Divorce & Custody with Teens & Pre-Teens

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • Hi,

    I’m a divorced, single mother and I’m struggling with overt discrimination within Alameda County family court. My son is a 9th grader with an IEP and the court recently ruled that my ex can place him in one of two private Catholic schools. The problem is that my ex lied to the court about enrollment/acceptance status. Plus the court ignored the details of my son’s IEP which provided for an aide and other support when they ruled in favor of my ex. Now today is the first day of school for BHS and my son is being withheld from starting school since he is with his dad this week. Meanwhile my ex has not confirmed any enrollment in either private schools and one of the private schools started on Monday, 8/14. It is not in my son’s best interest to miss the first days of school because my ex is “hoping” to get my son into one of the private schools that he lied about in court. 

    I’ve sent many emails to the minor’s counsel on the case and she has ignored them. My understanding is that she should be representing my son’s best interest which is for him to start high school on time. 

    I’m hoping someone on this forum could offer some advice on this unbelievable situation.



    Hi Natasha, I'm not seeing the issue related to discrimination in your letter. I'm sorry you're going thru this stress, but the 2 private catholic HS your ex is probably hoping for are St Mary's and Bishop O'Dowd, both of which are great schools at least on a par with BHS, if not better and way less chaotic than BHS (and they're not hugely religious btw). I well understand the IEP concern, but I am letting you know that I have close friends with kids in both of these schools with IEPs, who are thriving. St Mary's in particular is excellent for kids with learning challenges. That school had orientations but has not actually started. I don't understand the situation re enrollment, but rather than hoping for an outcome that sounds like it's not going to happen - enrolling at BHS, which the judge ruled against - why not call St Mary's and BOD and see what you can do to help your child be admitted and enrolled and start school soon? I'm sure the enrollment is in the works. The person to focus on is your youngster. Let him get excited about his cool new HS, whichever one it is, and just support him in this new and slightly scary adventure. If the minor's counsel is ignoring you - then she is probably well aware of the situation and believes that it is fully in your child's best interest not to start at one school and then switch to another. 

    This sounds frustrating, but keep in mind that a week or two delay in starting HS is probably not the end of the world. It sounds like you need your own legal support. I recommend reaching out to the Bar Association's lawyers referral service: https://www.acbanet.org/need-a-lawyer/ -- if that isn't the right fit for you right now,

    KALW's your legal rights https://www.kalw.org/show/your-legal-rights takes calls and might be able to point you in the right direction, or Berkeley Public Library's "Lawyers in the Library" program also takes questions: https://www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org/events/lawyers-library -- both of those programs ought to be able to help you understand your rights and options.

    How frustrating and heart breaking- I know how hard it is to get an IEP.  Private schools do not have the resources to administer recommendations in an IEP.  It would depend on what services your child was getting and what the private school says they can offer.  Most private schools do not offer services- the public school is bound by law to administer these services.  Make sure these private schools have a copy of the IEP- not sure if your ex has been transparent about your sons needs to them.  Often private schools will say they can manage a high functioning kid but will miss something big because they have a marketing person as assistant principle not knowing about special needs or anything about education- only suited for enrollment really… anyways… if your kid only needs extra attention maybe private would work?  But even then- there are social ramifications with other families- a status thing if your kid is different.  Or if your kid lashes out when challenged- not sure what his needs are.  Public schools are forgiving of differences and bound by law to deliver.  If by chance you do try private fur a semester or two and it doesn’t work out- you should be able to pick up IEP when you return to public.  

    Btw- Im wondering what your local district has to say about this?  Your son is truant and your husband being a person on the IEP team should have sense to know this is a legal matter he is not following the recommendations by the IEP team and making executive decisions without the other oatebt.  You have shared custody I’m assuming so he has to get your consent to switch things around.  

    I would approach the new school’s special ed about what is going on- so you go on record for trying.  And of course contact your sons district- report your ex husband in a non accusatory way but say you are stuck- that you feel a bit lost without the IEP teams advice about high school.    

    By the way, in Novato there is a place called Matrix Network- a non- profit place with info for parents about IEP’s special Ed law.  They have volunteers to talk to that are experienced and workshops etc… 

  • My spouse and I are planning to separate and eventually divorce and we need to tell our older teens. The separation planning has been painful but mostly amicable (so far). Co-parenting well is our North Star. We plan to tell the kids together early this summer, so they have time to process before going back to school. It will be a big shock for them. Any advice on how to help them through the initial months, first year or two? Also we are thinking about keeping the house in joint custody for a year or so after divorce to allow housing stability for the kids. We understand the tax/financial implications of this, so mostly would love to hear stories of what helped your teens emotionally and what didn’t. Thanks so much! 

    I applaud you for trying to do divorce well! An amicable divorce where both parties can remain civil afterward is the gold standard. My parents divorced when I was 20, and it was very acrimonious. It's been almost 40 years, and my mother's bitterness and refusal to get along after my dad remarried still affects us kids as adults. I know families where exes are included in family gatherings and everyone gets along. This makes it easier on everyone. Both of you being there for your kids and not taking sides will go a long way in helping your teens adjust. Stay positive as much as you can! 

    I applaud you for being so thoughtful about your older teens as you enter into the divorce process. My former spouse and I began our divorce process when our children were 18 and 20. The younger was in their senior year of high school. The divorce process took 15 months.

    Our intention was for an amicable divorce and to maintain some semblance of family. We chose to use a collaborative divorce process. This is different than mediation. The team includes a divorce coach (a licensed mental health professional that provides divorce coaching, not therapy) which I felt was essential for my process for two reasons: 1. While I believed my former spouse intended to be amicable and fair, I did not trust that they could be, 2. I wanted to include provisions for supporting our children even though they were over 18. Mediated or court divorces do not include provisions for children over 18. For some collaboratively divorcing couples, each has their own divorce coach. My former spouse and I used on neutral coach who we both liked.The coach was very helpful in working through the older teen / young adult issues, including when and how to tell them about the divorce and how to address the family home.

