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My stepdaughter wants to live with her dad

Denali's picture

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.


tog redux's picture

Depends on where you live, but in most places, a 13-year-old gets a voice, but not a deciding vote; HOWEVER, it sounds like Dad has begun a full-court press to turn her against you guys and your "mean rules" so she will come live with him. 

Your wife can certainly fight this, and is likely to win, actually, since she's a woman; it's worth a try, but you might want to also prove that the ex is manipulating the child so that his visitation will be limited, because he's just going to continue to do it, even if you win this round. 

It's called Parental Alienation, and kids who are being abused this way (yes, it's abuse) are often very difficult to live with, so buckle your seat belts.

Denali's picture

I'm not sure if it's parental alienation, but we know he has put into her head that all of his child support money is going to the baby and that the baby is the reason we aren't paying for her dance classes.But it's true that we have had to cut back after the baby was born.My wife was making double what she was making before she changed positions. With her not working as much (a few days a week from home) we've been able to avoid daycare expenses and after-school programs which save money but seem like we're being "cheap".

We've told her that being a professional dancer isn't a legitimate career and school comes first. Her dad is supporting her dillusions of being a professional dancer. I'm not sure how a judge would see that. Her dad is doing that to drive a wedge and institigate things, but it can be spun in a way that he's the more supportive parent.

tog redux's picture

It's totally Parental Alienation - he's offering her a better school, badmouthing you guys, letting her do whatever she wants so you will seem mean by comparison.  Most likely, the trigger is that your wife had a child with you - it's not uncommon for people who are alienators (they are usually narcissistic) to be completely uninterested in parenting until something like this happens, and they decide they want to take the child away from the ex to punish her.

Do not underestimate him - this is alienation, and it can be very effective. You and your wife are parenting appropriately, and he is manipulating her.  Don't be fooled - go after him hard for the poor parent he is.

fourbrats's picture

with the taking away dance (her obvious passion) because of school or telling her that being a professional dancer isn't a legitimate career, as I am sure professional dancers would disagree with you. That isn't helping the situation between her and her mom and it is does come across as if she lost dance because of her new sibling as the timing was very coincidental. I can see why a teenage may feel as if she has lost all social activities and is being dismissed by her mother given what you have written here. 

Children who are actively involved in the arts tend to have better grades and do better in both school and life. Even if she were not to become a professional dancer there are other ways she could use those dance skills in life for example, as a dance teacher. 

I also don't like the dismissal of her being bullied. Kids are sneakier now and it is unlikely that they are making the bullying obvious or easily found. And because she claimed to be bullied she was punished with a loss of all social media for three years? 

That is not to say dad is not playing into this. He obviously is but I see some things that need to change on the part of you and your wife as well. And I say this as someone who has raised four teenage girls (still raising two). Your wife needs to spend some time thinking about how she interacts with her daughter and what she can do to improve the relationship. 

tog redux's picture

I would agree that it's not fair for her to lose dance because OP's wife wants to stay home with the new baby - I can see how that upsets her  - and figuring out the bullying is a good plan, too.

I think kids should be encouraged to follow their passion, but if it's evident that being a professional dancer is not a legitimate life goal (you would know by her age), then she shouldn't be left to believe it is.

But if the father was on the up and up, he'd call the OP's wife and say, "Hey, I'm worried about our daughter, this is what she's telling me" ... instead, he uses it as a chance to get a custody change. I have no doubt he is driven by the OP's wife remarrying and having another baby.  But she should revisit some of these choices.

mro's picture

I know what it's like to be bullied incessantly, when the teachers don't do squat and parents don't believe it. Then the kid here has a healthy, creative outlet taken away.  I can appreciate no phone, no tv, etc but take away dance?  Let her go live with her dad.  

futurobrillante99's picture

I get your situation and your stepdaughter being a little monster but it is NOT okay for her standard of living to decrease substantially because you and your wife (her mother) decided to have a baby and have her stay home with the baby. Child support is not to supplement your household, It is FOR the support of your stepdaughter. 

If her dad gets custody, do you think the courts will care that there’s a new baby? They will look at your wife’s earning potential and she will be required to pay child support in accordance with her earning potential.

The SD may be a lazy jerk, but she has a point.

NoWireCoatHangarsEVER's picture

With the agreement that her grades get better. Can you guys do without the child support ? You may have to pay him child support. My ex and I don't do child support 

lieutenant_dad's picture

How would you feel if you lost all your social interactions except for work and your immediate family? No more hobbies. No beer after work. No going to the gym. No checking out social media.

Your SD is being isolated, and if she is being bullied, her one outlet for social interaction (school) is a toxic one. Can you blame her for wanting to run away, especially to someone who is seemingly listening to her? Her "bratty" behavior reminds me of someone dealing with an eating disorder - she has no control over anything in her life EXCEPT being able to manipulate her father to giving her small trinkets that make her feel better.

