My stepdaughter wants to live with her dad
My 13 year old stepdaughter wants to go live with her biological father. He lives in a different state so this would be a major move. She started this crusade about a year ago and my wife and I thought it was due to jealousy over her younger sister (my wife and I have a 14 month old daughter together). But it’s progressed and now her father is talking to a lawyer about getting custody away from my wife (this was said as a threat by my stepdaughter yesterday).
Her bio father hasn’t been very actively involved in her life. In the divorce, he didn’t want 50/50 custody, he left the state and usually sees her a few times a year at holidays but all of the travel arrangements and child care are handled by his mother. He has complained about child support, is underemployed to avoid paying more and doesn’t pay for any extras.
Lately he started sending her gifts. My stepdaughter has entitlement issues (like most teen girls) and wants something new every day – a phone, a new makeup item, new clothes. My wife and I have cracked down and been adamant about earning money, earning privileges and doing chores around the house and that has resulted in many tantrums and angry outbursts from my stepdaughter and declarations that she hates us and wants to live with her dad. Anything we won't buy her, she sends a link to on Amazon and her dad sends it to her.
Her grades have been very poor this school year and every report card is worse. She blames this on issues with bullying and friends at school. Last summer she fell out with a friend who she says has told lies about her to everyone at school and she feels tormented and isolated. My wife has talked to teachers and a school counselor and there’s nothing any teachers have seen to confirm this. We have deleted her social media accounts and told her we will not discuss her having social media accounts again until she is 16.
She was very active in dance and her participation in dance is contingent on grades and behavior. Her grades are in the toilet, so no dance. This has not set very well with her. (She wants to be a professional dancer).
At Christmas she visited her dad and he sold her on a new school close to where he lives (with his mother) and she found a dance team nearby. It sounds like her grandmother is one funding this (she’s her only grandchild). She thinks all of her problems will be fixed if she goes to live with her dad.
My wife took a paycut to be able to work from home after our daughter was born, so we don’t have the type of money her ex has if his mother is going to fund his lawyer and all the dance extras.
Is it even worthwhile to fight the custody change if my stepdaughter is going to tell the judge she wants to live with her dad, she is miserable here, her grades are terrible, she claims she is being horrifically bullied (her teachers deny this) and she’s currently not participating in any extracurriculars. I can see how her father's attorney could spin this that a move would be in her best interest.
My wife wants to counter this by transferring her to a private school (away from the bully) and allowing her to particulate in multiple dance classes and audition for a dance team – all of which we cannot afford. We would have to refinance the house or my wife would have to go back to work full-time (but with daycare expenses, that wouldn’t make much of a difference).
What is the chance that my wife can keep custody if we keep things the way are? The last thing I want to do is spend all this money and then lose custody. I don't know much about custody laws, but I thought the child's preference plays a major role but how much is how much the parent has done in the past and does the fact his mother would be the primary caregiver matter? Would her grades reflect poorly on my wife as a parent?
Thanks in advance for any advice and information.