    My divorce was finalized a little over a year ago. I wish I could say it all went swimmingly, and we're all happy and connected. I am thriving. Unfortunately, my former spouse is not. They will barely speak to me and their behavior toward our children is confusing and hurtful. Despite this, the children are doing well, and my relationship with each of them is better than ever. Here's what helps my young adults: they see me taking care of myself and moving intentionally into the next phase of my life. I work hard to be open and authentic with them, and parent them appropriately as emerging adults. When they want to talk about their father, I listen and validate their emotions and experience. I do not speak ill of him, and I don't make excuses for him either. I see my role as providing a safe, stable landing place for them. I now own and live in the family home. I hope, in time, their father is able to be more amicable and a supportive and appropriate co-parent, and I have to work with what I have now.

    My former spouse's lawyer recommended the book: Home Will Never Be The Same Again. I found it helpful.

    I wish you the support of a loving circle of family, friends, and professionals as you go through your separation and divorce process. Life can be good on the other side.

  • Hello, I have a 10 year old and 14 year old daughter who go to their dad’s house every other weekend.  My 14 year old has not been wanting to go over there for over a year now.  She’s not very close with her dad and just wants to be home ( my house).  My ex husband feels that she can make her own decision once she’s 16 but I feel like she’s old enough and mature enough to make it for herself now.  I haven’t approached the subject with him recently as I don’t like to stir the pot without gathering some information first.  Our current parenting arrangement is court ordered stating that the kids are with him every other Saturday Sunday Monday.  I dread anything having to do with court and am wondering is this my only course to let my daughter make her own choice?  And if we did go to court, is it common for a 14 year old to be granted this if I were to ask this of a judge?  Would I be better off waiting until she’s 15?  Or 16?  I know there are no definite answers but just wondering what people’s real life experiences are.  Especially with self representation instead of a lawyer.  Thank you!  Jodie 

    My daughter refused at around 13.  She would sit in her bedroom.  The police aren't going to enforce a court order against a 14-year-old.  Btw, your ex sounds pretty reasonable.

    I have to strongly disagree with the post below. I know a parent who allowed their 14 year old to skip court ordered visitation and was accused (successfully) of attempting parental alienation, so they paid legal fees and lost their credibility in court, and the child was not allowed to choose. Going down this path seems really risky and also misses the point. WHY is this child refusing to see her father? Is there a reason that you need to fully understand? Does her dad need to understand? Why not get a therapist for your child and also line up family therapy so you can all work on this together, supportively? Assuming a parent isn't abusive, children need both parents in their lives and it will damage her to lose this critically important person as she grows up. What will this teach her about fatherhood and how men behave? Why not pour your energy into giving her the gift of knowing that her parents will work together to make sure she's super happy in both homes? My ex and I live separately and have done exactly this. Nothing is perfect, and in many ways my child prefers his primary house (mine) but we both do everything in our power to make both houses his home and I *always* stress how much his dad loves him and needs to be with him. We teach and model compassion and closeness. There are many steps you both can take to change this situation, so she doesn't hit her mid-20s, start to view the situation through an adult's eyes, and ask why her Dad didn't fight for her and why her mom minimized such a core relationship. 

    I don't know the legal answer to the question. I also don't know your relationship with your ex. But, I do know this is very typical teenager behavior. I wonder if you can have a conversation with your ex. "I don't want you to turn into the bad guy here or me for that matter. She's flexing her teenager independence. I wonder if you and she (and I can be there too if you would like) can sit down and have a conversation about a compromise? I think if we force the issue, she's going to rebel against us both. But, if we give her some power, she just might come around...." Make the "enemy" teenager-dom and not you or ex or daughter. This is a natural phase of life she is going through and how you respond will determine how she behaves moving forward. (and I know my friend who lives in another state went through the same thing when her kid was 14 and it did go to court because she does not have a good relationship with her ex, and the judge ruled to go by the wishes of the teenager who was determined to be mature enough to make the decision. Don't know if CA would be different, though)

    My 2 sons were able to make their own decisions at 13 & 11. (They had to meet with a court appointed mediator who made the decision that they were mature enough to be heard) at that time, my boys decided they wanted to stay with me full time.  I believe the courts say 14 is old enough for the child to make their own decisions. If you have an attorney, ask and make sure. It’s all about the child’s well being in the divorce process.  You’re doing a great job! 

    I feel for your ex! It's not unusual for teens to resist switching homes to accommodate their parents' separation and who could blame them. Your 14-year-old probably wants to remain on familiar territory. Could you arrange a trade with your ex, so that he moves into your place during the weekend visitation and you move into his place. Obviously that's highly inconvenient, for both of you but it sounds like your 14-year-old feels inconvenienced and has suffered for it. Your kids might thank you both for it one day.

    I agonized over a very similar situation for years and have some thoughts to share, FWIW.

    My daughter was actually supposed to go back and forth weekly starting about age 11 and her dad was quite zealous in guarding this arrangement until age 18. However we didn't have a written custody plan so there was little he could do if she simply refused to go, as she often did as she got older. 

    I don't think there's a simple answer but I did find some help reading this book: https://www.amazon.com/Two-Homes-One-Childhood-Parenting/dp/1594634157

    I believe in California the child can state a preference to the judge at 14, though that is not the ultimate deciding factor-


    I ended up deciding how to handle it based on what I considered to be in the best interest of my child--

    --I did not want to make this more adversarial, expensive, or inflexible than necessary (meaning I wanted to avoid court)

    --I absolutely did think it was important for my daughter to have some kind of relationship and ongoing regular contact with her father (I didn't have a father growing up and felt the absence and consequences keenly later in life). For this reason, I would encourage her to spend time with him and continue regular visits, even though the benefits were not always clear to her at the time. 

    -- I also thought it was important for my daughter to find and express her voice and preferences, even though I did not want her to feel that she was in charge of the final decision (I think that should be a parental decision as it seems to me like a potential burden for the child). Speaking up on her own behalf was an important milestone for my daughter. 

