Johnny is 13 and wants to live with his father. His father has visited with him on weekends but has done little else with Johnny for the last 10 years. I have exercised sole custody. Johnny’s father has essentially ignored him, but now his father has re-married and has taken a new interest in Johnny. He bought him a dog. He provides whatever screens Johnny wants. He has even promised him a car when he is 16. Johnny wants to live with his father next school year. What should I do? Do I need to spend money on a lawyer?
Carolyn Answers …
Child custody cases involving teens are complicated. As the former Chief Judge Bruce Morton of Guilford County District Court used to say: “Teens are thousand pound gorillas. And you know where thousand pound gorillas sit? They sit where they want to sit.” Under the law, a judge has to give great weight to the testimony of a teen about where the teen wants to live. There is no age under North Carolina law that a minor (under 18) has an absolute say-so on living arrangements between mom and dad.
Teens are thousand pound gorillas in custody cases all too often. They break the emotional hearts of their primary caretaker during elementary and middle school all too often. Teens resonate with the parent who ignored them in the earlier years but suddenly bestows attention on the teen all too often. It is best for the primary caretaker to understand that psychologically children crave the attention of both parents. When that attention is missing from one parent, a child (particularly a teen) may leave the caretaking parent for the suddenly attentive parent out of a need for the newly attentive parent’s love and attention.
Fighting about teen custody is often a waste of time and money, based on the gorilla theory, absent some compelling danger to the teen in the other home. There seem to be three common scenarios for teen custody to change from one parent to the other: (1) The caretaker parent remarries. The teen and the step-parent do not get along. Or the stepparent in the other household is super attentive. (2) The other parent allows more freedom in the home, such as perhaps more screen time or later date-night hours. (3) The other parent provides more luxury items, such as cars and Xboxes.
In your situation, consider giving Johnny a little growing-up freedom and let him live part-time with Dad on a trial basis. Johnny sounds like he might just be a thousand pound gorilla.
I have been divorced for a year, and I hate my ex. I hate everything about him. I’ve been to the doctor and I have high blood pressure. I find that I cannot stop thinking about all the wrongs he did to me. The affair and the lies. My divorce case is over, but I am having a hard time starting afresh. Any ideas?
Carolyn Answers …
Forgiveness is one of the most important aspects of divorce recovery. Interestingly, forgiveness is important for you, more than for the person forgiven. Forgiveness returns you to the “new you,” with a neutral reset for yourself. Forgiveness is a re-calibration that allows the new you to morph into a rejuvenated you ready to experience the great new things life has to offer.
You release anger when you forgive, and anger has a way of eating up the insides of a person. Anger is an acid that chips away at your whole internal being over time. Anger leads to stress and perhaps even physical symptoms (high blood pressure and heart rate).
I personally think you may need a professional counselor, particularly since you are at the one-year mark and the anger is still so strong. Here are my suggestions as a divorce lawyer:
Find a new hobby or interest. Do an activity that you have always wanted to do, but never found the time to do. In my divorce, I had never danced, and I took up ballroom dancing. It took my mind off the negatives and helped the recovery.
Use humor. Draw a silly picture of your ex. Laugh at it and then crumble the paper and throw it way – symbolic of throwing away the anger. If you see him as a fat, pink pig with a long, long snout every time you time you think of him, maybe you will laugh.
If you are living in the former marital residence, consider moving. I found that living in the old residence had too many memories.
Join a new group and make new friends. I do not necessarily suggest that the group be people who are also going through a divorce; these divorce groups – unless carefully monitored by a counseling professional – can lead into gripe fests that will not help you.
Get a physical makeover. Buy a new outfit. Get a new hair style. Change your makeup. Become visually the new you, and perhaps your emotions will follow.
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Note that answers are intended to provide general legal information and are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by Ask Carolyn.