Should Dad be playing into it? Not at all. However, what have you all given her to look forward to? You can punish a child into worse behavior because the rewards for good behavior are too difficult to obtain or are seemingly too far away. Plus, you just said you all really don't have the money for her to do dance, so even if she behaves better, that's a pipe dream. And you already crushed her hopes (she's 14, you should be encouraging her to do her best and nature will take its course on her dance dreams). And you took away social media versus taking the time to teach her to use it responsibly.

You and your wife created this monstrous situation by disciplining this girl into solitude, then crushing her dreams to boot. Add to it that your wife added a new baby to the mix and willingly is spending more time with that baby than she was willing to spend with her older daughter (I get it, babies need more care, but look at it from the view of a 14 year old) while then cutting out the older daughter's activities to save you and Mom money to only give the new baby a better life...

Yeah, unless you guys are willing to make some changes, I would just send her off to Dad. She is only going to get worse unless you all loosen up a bit.

fourbrats's picture

of punishing my middle DD into worse behavior when she was younger. We have a definite difference in personality and I tend to be a strict parent (too strict). In the last year I have let go. I have allowed more freedom. I have set an allowance budget that I put on her personal debit card through Greenlight. I have made the budget for other things clear (like school dances) and general expectations clear but have let go in a lot of ways. It's not perfect but it is better. 

Before this I would push and she would push back. She spent all of her time grounded. It wasn't working and I spent most of my time in tears. Now I let natural consequences be the guide for general teen behavior and will only pull out discipline if it is something outrageous (which hasn't happened in a long time). I wish I had done this at 13 instead of 16. We would have had a much more pleasant relationship. 

Wilhelm's picture

I think you will have an uphill and losing battle. The grass is greener on the other side. This child is at an age where they will use all weapons available to pit both parents against one another.

I would alter custody. Let Dad take the brunt for a while and you and your wife be the good guys who have holiday time. The child will have a chance of a fresh start if there are issues at school. You and your wife will be able to spend quality time with the child in the holidays.

Spending more on a child doesn’t make them a better person so I wouldn’t feel quilty about cutting back on extras. Spending quality time with a child is way more important.

ndc's picture

Is her father a bad dad?  Do you think she wouldn't be well cared for between her BD and her grandmother?  If not, why not let her live with dad for a while?  She is obviously not doing well in your home at the moment, for whatever reason.  Maybe a fresh start would be good for her.  Being in a new school, away from the bullying, pursuing the dancing she loves, might be just what she needs.  Or she may figure out that the grass isn't always greener.  Or dad might figure out he doesn't actually want to be the primary parent.  13 is a tough age!  

Of course, that would probably mean losing whatever CS dad is paying and your wife having to pay him CS.  Is that affordable?  And if any of this is about money, would it be cheaper to pay for dance lessons or private school than to finance a big court battle or pay child support to her dad?  

It's hard to tell from what you've written if this is a case of a selfish, entitled young teen acting like a selfish, entitled young teen (many of them are that way!) and manipulating her parents and playing them against each other to get what she wants, or if this is a girl who's being pushed aside for a younger sibling, who is being bullied at school whether the teachers see it or not (they often do not), who isn't being allowed to pursue her passion and who may or may not be having trouble academically (accounting for the bad grades).  Or it might be somewhere in between.  Perhaps you and your wife should do some soul searching and try to look at this from all angles and decide what's really going on with her daughter and whether it makes sense to give her what she wants and send her off to her father without a court battle.  And if you honestly determine that is not in her best interest, then you can gear up for the court battle, if it actually happens.  FWIW, many courts seem to have a bias toward the mother.

Rags's picture

Kids don't get a choice.  In some States a judge can choose to hear the kid's opinion but ultimately the kid gets no say. 

Since your DW is the life long CP and BioDad has been predominantly absent and uninvolved your DW is the one who makes this decision unless BioDad actually takes it to court. Even if he does the likelihood of him being successful in getting custody is slim at best.  Based on what you outlined in your original post this is just BioDad trying to get out from under paying CS.

You can clearly tie her behavioral and academic performance degradation to manipulation by BioDad and SpermGrandMa and can also clearly show that this is nothing more than an attempt to get out from under his CS obligation.  Loss of privileges due to poor school performance is not justification for a change in custody.   A Judge will likely hand them their asses (BioDad, SpermGrandMa and your SD) for their manipulative crap.

If your DW does not want to abdicate custody to the manipulative mama's boy BioDad he has very little chance of getting custody.

I recommend that your DW hold her ground and inform both the kid and her SpermIdiot that custody isn't going to happen and if they want to go to court be ready for an ass baring of monumental proportions.  Judges do not like manipulative dead beat mama's boy bio dads who manipulate and interfere in the otherwise stable life of kids.


ursula69's picture

You guys should clean up your act. I commiserate with your wife, all this stress and heartbreak. Trying to please you, with a baby to take care of, you dictating your petty rules, her girl obviously in distress and taking matters into her own hands. You caused your wife to loose her daughter to an abusive ex, go earn more money for lawyers and dance classes. Do mortgage your house, but save this kid for her. If you don’t, you are a douche.