    So for us it was somewhat of a moving target and evolved over the years. It wasn't easy or conflict free, but kind of worked. 

    There were certain things which she didn't like about being at her dad's related to logistics, convenience, etc, which he was able to somewhat mitigate as we talked about it more. Other things he couldn't (or wouldn't) change and over time she came to spend much more time with me. But they still have a reasonable connection which I hope will be durable, despite the divorce. 

    Maybe your ex-husband would be willing to consider ways he might cultivate more closeness with her, so that it would seem like more of a treat than a sacrifice to see him every other weekend. ultimately it's about the relationship, not the custody schedule. 

    good luck! it's definitely not easy. 

    It might be that having a 10-year-old makes a difference in your situation.  Maybe a 1-hour consult with a lawyer would help. 

  • I am seeking suggestions for how to deal with a sensitive co-parenting issue. My ex husband moved two states away about a year ago to accept a job offer. Our son is 13. His dad did not discuss modifying the child custody agreement before he left. He just left our son with me and said he wanted to work out the details of visitation. I have agreed with every visit he has asked to have for the last year. They have had several visits where our son stays with his Dad. The first few times he came back from a visit, he was very anxious and said that his dad was pressuring him to move in with Dad. Dad has now dropped that as our son does not want to move. However, our son just came back from a visit and was again very anxious and said that his Dad was "guilting" him for not wanting to spend half the summer with him. Our son does not want to spend half the summer with his Dad because all of his friends are here and because his Dad works a lot and has little time to spend with him when they are not on vacation together. I don't know where to begin with this. I want Dad to stop pressuring our son. Dad is very defensive and if confronted about his behavior his standard response is to deny and attack. When I have brought this up with Dad, he says our son is exaggerating and that I am at fault for any issues they have because in his view, I do not "support" him. 

    Hi, sounds like you need to seek legal advice, covering both child support and visitation. The courts will want to do what's best for the child,and will likely grant long summer visits if more frequent contact isn't possible, as it sound like is the case in your situation. These kinds of things can sometimes be worked out through mediation instead of a court case. Even if you end up in court, they will have you meet with a mediator before you see a judge. Good luck. 

    I shared custody of two teens sons with my ex and I understand this situation. First of all, you need to get your custody agreement modified so you can reassure your son about what the arrangements are. Right now you are having to make these ad hoc decisions because your previous custody agreement is defunct.  You're feeling guilt about making your son do something he doesn't want to, and the pressure is all on you because you are having to make every decision each time your ex asks about it. It would be much better for everyone to have legal guidelines, so take the trouble to get the agreement modified. Is there a reasonable amount of time your son would agree to spend with his dad in the summer, that the dad would also agree to? Say 3 or 4 weeks? And maybe half of Christmas vacation, something like that?  Or maybe your ex could come to the Bay Area for a week here and there, rent an Air BnB, so he can spend time with his son without depriving him of his friends?

    This situation will get better over time -  as your young teen gets older, his wishes can be taken more into account.  Also as he matures he will be better able to advocate for himself and tell his dad what he wants. But it does seem important to keep his dad in his life, especially since his dad clearly does want to be in his life. Even if your son complains a little about it, I think it's good to support the dad-son relationship as much as you can.  And tell your son that too - that it's important to have a strong connection to his dad, even though it sometimes means he has to give up other things he'd rather be doing. 

    The best idea for the longer summers with dad are to help him enroll in some sort of summer program while he is with dad. This will allow him to develop friendships in that area as well. It may make sense then for him to spend some of a school year there.  Friends and interests will change over time. What he will learn from having to step out of his comfort zone will help him become an adaptable and confident  adult.  Don't " feel sorry" for him , rather see this as an opportunity such as studying abroad.

  • My beau (divorced)  has his 14 yr old daughter 50% of the time. When his daughter is with him she sleeps with him in his bed  (and the family dog.) She has her own room. She also spends most of her "down time" in his bed (I.e. Reading, watching netflix, napping, texting friends.) 

    The house  is large with plenty of room for everyone.

    I don't think there is anything inappropriate going on but I also feel this is a bit unusual and wonder what others think.

    ps when I stay over she sleeps in her own bed. We have a good relationship and are fairly close. The whole family is very very close and connected in a way that is foreign to me so maybe this is just an extension of this?

    thank you in advance for any words of wisdom and gentle advice

    sounds like it's working fine, and who cares if it's unusual? Divorce is hard on kids and it can be very hard to maintain the closeness they felt when both parents lived in their home. If you don't think anything inappropriate is going on -- and I am usually the first to raise eyebrows -- then please just drop back and stop judging. 

    My ex and I separated almost 6 years ago, and our son is now 11. Whichever parent he's with, he typically sleeps with. He also has his own room in both houses and enjoys spending time in there, has kid sleepovers there, and once in a long while sleeps there - always if either of us has a significant other over. He also loves to just hang out and read in the big beds of his parents.

    There is definitely nothing dicey going on. But divorce is very hard on everyone - the split was brutal and there's still a lot of pain and loneliness on everyone's part. Our son has a lot of behind the scenes sadness and one way we try to support him is to show him extra love, in many ways including cuddling him to us at night. He does not have the inner peace and sense of safety that his friends from intact families have. He never will. We all do what we can to surround him with love.

    This includes doing family dinners, family events at the holidays and other little traditions that give all of us a sense of having a true family life. This doesn't mean his dad and I aren't truly separated- we are. We do not want to be together. But our child needs a family and we're able to be good friends and co parent closely, so we do.

