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Stepmom wonders how father can get custody of reluctant teen who is failing high school

Your Question:
My husband wants to gain custody of his 15 year old son. His son is currently living 2 hours away from us with his single mother and her brother. My husband has had a fairly reasonable relationship with BM throughout the 14 years following their separation and divorce. Up to this year my ss mainly lived with the ex's parents because she was in and out of relationships. Her parents were the only stability. None of which could be proven of course. In either of these two households there was/is little discipline or accountability for actions. He pretty much does whatever he wants whenever he wants. A nice cushy arrangement for a teenager. He has progressively been doing worse in school. Barely scooting by 6th, 7th and 8th grade. Passing those grades due in large part to his father--being as tough as he can be from 2 hours away. My husband would drive 2 hours for a 15 minute parent/teacher conference. While mom wouldn't even drive 5 minutes. For the past two years the consequence for not doing well in school was to move here to Tennessee ( from NC). While BM would at first agree that it would probably be better if he were here with his dad, after ss would complain and say he didn't want to move, she just wanted to get rid of him, she didn't love him, she loved sbrother more, she would feel guilty and back down, then refuse to send him. Promising that she would keep up with his school and stay on top of it. She wanted to handle it. This year he is a freshman in HS. His first semester he had 2 D's and 2 F's. He lied to his father about his grades all throught the semester, leading him to believe that he had C's or better. His BM knowingly allowed him to do this. Never once did she contact my husband to let him know that ss really wasn't doing well. My husband didn't not get a report from school because he trusted them both to be honest. Up to this point they had been. At the end of the 1st semester when my husband still had seen no report card, he finally called the school and had them send one...unveiling the lying. Again we went through the same discussions as the last two years...with her agreeing that he should come here. SS manipulates her into changing her mind and again she refuses to send him. Because he doesn't want to go and she says we can take her to court if we want to but he is at the age to choose and no judge would send him. She is willing for him to come, but she isn't going to make him come. We have to convince him to do it. While he enjoys and looks forward to coming to visit on weekends, he doesn't want to move, I'm sure, because he knows my husband would make him tow the line. Of course I know he would miss his mom and family and friends. But I think giving up his free reign is the biggest issue. He has his mom under his thumb. My question is we have any chance of getting custody of him? Has anyone been in the same circumstance? If he remains in his current situation I don't forsee him graduating from HS. I feel like his future is on the line and she is just letting it go down the tubes. Is there anything we can do about it?

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My Answer:

The poor school performance is the primary issue here, not so much the lying.

I watched a judge change custody (on another case before mine) on the basis that the father apparently wasn't able to help the child achieve passing grades. The father said that he was doing everything he could, the judge said that he's giving the mother an opportunity to try to do better. It was a 15 minute hearing.

I believe that 2 D's and 2 F's would pass muster for a measure known as "substantial change of circumstance", which is generally the threshhold needed to surmount before a judge would consider a change of custody.

You have two opposing arguments, with regard to child's best interest.

The first is that the child doesn't want to live primarily with dad. If the child can express valid reasons for this (e.g., dad is abusive, stepmom is abusive, there's no private bedroom, it's dangerous, there are drugs, etc), then the court would take note. But if the child can't provide a reason, or if the child's reason is, "Mom lets me do whatever I want", then the court likely wouldn't put much weight on the child's wishes. The judge may wish to speak with the child, or the judge may wish to have an evaluator speak with the child.

There's also the reality of whether the father can truly force the child to stay in his home. A determined 15 year old will live whereever he wants. But if the kid is more lazy than rebellious, this may not be an issue.

The second primary argument against a switch to your home is the valid concern that he's going to move 2 hours away from all of his friends and activities (if any). So, the judge will have to weigh that certainty against the possibility that dad can really help this child get back on a good track.

My guess would be that if argued well with credible evidence, the father stands a decent chance at getting a court to change custody; barring any major issues you've failed to disclose.


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