
  • Stress at one home – One house may have more arguments, less stability, etc. causing stress.
  • Lack of bonding – Not feeling emotionally close with one parent.

While listening to the child, avoid interrogating them or putting them in the middle. The goal is to understand their viewpoint while remaining neutral.

Discussing with the Other Parent

After speaking to the child, the next step is to discuss the situation with the other parent. This conversation should:

  • Happen without the child present
  • Avoid blaming or accusations
  • Focus on the child’s reasons and perspective
  • Brainstorm solutions that address the child’s concerns
  • Consider if any household changes may help
  • Discuss if family therapy could help resolve issues

Ideally, the parents will work together. However, if the other parent becomes defensive or difficult, you may need to consult a third-party mediator or lawyer.

Seeking Professional Help

Seeking professional help can assist children having difficulties with shared custody situations. Some options to consider include:

  • Family therapy – Working with a therapist helps resolve issues between the child and parents.
  • Individual counseling – The child may benefit from one-on-one counseling to cope with stress and transitions.
  • Support groups – Connecting with other children going through similar struggles can help.
  • Mediation – A neutral mediator can facilitate productive co-parenting discussions.

In therapy, the counselor will likely meet with all family members involved both separately and together. The goal is improving family relationships and communication.

Modifying Custody Arrangements

If the child continues refusing to stay with one parent, it may be necessary to modify the custody order. Some options include:

  • Changing the ratios – e.g. rather than 50/50 custody, the child spends more time at one home.
  • Temporary order – A new schedule is tried out short-term before making permanent.
  • Reducing transitions – Having longer blocks of time at each home instead of frequent back-and-forth.
  • Custody evaluation – A court-appointed evaluator makes custody recommendations.
  • Therapeutic visits – Gradually rebuilding the relationship between the child and parent in a therapeutic setting.

Consulting a family law attorney is wise before attempting to change custody arrangements. They can advise you on the laws and processes in your jurisdiction.

How Courts Make Custody Decisions

If parents cannot agree on changing custody, they may end up in court. Some factors judges consider include:

Factor Details
Child’s preference Older children’s preferences carry more weight. Judges ensure choices are not manipulated.
Parent-child relationship Which parent has closer emotional bonds and better ability to provide guidance.
Parent’s ability to provide Evaluating which home provides better food, shelter, finances, healthcare, education, etc.
Family situation Judges look at issues like domestic violence, substance abuse, neglect, etc.
Child’s adjustment Which home provides more stability? Judges want to avoid disrupting positive progress.

In most locations, the “best interest of the child” is the overriding standard in all custody decisions.

Avoiding Parental Alienation

While listening to a child’s concerns, it is also important that parents avoid alienating behaviors such as:

  • Speaking negatively about the other parent
  • Asking a child to keep secrets from the other parent
  • Allowing a child to refuse to spend time with the other parent without cause
  • Making a child choose sides between parents
  • Allowing a new spouse or partner to discipline the child or undermine the other parent

This can damage the parent-child relationship and lead to larger custody battles. Keeping conversations focused on the child’s feelings and working cooperatively demonstrates healthy co-parenting.

The Child’s Adjustment Period

A custody change can require an adjustment period for the child. Parents can help by:

  • Being patient and understanding
  • Following reliable schedules and routines
  • Making children feel safe and secure
  • Allowing open communication
  • Involving kids in decision-making when possible
  • Keeping things positive and focused on the future

With time, support, and stability, most kids are able to adapt to new custody arrangements. However, seeking professional help is recommended if problems persist.

Focusing on Best Interests

In any co-parenting decision, the child’s best interests should remain the priority. Important considerations include:

  • Safety – Ensure the child’s physical and emotional safety in each home.
  • Stability – Minimize disruptions to their schedule, school, and activities.
  • Needs met – Tend to the child’s material and emotional needs.
  • Relationships – Foster healthy bonds with both parents and siblings.
  • Wishes – Respect the child’s views without putting them in the middle.
  • Growth – Support positive growth and development.

Co-parenting can be challenging when a child resists time with one parent. However, by working together, understanding the child’s perspective, and considering professional help, families can often reach positive solutions.


Having a child refuse to live with one parent can be a complicated and emotional situation. The child’s viewpoint deserves compassionate listening and understanding. With positive communication, professional assistance when needed, and a focus on the best interests of the child, families can hopefully overcome these conflicts and challenges successfully. By working cooperatively and avoiding parental alienation, the child’s relationships and wellbeing can be preserved.