    I expect that your post will elicit a wide rage of responses (and I will be curious to see the responses). Bed-sharing, while still somewhat uncommon in mainstream US families, is not at all unusual in other cultures and increasingly common in the US. I think there is still enough stigma around kids sharing beds with parents (esp older kids) that we don't hear it talked about publicly, but I hear about it from friends with whom I am close enough to hear "confessions" (and in none of these cases is it at all sexual or inappropriate in any way shape or form, though I'm sure some will argue that it is "inappropriate" because of boundaries etc etc).  In my personal experience, it is very common with younger kids and includes some older kids, especially when something disruptive has happened that has sent kids back to their parents beds (a reason for fright or insecurity). I suspect (with no research to back it up) that in families where parents are working and out of the house, nighttime is one of the few times we have together and that this reality has relaxed the boundary between bedrooms. 

    But it retains a certain taboo in mainstream US culture, which is why people don't talk about it much. 

    If you want to read something that explores the cultural basis of co-sleeping, check out this article. It is extremely interesting, though doesn't necessarily address your situation. The one thing you CAN take from the article, however, is that our panic that a teen in bed with a parent necessarily leads to or means something sexual has a great deal to do with our own cultural assumptions.


Archived Q&A and Reviews

Co-Parenting a Teen after Divorce Talking to Teens about Divorce Custody Questions

Co-Parenting a Teen

How do you deal with different parenting styles?

August 2013

I am very concerned about my 15-year-old daughter's health. She currently is on a terrible sleep pattern - stays up much of the night and doesn't emerge until mid-afternoon. I realize it's summer, but she was on a terrible sleep pattern when in school this past spring as well, where she would nap for 3-4 hours after school, stay up really late, get up for school, and repeat. Her doctor is concerned as well, and wants our daughter not only to get back to a regular sleep pattern, take vitamins, and get more exercise, but also wants her to get some counseling. I couldn't agree more.

My husband and I are at the tail end of a divorce. Our daughter lives one week with me, one week with him, back and forth. We have always parented very differently, which is a large part of why we divorced - we are so very different. In a nutshell, I am the boundaries & consequences (bad cop) parent and my ex is the nearly anything goes (good cop) parent.

My ex believes that he gets to parent how he wants when our daughter is with him and that I get to parent how I want when she is with me. I don't believe that. I believe we should be doing what is in our daughter's best interest, and give her a consistent message/support around that. Which brings me back to the fact that my ex and I just don't agree on 90% of parenting issues...including what is in our daughter's best interest, unfortunately.

How do those of you who are divorced and are co-parenting deal with this kind of thing? And do you have any advice for me? My ex refuses to go to a counselor who specializes in co-parenting issues (or any counselor at this point, actually). If I impose rules that I feel are important (e.g., time limits on the computer and the like), then I become the bad cop again. When that happens, my daughter plays the custody card and threatens to go to court to live full-time with her dad. Mind you, when she gets mad at him, she does the same in reverse, wanting to live with me full time. Yes, she needs counseling...but she refuses to go. divorce didn't solve the co-parenting issues!

Your situation stinks; I'm so sorry.

I think you have to take the long view here. There is today's battle over sleep and boundaries. And then there is your long-term goal of raising a responsible, self-reliant person with whom you have a solid relationship. It takes years to get there, and you have to choose your battles and ignore/let go of some small stuff on the way. Have hope and patience.

It sounds like your daughter may be getting enough sleep, even if the pattern is extremely irritating. She does nap in the afternoons. I have kids in the 15-23 range, and it is pretty typical for them to be night owls. My kids all will sleep until noon at every opportunity, despite having hugely different personalities (and some are foster kids who came to me in their teens). It irritates the heck out of me that my 15-year-old wants to sleep until 1 p.m. in the summer and then there's not much opportunity to do anything. But that's how they are. You cannot force your daughter to sleep when you want her to, even if it would be in her best interests. My son is able to get up for something that matters to him, and he's able to get up on time for school. That is the minimum and I let the rest go.

However, you can set limits, regardless of what your ex does. You can make staying up late less desirable by having your router turn off at 10 p.m. so there's no internet, by planning fun activities in the mornings on weekends (oh, I went to breakfast without you. sorry!), by scheduling lessons/tutoring in the afternoons during ''nap time,'' and so on. You can also say, ''Here are the requirements: you must get at least a 3.0 GPA or the consequences will be no phone,'' or whatever you decide, and leave it up to her to figure out a sleep schedule that supports that.

So, pick your limits and your plan. Get some counseling yourself if need be. If they're not like the rules at her father's house, so be it. If she threatens to go there, tell her you'd be sad but you're not changing the rules. She will respect you more for setting reasonable, firm, safe boundaries in the long run. Stop trying to parent with your ex since there's no point. Just let it go; you have enough on your plate.

During a very dark time in my post-divorce life, I made a list on paper of the things I could control and what I couldn't. Making my ex be nice to me or my daughter: not in my control. It was amazing what a relief it was to see that in black and white. And very helpful to have a list of things I COULD do. patience, time and hope

Co parenting sucks let me just say that up front. and the problem you describe is not that uncommon, there are is one thing that is clear from your description, many of the issues that led to divorce where parenting related and you are now divorced.

It seems to me that you should continue to be the kind of parent you are while you are responsible for the child and give the other parent the room to be the parent they CAN be even if that is not your style.

your child is now 15 and believe me even if you both parents lived under the same roof, she would pull the same ''Dad said is OK'' crap, you are now dealing with a teen make the adjustments.

regarding the sleep schedule, in your home your rules and that includes lights out time.

