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Noncustodial father wants custody change due to concerns about teenage son's failing school performance, emotional welfare, and social development

Your Question:
My husband has been divorced for 3 1/2 years. They didn't get lawyers. He just took all the debt and she took their son, then 12. He is in the Navy so he had to stay in Maine. She left immediately and took their son to Indiana to get help from her family. Now, the boy is turning 16 in two months. We returned from overseas duty and have seen him for a month over the summer, and 2 weeks during Christmas. His ex wife has been lying and allowing their son to lie about everything. It turns out the boy is failing almost all his classes and has been for 3 years. He seems depressed. He doesnt have many friends. He basically plays video games 24/7. He is severly overweight. He is 6 feet and over 300 lbs. His maturity level is below average. We are worried. His mother refuses to help him and says she talks to him. She has not kept the boys father involved at all. She wont consider letting him live with his father for a trial period or anything. We are afraid he wont graduate high school and that he is suffering. He loves to spend time with us. He now has a 4 year old brother and 2 year old sister. The 4 year old was mine, my husband adopted him. The boy has anger issues as well. He is not doing good in his mom's care but says he doesnt want to leave. Probably due to fear of consequences with bad grades and having to grow up a little. His mom also cries a lot and makes the boy upset.

We live in Virginia right now and want to get custody so that we can help the boy. He needs a man in his life right now. My husband will be retiring from the Navy In August and moving to Washington for a new job. Do we stand a chance at getting custody?

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing.

If you can build your case well and everything you outline is true, I think your position is very reasonable and will be carefully considered by a judge.

I think the biggest barrier is availability of the dad before August (maybe a non-issue). Granted, I don't know any particulars about your situation, but if this were my son, I'd immediately fix my life so that I could raise him-- we've got two precious years left to try to turn this boy around.

I don't see it being necessarily best for the boy UNTIL the father is stable in his home location and available for some major fathering. So, I think that's your challenge to figure out among yourselves.

A HUGE question that will need answering in court is, "Where the hell was dad for the past few years if he was so concerned?!"

I think the mother's attorney should pound the "Yeah, it's easy for dad to come waltzing in whenever he wants and critize the mother, who has done 99% of the child-rearing."

So... reality... Dad needs a good answer on that.

In terms of building your case, I'd recommend (one or both) of these books: "Win Your Child Custody War" by Hardwick, and "Child Custody A to Z" by White. Read more about them on my Recommended Books page. You have one shot at convincing a court to change custody, and you need all your ducks in a row. If you blow it, that's it, no do-over.

Outside of the legal issues, I strongly recommend you two discuss (if you haven't already) the impact a custody change could have on your home. Does this 300 pound, brooding, moody, wholly-dissatisfied-with-life teenager pose any threat to your young ones; especially if faced with an unpleasant "tough love" environment as perhaps his only salvation? I really don't know. I would expect and imagine that he's going to need some serious attention, with the aid of a counselor. He and the other two may have daddy-envy issues (i.e., not wanting to share daddy). I really don't know, of course. But it's worth a serious discussion because it's not worth placing two kids at risk just to save a third, that is IF any risk is there.

Get those books, and consult with an attorney in the county where the mother lives (i.e., that's where you'll have to file the case).


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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