My parents got divorced when I was 3. I’m currently 14. My mom has full custody of me, but I want to live with my dad full time in Denver, CO. What do I do?
You want my honest opinion?
If 1) despite your best efforts to make the current custody situation succeed 2) you still have a genuinely good reason for wanting a change of custody, then go for it. If you don’t have a compelling reason for a change of custody, then do your best make the best of your circumstances and deal with the current custody arrangement until you’re an adult who is free to decide where you live without anyone having power over you or that decision; that’s not only the legally correct thing to do, it’s the mature and morally correct thing to do.
“I want to live with Dad” is, on it’s own, not a legally compelling reason to change custody.
So what is a good reason for a change of custody?
#1 If you are being abused or neglected by your mother (or if you are at serious risk of being abused or neglected by your mother). This is the most compelling reason.
#2 Another good reason: even if your mother is not abusing or neglecting you, she is still otherwise unfit as a parent. What do I mean? Things like Mom being unable to take care of you due to physical and/or mental health disabilities, substance abuse, problems that she cannot or will not remedy.
#3 Another good reason: if you and your mother are like oil and water, constantly at each other’s throats, arguing and fighting, unable to get along, miserable in each other’s presence.
If you have the evidence to prove reason #1 or reason #2, then your Dad can file a request with the court to modify the child custody award and no one will be terribly surprised or scandalized. Sure, Mom will probably strenuously deny it, but again, if you have the proof, eventually you should prevail.
If you have the evidence to prove reason #3, then your Dad could certainly file a request with the court to modify the child custody award, but the court’s reaction to such request would be “Yeah, right, Dad. You’re doing this for your child, not for your own nefarious selfish purposes, sure, sure.” If you ask Dad to request a change in custody, Mom will claim that Dad forced or cajoled you into asking for a change of custody. The skepticism you and Dad encounter would make your request an uphill battle from the beginning.
There are both good and bad reasons for why courts won’t listen to or grant the child custody wishes of a 14-year-old child. A good reason: young children can be easily manipulated, intimidated, and coached, so it’s hard to know whether what the child says he/she desires are honest expressions of the child’s needs and wants or an expression of what the parent wants. A bad reason: just because children can be easily manipulated, intimidated, and coached does not mean that anything a child says is the result of being manipulated.
So as an alternative to asking Dad to request a change of custody for you (when you don’t have a clear case of abuse or neglect), you may consider hiring your own lawyer* and doing this through the court system ON YOUR OWN, with the assistance of a lawyer you chose and that you hired to help you. That way it’s harder (not impossible, unfortunately) to accuse Dad falsely of being your puppet master.
But even if you have a good reason for seeking a change of custody AND you have the evidence to prove it, this may not be easy. DO NOT expect the court to be sympathetic to your efforts. Indeed, expect the opposite. Hiring your own lawyer is unusual (it may not even be legal for a child to seek a change of custody in your jurisdiction, so make sure of what law(s) apply to you). The court will likely treat you like you’re an idiot (or a spoiled brat or both an idiot and a spoiled brat) for hiring your own lawyer and trying to seek a change of custody on your own. But it’s harder for a court to silence you and disregard your arguments when you have your own lawyer.
*DO NOT confuse hiring your own lawyer with having a “guardian ad litem” attorney appointed for you. When you hire your own lawyer, you have more control over your case and your fate. When a guardian ad litem is appointed by the court ostensibly “for” you what really happens is that the GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) ends up doing what the GAL believes is best for you, even if that’s not what you want. When a GAL is appointed “for” you, you can’t testify in court. You may not even be allowed to go to court to see and hear what the GAL says on your “behalf”! Instead, the GAL ends up making “recommendations” to the court as to what should be done for you without you knowing whether the GAL’s recommendations took your requests and desires into account or whether you endorse the GAL’s recommendations.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277