Good luck, and try to make the best of it when you have her. I get it, I was a teen and now a Dad

This is a tough situation; I know, because I live with it as well. I am divorced with 50% custody of my son (16), who over the years has elected to lengthen the amount of time he spends with each parent, because he hates moving back and forth. One of the reasons he hates it is because, he says, he has to adjust to a whole different way of living each time he moves, and it takes time. His Dad and I disagree not so much about rules, but about how to enforce them, and I tend to be the ''good cop'' in this equation, though in fact I think that I have good reasons to discipline the way I do. At one point, when I felt that my ex was being psychologically abusive to our son, I got him to come to therapy with me. He stalked out in a fury; so much for that. Here is my advice, and you're not going to like it: you can't control what happens in your ex-husband's home. Period. You can make suggestions if there is a chance for reasoned conversation, but you can't just take the position that you are infallibly correct and your daughter's dad needs to do things the way you do, even if that's what you think, because you are just going to stir resentment. Unless a parent is really into endangering behaviors (drug abuse, drunk driving and the like), you can't really assert your primacy as a parent. And yes, kids play the ''I am going to live with Dad/Mom'' card just the way that kids who are living with both parents at home will try to play one off the other. It is hard, really hard, and you have my sympathy for the hard divorce process you are going through. Continue to hold fast to your rules at your house, and try to get your daughter on board through consultation with the doctor or other means of persuasion. But don't criticize what her Dad does to her, and don't try to change Dad.... that's a losing battle. Pick the ones you can win. also a co-parent

Sounds like you should not have agreed to a joint custody arrangement or should have agreed only if there was a commitment to work out the basic co-parenting rules and boundaries with an impartial and trained mediator. You can get counseling by yourself for help in how best to co-parent and manage your feelings when you don't agree on things.

You will save yourself a lot of misery if you let go of the idea that you and your ex must have similar parenting rules and style, because that is very unlikely to happen. You will drive yourself crazy and end up angry all the time. I've been there myself!

This is a difficult time for all of you. I wish you the best navigating these choppy waters. co-parent veteran

Yes, you should both try your best to let go of your own issues and co-parent. But, I'm sorry to tell you, he is right: each of you has thie right (and responsibility) to parent in the way you see fit. I speak from experience, I was the ''bad parent '' in our divorce. Berkeley mom

Do you have a custody agreement, signed and sealed? If so, go ahead and set your rules with your daughter. She's going to have a tough time getting it changed by herself.

Unfortunately, you're pretty much powerless over your daughter's father's parenting style. The only card you can play is to have the court evaluate, I.E. go to war, with a court-appointed ''expert'' looking at BOTH households. The two couples I know who went down this road (both initiated by the moms) ended up $10,000+ poorer with NO CHANGE in custody.

Judith Larner has done a lot of research in the outcomes for kids in divorce, and the best indicators are low levels of parental conflict, and continued contact with both parents.

Having said that, in my remodeled family, with nearly equal joint custody, also week on/ week off schedule, while there are differences, both I and my son's mom are pretty much hard-asses, about homework, schedules, consequences, etc, and I am The World's Nicest Ex-Husband, so I can't say I really DEAL with the situation you describe - what I'm sharing is my particular experience, and intention. I want the best for my son, and I'm convinced that fighting with his mom about parenting style is NOT the way to get it. Two Homes, Two Regimes

Hi Trying to Co-Parent - The book ''The Co-Parenting Survival Guide'' helped me a great deal. It was and is my experience that you can't make your spouse co-parent with you, no matter how hard you try and how much better it is for your child in the present and in the future. It's a great and noble thing you're trying to do, but what I learned from a ton of therapy and heartbreak is that you can only control what goes on in your house and the more you try to control what he does in his, the worse it will be, for you and your daughter. If there is a physical danger, then you need to fight for your daughter's safety, but if there is no immediate danger, although it's the hardest thing in the world to do, you have to try and let go and parent the way you need to parent in your house. I feel strongly your daughter will understand and appreciate when she gets older. I wish the very, very best for you and hope things get better soon. Michelle

Difficult coparenting situation

Feb 2013

I have a worrisome & frustrating situation with my 15 yr old son. I am concerned about my son because of his escalating intake of energy drinks combined with excessive hours of video game playing. I have 50-50 custody with his father who has a personality disorder and who is extremely hard to coordinate any positive coparenting with. His father will not go to mediation or couseling to improve this. I am finding if I attempt to have my son decrease his vices he becomes extremely defensive & much of my time with him is spent policing him & arguing. He buys the energy drinks when he is away from the house so I am finding it hard to control his access, his sleep is lousy. I get no back up from the dad and when my son goes to his house he can indulge in these behaviors without limits so reigning in what I see as an addiction feels impossible. If my son gets ticked off by my limits he can always go hang out at his dads. While I feel like throwing my hands up I am determined not to give up!! Anyone have any suggestions? Also, I think my son would benefit from counseling, he's not into it and his father won't consent. I am considering going to court to get the judge to OK therapy without his father's approval but I am wondering iif others have experience sending a resistant kid to therapy. My hope is that if I had him go a few times things might click with the therapist. Has anyone had success with this? Jane

Hi Jane. My heart goes out to you for the situation you're in with your son and his father. You have tremendous strength for not wanting to give up; I praise you! I am a therapist who has worked with teen boys with energy drink and gaming addictions. It's tough! Your son is using those addictions to avoid feeling other feelings. I'd encourage you to fight to get him into therapy. However, it may be difficult to find someone your son can eventually open up to. He may also hate it at first, but a skilled therapist (and a good match for your son) may be able to develop enough trust for your son to continue to go. I really believe getting your son into therapy is his best bet right now. supporting you in fighting for your son

I am one of the directors of Willows in the Wind, a support group for parents of teens in programs. In our experience, teens don't often have the maturity and skills to benefit from traditional therapy or they are resistant to it. There are two groups who work locally and have a different model. They have traditional therapists for the parent and may be able to help you work with your ex. In addition, they have people for the teens that they call ''mentors''. Most are actually licensed therapists, but do check for yourself to be sure they are. These ''mentors'' work with the teen, but by taking them out in the real world. They make take them out for lunch or dinner, or go hiking with them. By using a non-traditional setting, the teens are often better able to establish a therapeutic relationship with the mentor. Parents who attend our Willows meetings have used both of these groups and found them helpful.

