Pop icon Madonna is facing a difficult battle concerning custody of her 15 year-old son, Rocco. While the divorce agreement she entered into with Guy Ritchie about eight years ago, awarded her custody of Rocco, it appears that he now prefers to remain with his Father in London. Recently, he even blocked Madonna from his Instagram account while allowing his Father access. This made headline news.
What Madonna is facing is difficult for any parent to imagine. But this situation is not something only celebrities face. In fact, as a family lawyer, I see that in many instances when children become teenagers, custody arrangements must also be modified. And when clients come to me looking to initiate a custody action concerning teenagers, I try to deter them mostly because even if a Court rules in their favor, it is nearly impossible to make a teenager do what he or she doesn’t want to do.
Now, when we discuss the factors determining custody, we always look to the best interest of the children. And the child’s preference usually plays only a small role in making that determination. In fact, most Courts do not even want to involve the child in the custody process when they are younger. However, when a child becomes a teenager, his or her preference for where he or she wants to live and spend their time carries much more weight. Certainly, a Court will encourage the teen to spend as much time as possible with each parent because that is usually deemed to be what is in their best interests. Nonetheless, I have personally seen many situations like Madonna’s where a child can be primarily raised by one parent and when he or she becomes a teen, they want to live with the other parent.
There are many reasons why a teen may decide to live with one parent over the other. First, it may be that they prefer to be with the parent of the same gender who can more easily identify with the trial and tribulations of becoming an adult man or woman. Second, it may be that the rules at one parent’s home are more lax than at the other’s home. It may be that the teen is trying to play one parent against the other. This is particularly effective for the teen when the parents are at odds. And sometimes, the teen chooses to live with one parent because he or she makes the teen feel guilty or pressures the teen in some way.
From my experience, if parents can try to set aside their differences and come together to raise their teenager with a united front, this is usually the best outcome for the teen. If the teen sees that both parents are on the same page with decision making and rules, there is less ability for the teen to manipulate the situation. Finally, if the teen knows that he or she has the support and love of both parents no matter what, then the teen will feel free to spend time with each parent without recourse.