Coyote Coast Coyote Coast Youth and Family Counseling www.coyotecoast.org/Specializing in individual, family and group therapy. 104 Camino Pablo Orinda, CA 94563 (925) 258-5400 www.coyotecoast.org

Vive Family Support Program? 1150 Maxwell Ave. Ste 200, Boulder CO 80304 1-800-261-0127 www.vivefamilysupportprogram.com All screening is done through the Colorado office, but there are therapists and mentors in the greater Bay Area
Robin Sacks

Co-parenting teen post-divorce

Jan 2013

My husband and I are divorcing and I have serious concerns about co-parenting our daughter (high school freshman) post divorce. Why? Because one of the biggest reasons for the divorce is that we have been unsuccessful co-parenting while married. We are really different. He is really permissive, doesn't believe in parenting research, and has few boundaries/consequences for our daughter (honestly, I can't think of any offhand). I am the opposite. Compromise rarely was achieved. Since we already don't agree on most parenting issues, how is this going to work post-divorce? I am in therapy, our daughter is in therapy, but my husband absolutely refuses to do any more counseling (we had been in couples counseling for about 2 years before we stopped and he said he wanted a divorce). Perhaps needless to say, he and I are really different and things are really exacerbated right now. If anyone has any advice, I would surely appreciate hearing it. totally stressed out

As a co-parent of a now-adult child, I feel you. My ex didn't want to set limits, either, although I don't think the problem is as severe as you describe (my ex was just kind of a lazy parent).

It helps that your daughter is in high school and is going to be taking care of herself a lot, compared to when she was in kindergarten and everything had to be coordinated for her. Keep setting the same rules you always would in your house. Talk about why you set those rules--''I set a 10 p.m. bedtime on weeknights because it helps you stay healthy, do well in school, and maintain a good mood.'' Hopefully she'll apply some of those same rules to herself when she's with her father. If she doesn't, well, try not to stress about the less-important things. Unless he lets her do things that are a danger to herself or others, I'd turn a blind eye. You don't have control of it, so don't try to. She will survive.

And don't assume that your daughter will prefer the no-rules lifestyle. My daughter isn't really impressed with her dad's parenting style, especially now that he has another daughter with his new wife and she sees how he parents her. My daughter and I have stayed close, and I think her personal rules/behavior are more similar to mine than her father's. Kids generally appreciate reasonable limits and rules. Just being consistent, and being you. it will be okay

If you are sharing custody with your soon to be ex husband, you will soon learn you have little to no control over what goes on in his household. Unless there is verifiable abuse or neglect, you will just have to get used to it. I always said this to myself...I will keep giving my kids the message of what I consider good values and hopefully, over time, they will actually get it. Letting go of this control over your soon to be ex husband's behavior might actually be liberating too. been there,,,,done that

I am writing as a professional who works with divorced and divorcing families as well as a mom. It is understandable that your teen's father is tired of counseling, but I wonder if he would consider a co-parenting coach. There are professionals who are quite experienced working with divorced and divorcing families and possibly could help bridge the differences between the two of you. 2 recommendations are: Dr. Fortunee Kayra-Stuart, 510.526.9506 or Dr. Victoria Coad, 510.233.1992. Kathy

I am guessing that your ex is not putting your daughter into harmful or unsafe situations, just that he's more relaxed with boundaries than you would be. Since there's nothing you can do to get your ex to adhere to your parenting style, you may as well enjoy the freedom from the anxiety. You can help your daughter by working hard to give her peace from being the subject of disagreements between her parents. This might mean just taking a step back and having confidence that your daughter will be okay, even is she stays out too late, smokes a little pot, or doesn't get into an Ivy League school. I acknowledge that it's hard -- I wish myself luck that I can take my own advice. Worrier

Dear Totally stressed out, I'm so sorry you are having such a hard time. Co-parenting can be truly impossible when you can't even agree on what that means. It's so great that you still have some hope and understand how important this is for your child. I highly recommend you look into something called collaborative practice which was specifically designed for situations just like yours. Its an alternative to traditional divorce litigation and helps parents figure out how to work these things out when their own attempts aren't working. You can find out more at collaborativepracticeeastbay.com. I also recommend my colleague Dr. Shendl Tuchman, PsyD she's a therapist that specializes on this issue. You can find her at drtuchman.com Take good care of yourself, Zemeira Singer,MFT

FYI - Someone recommended their colleague Dr Shendl Tuchman. Dr Tuchman not only did NOT help my troubled coparenting situation, she made it MUCH WORSE. We never recovered from her ''therapy'' and my daughter and I have paid the price. I think it's important to be careful with people recommending their colleagues, it seems to me that recommendations should come from former and present clients who have actual experience with the clinician, which unfortunately I have.

This therapist had NO experience in dealing with a hostile parent and would not or could not control the sessions, which escalated hostilities with each visit as she pitted us against each other and allowed name calling and threatening behavior. I did not feel safe in session. Her methods ran contrary to the advice of every book on co-parenting out there. I would have been much better off buying a $20 book and saving hundreds of wasted dollars. Get the ''Co-Parenting Survival Guide.'' By the time she was through with us it was too late to salvage anything. Seeing her more than once was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. If it feels wrong and you leave feeling worse, run don't walk!

Talking to Teens about Divorce

How much to tell 12-year-old about reason for divorce (infidelity)?

February 2007

After being cheated on repeatedly, I finally divorced my longtime h. I feel much better, and the two kids seem quite happy. The older one is almost twelve, though, and I am wondering what to say when and if she asks me why this happened. There is a universally understood, clear reason- but am I supposed to tell her ? What will she think of her father ? I have a very hard time lieing. D

You don't have to lie, but you also do not need to (and should not, in my opinion) reveal the intimate details of your relationship with your ex to your kids. If your daughter (now twelve?) hasn't asked you, she may have an inkling. But they need to have a good relationship with their Dad as much as possible, to respect his judgement (assuming he's not abusive or in some other way impaired besides having been unfaithful), etc. I'm not excusing his cheating, but there may have been other reasons for the marriage to fail, reasons that pertain to both of you, and this is often very difficult to explain to a pre-teen or older person for that matter. Please resist trying to enlist the kids on ''your side'' (I know you may not think of it that way, but your ex surely will.) If she asks you directly you can tell her the truth and keep it as neutral as you can. also divorced

There is a great website that I've been to & allows you to click on link after link after link. I really found it helpful. http://www.kidsturn.org/parents/links.htm If the link doesn't work, just go to kidsturn.org & then you can go to links from there. Good Luck

Having been a child in this situation, I can say that I would NOT tell your kids. It is too much for them to handle on top of the divorce itself. My parents didn't tell me until I was an adult. I was more mature and had solid and separate relationships with my parents. I'm sure your children knew you and your husband weren't close and that your marriage wasn't working. Kids always know. When they ask about it, simply tell them you couldn't get along, your relationship changed, you two fell out of love, whatever it is, but don't burden them with the betrayal. Talk to your friends, a counselor, someone who can be objective and support you in it. I know if my parents had told me at that age, I would have struggled with it forever. I'm so sorry your family is dealing with this. Good luck to you and your kids. Let them hold on to their innocence as long as you can. Take care

I have never been there, but my advice is to tell your kids as little as possible about the reasons for your divorce. They need to love and respect their father, and it might be hard because of this. I wouldn't lie, but just say, this is something that was between you and their father and that is hard to explain. The best gift you can give your children is to let them have a good relationship with you and their father. Anon

I'm glad you got divorced and out of a marriage that made you feel bad. I think it's a dreadful idea to explain the divorce as a result of your husband's cheating. Wouldn't it be more accurate anyway to explain it in broader terms, such as your ex not being a supportive partner, or better yet, you and your ex not being compatible, and leave sex out of it? I'm not saying his cheating was your fault -- I'm saying there are probably LOTS of things that were wrong with the marriage, and there's no need to pick on the most obvious, most provocative event to define a more complex situation. xoxo

You need not lie, but please understand that, from a pre-adolescent or adolescent daughter's point of view, any information about her father's sexuality is way, way too much information, especially if he had affairs. The information may well be horrifying to her, there's a chance that it could affect her ability to trust men in general, and have other consequences which you cannot anticipate.

She is not blaming you for the divorce (which some daughters do, even if their fathers have had affairs). You do not need to defend the choice you made. If she eventually does ask, you might consider saying, in a matter-of fact tone (tone is so often primarily what our children hear), something neutral like ''Your father and I have different values and very different views of what a good marriage is, and our marriage didn't work out. I hope that you will have a much happier relationship, though, when you are grown up.'' I think she will be grateful to you for the last, and when she is an adult and figures out what went on, will be happy that you didn't burden her with too much information. As time goes by and you are discussing boy/ girl relationships, you can stress your hope that she will find someone who will treat her with the respect she very much deserves.

Sadly, too many angry mothers embitter their daughters or use them as confidantes (which I don't hear that you would do.)

I hope that you hear from daughters who have been in this situation and who appreciated what they were told and how. I hear from the ones who greatly wish they hadn't been exposed to the information at all.

Berkeley psychologist

How to support 13-year-old whose parents are divorcing

July 2005

The parents of our very dear friend (who occasionally helps out at home w/our kids) have decided to separate, and I'm at a loss as to how (and whether) to talk with her about it. I'm also not sure what to tell our kids, and am anxious that if I tell them they might say something insensitive to her. Our friend is an amazing, truly lovely and mature beyond her years, 13 year old girl, whom we and our kids absolutely adore. She's extremely bright, well-adjusted, patient, kind, delightful, the works. My husband and I are both children of divorce, and I have intensely (and, admittedly, judgmental) negative feelings about divorce and its impact on children. I really want to be supportive, but not intrusive and not inappropriate. What to do. anon

I was that 13-year-old (many, many years ago!) I am and was extremely grateful to have somewhere to go when things got tense at home. I seemed to be always welcome to drop into the neighbor's house. I would help with the children and the parents would listen to me. I would suggest that you do that, just listen...let her vent. Be attuned to her moods and emotions. Let her know that you understand. If she wants to discuss things, you will know. Thank you for being there for her. I will never forget my ''second home.'' Thankful

Even though you happen to know of the separation, it may not be HER choice that you know. Perhaps she is ashamed, embarrassed, or in the middle of processing her feelings about it, and wants to keep it to herself. Although I was friendly and expressive teen, I was private about some things while growing up. I felt very bare and unprotected when I discovered, at 13, that churchmembers knew my family secrets under the guise of ''pray for them''. A church teacher at the time brought it up very casually and I felt betrayed that our pastor has decided to share what was said in confidence. I was embarrassed and felt violated - I didn't want our dirty laundry aired.

I don't think it would be right for you to bring it up. Despite that she probably really likes you, she may or may not want to discuss this openly with you, even if it WOULD help her. It is prying into her private emotions, and a very confusing time in her life, if you bring it up. Don't give her the soft-eyes-and-smile look of sympathy, and don't pat her shoulder as a way to console her when you feel you need to express in some way that you feel bad for her (unless she has opened the topic).

Just act normal and provide consistency in your relationship with her. Don't bring up her situationShe's about to undergo a huge shift in how her life works, so it will be nice to have things be the same and not change with you. If she brings it up, however, then yes, provide as much support as you know how to. -Leave it up to her.

How to tell pre-teens about divorce

May 2001

My sister is going through a divorce and is having a great deal of difficulty with her two daughters who are going into 7th and 9th grades. I'd like to recommend some books to her - she does not live in California. I've asked her to look into finding a counselor or other person to talk with her daughters but it's hard for her to figure out where to start looking. I'm sure she would benefit from discussing this with a professional as well. I'd also like, for myself, some reading or other recommendations for information on discussing this topic since the girls are coming for a visit this summer.

To Needing Support and Help in Divorce: Take a look at Michael Riera's, Uncommon Advive to Parents of Teenagers. He has several excellent sections on divorce. Its a very good book. Alan

Custody Questions

Teen's input in child custody

Oct 2012

My husband and I are in the early stages of divorce. We are going to be working with a mediator. Our daughter is 14. While we will of course get legal input on this, I am curious how other couples who divorced dealt with the child custody issues with a teen. I had assumed custody would be 50/50, but my husband is insistent that he wants to honor what our daughter wants. It is my understanding that she has no legal standing, but her input would be taken into consideration. My daughter has always had a wonderful relationship with her dad, which is great. She has had a challenging relationship with me. Long story short, I believe much of this is because I'm the bad cop (believe in boundaries/consequences; I'm ''not fun''; I keep on top of her homework ) and my husband is the good cop (unless it's dangerous, he doesn't really have any problem with it and feels she should be self-regulating on everything). So, I'm concerned that because my daughter and I don't have a warm fuzzy relationship like she has with her dad (unless she wants/needs something from me), that we won't end up with 50/50 custody. Who gets to decide what is best for our daughter and how is that judged?
scared of losing my daughter

I'm sorry about your divorce. I shared 50-50 custody with my ex starting in elementary school on through high school for our 2 kids. I don't know how much input the legal system gives to a 14yo, because my ex and I were in agreement on the 50-50 and did not seek a formal custody order. However, once the kids got more mobile in high school, they chose to spend more time with me and less with him, for various reasons, until they were basically living with me and seeing their dad on a Sat/Sun or for weeknight dinner. To his credit, my ex went along with this because it was what the kids wanted. His main goal was to stay involved with major decisions and to see them as often as they wanted to see him. Although I have a terrible relationship with my ex, our kids have a very good relationship with both parents. The fact that there was no drama around custody really helped all of us build solid parent-child relationships that are now so fulfilling and satisfying as they have moved into young adulthood.

I understand what you are saying about providing more structure and oversight than your husband does, and thereby setting yourself up as the Bad Guy. That's me, too. And at 14, kids are so resistant to being told what to do - they do look with high favor on the path of least resistance. However, I would advise you to think about the big picture, not just what is best for right now. This could actually be a golden opportunity for you to start building the kind of relationship with your daughter that you want when she is 16, and 18, and 20, and all the years after. This is a good age for a kid to share in major decisions like this, and it's a good age for you to make the switch from being your daughter's boss to being your daughter's consultant, something all of us with teens eventually have to do, or else risk them dropping you from their lives. Your daughter will be out on her own and making her own decisions in the blink of an eye - the high school years go by so fast. Start building for that now. I would advise you to rank the mother-daughter relationship at a higher priority than boundaries, consequences, homework, etc. As long as she isn't in any danger, let her have more time with her dad if that is what she says she wants. If you show her that you trust her to participate in important decisions that affect her, and that you will try your best to accommodate these decisions even when you disagree, then you are giving her something much more valuable than the structure you have to offer at home. local mom

It is not her decision or her father's alone, it is up to the two of you. It is usually 50/50 but you can both decide what is easier for your daughter based on getting to school during the week. Then you could do every other weekend. It is hard though for a teenager to go between houses during the week as they tend to not have the correct textbooks with them etc, so a week with you and a week with him might be better. I don't know who is paying the child support but the person who makes the most pays support to the other parent based on the amount of time they have the child so if he is paying support and he has her 70 percent of the time, he pays less to you. Maybe you should try to agree on rules and boundaries so she can't play you off of one another. She sounds like she could benefit from living with you so didn't give up any time with her. Was separated

Custody issues with teens are tricky. My kid was 14 when I went through a custody ''battle.'' In our family, I was the tough cop; my ex was the indulgent spoiler. Pretty common dichotomy, I suppose. Anyway, when the divorce dust settled, I understood that making the situation work for my kid was more important than anything else. There are no winners. You just have to be sure your kid doesn't get hurt too much by the process. Your daughter's preference will be important to a mediator, to a judge, or to a child-custody evaluator (I recommend bypassing that particular, very expensive, tour of quackery if you can). Take the broad view. You're talking about 4 years of your daughter's life. They're important years, obviously; but no matter what the ''percentages'' are, you'll have to do what's best for her during that fairly short period of time. In fact, I would say that unless there are some really serious problems you haven't hinted at, the final ''percentages'' won't much matter. You will still be her mother, and you will have the rest of your lives to develop your relationship. Good luck. anon

You don't say what county you are in; in SF the court's mediator has much less input than in Alameda county- and the judge may or may not order the mediator to interview your child and ask them what they want. You need to make absolutely certain that you never lose your cool and yell, drink or take drugs, or do anything else that the court might look at the wrong way. Please get yourself a very assertive attorney, and please plan on this being very difficult. Do not remove yourself from any of your typical child-care responsibilities, because you want the status quo to justify the 50 50 split. I'd suggest you tell your child you want 50 50, and that you will fight for that in court. My recommendation for an attorney is Maria Schopp, in Walnut Creek. Please keep posting if you have new or questions. been there.

Can 15-year-old choose which parent he wants to live with?

Nov 2005

My 15 yr. old newphew wants to move in with his biological father. He's always lived with his mom, and his bio dad has never paid child support. His mother and step father are against the move. His step father is verbally abusive to both the mom and son, and is physically abusive to mom. I've heard that after age 13 that the child can choose which parent to live with. My question is: how to go about this legally. What are the child's rights and responsibilities? What are the rights and responsibilities of the biological dad? What about the mom and step dad? I'd like to help my newphew get in a better living situation and I think that moving into home without abuse is clearly healthier. anon

My daughter moved out at 17 to live with my mother. My husband, her step-father, was also abusive. I have always regretted that I did not stand up for US and I am glad that she was perceptive enough to know that moving out was best for her.

My concern about your nephew is that you don't say much about the biological father. If he has not contributed before, how can he support the boy now? While it seems clear that the situation demands that your nephew move for his own sake, I would also suggest that he go to counseling to deal with the anger he will have about his mother's inability to protect herself and him. As a survivor of domestic abuse I would also suggest that you contact a women's help group for advice on how to help your sister. Good luck. another survivor