Straight Talk Advice

Mar 16, 2011

Parents each want a kid after divorce

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: I’m 16 and my sister is 15. We are close friends. Our mom and dad are getting divorced and have agreed that one of us will go with our mom and one with our dad. But we do not want to be split up! They say that since my sister is younger she has more need to be with our mom, so I have to go with our dad. Nothing against my dad, but I would rather stay with my mom and sister and see him on visitations. They point out that we’ll have our own rooms after always sharing a room and will still see each other on visitations. However, we like sharing a room and always being there for each other. They also say that I’ll be off to college in two years so we should get used to being separated. To us, that’s all the more reason to stay together now! How can we talk them out of this? — Debbie

Katelyn 16, Huntington Beach, Calif. Ask me a question

Your parents seem to be acting selfishly. It may help to get a relative involved who will vouch for you. Since you are really close, your emotional state of mind may depend on sticking together.

Maureen 19, Redding, Calif. Ask me a question

You are both over 14 so, technically, you have the right to pick which parent you want to live with in custody battles. Tell your dad that you look forward to visitations but you just don’t want to be separated. If you have to, write a letter to the judge addressing the issue.

Brie 19, Santa Barbara, Calif. Ask me a question

Insist on court if they won’t listen. My parents had quite a few custody battles. To their credit, they always did their best to keep me and my siblings together. However, when I was 12, I wanted to live more with my mom. I ended up having to talk with a mediator and see a court-ordered therapist. We worked it out and I got what I needed. These things are hard and emotions run high, so it helps to have a third party involved if things can’t be solved. In no way should you and your sister be split up. It’s extremely selfish of your parents.

Elise 19, Fair Oaks, Calif. Ask me a question

My parents got divorced when I was nine. My dad moved out and my brothers and I went back and forth between houses every week until we were old enough to choose where we wanted to live. When my brothers were about 14 and 16, they both moved in with my dad. But I continued to go back and forth until I turned 18 because I didn’t want one parent to feel less loved. I understand the desire to be with your sister but always consider your parents’ feelings as well. Maybe you girls could switch back and forth on a schedule.

DEAR DEBBIE: I feel very strongly that kids shouldn’t be split up. Parents should shoulder the emotional avalanche and do everything possible to soften impact to the children. In rare cases there are extenuating circumstances that make separating kids the lesser of evils, but this sounds suspiciously like the case before Solomon. Only a “distorted” love would want to cut offspring in half so each can have their share. The panelists are correct: at your age, you have the right to choose. Press your case to stay together and insist upon switching houses together on a fair visitation schedule. Katelyn is right that your state of mind may depend on it. For most divorces with teens, the courts involve them in the process. Make sure by calling your county Superior Court and speaking to their legal help center. Or call a family law attorney (initial consultations are usually free).

Editor’s Note: The ideal divorce for children is when both households are run responsibly and parents drop popularity contests and competition over the kids due to insecurity. Teens have the legal right to choose which household they want to be in, so why (if there are no extenuating circumstances) subject them to legal hurdles? Best is when a divorced couple provides a “village” between the two households that makes teen children feel totally loved regardless of which household they are in and what day it is. It is stressful to schlep between two households on a rigid schedule when today’s schedules are so packed (any adult who doesn’t believe this, should try it for a few weeks).

If there is any reason for a divorcing parent to seek therapy, it is to be able to give love freely and demonstratively to your kids without malice toward the other parent and continue holding healthy boundaries — even if those boundaries don’t make you “popular.” Your kids are noticing everything so it’s a great time to get clean on your issues.

  1. By Mindy, age , from Santa Ana, CA on 03/16/2011

    I would like to have equal time and say that contrary to what Lauren and the Panel appear to assume, this is not necessarily a bad thing in all cases.  In fact, a similar arrangement works quite well in our family.  My sister and I never got along and were constantly fighting and arguing which made for a difficult situation since we had to share a room.  When our parents got divorced, we all agreed on an arrangement whereby each of us went with one parent and we switch off every six months.  We live close enough that we don’t have to change schools.  We couldn’t wait to get away from each other and have our own rooms.  Well, absence makes the heart grow fonder as they say.  Now that we’re only together every other weekend on visitations, we get along much better and have become close.  We actually enjoy being together and sharing a room when it’s only every other weekend.  We share secrets and confide in each other about our problems like we never did before.  We spend much of the time these weekends doing things together and really enjoy each other’s company which we never did before.  From what Debbie says, this probably would not be best for her and her sister since they’re happy being together all the time.  But every situation is different and it works for us, so you shouldn’t automatically assume that it is a bad thing.

    Mindy

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  2. By UGANDAN COUNSELOR, age , from Uganda---- Kampala on 03/17/2011

    It’s pitty to you that your mom and dad have decided to separate , buut in actuall sense moms are the more responsible and having alot of love to children especially teen, b’se at times Dad can get anew rude mom who can agitate you and this can lead you into physical and emotoinal abuse which’ll become a trauma side effect in future.
    So please agree with the parent’s decision since are all your parents Don’t worry, God will help you to overcome that sitiuatin

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  3. By Marsha, age , from Roseville, CA on 03/17/2011

    In my case, I was separated from my stepsister who had become like a sister to me and I really miss her, but in our situation nothing can be done about it.  She came to live with us shortly after my mom and her dad got married and he got custody of her after a custody battle.  At first I saw her as an intruder and really resented having to share my room with her.  However, in time we became best friends and decided to consider ourselves to be sisters rather than stepsisters.  We were able to confide in each other about everything.  I was always very shy about undressing in front of others and avoided it whenever possible and at first felt the same way with her.  However, I came to be totally comfortable with her and she was the only one I’ve ever been completely comfortable with seeing me naked, and that includes my mom.  Anyway, they split up because my stepdad was having an affair.  They moved out, and my mom will have nothing to do with them.  Even though my sister had nothing to do with it, my mom won’t let her come to visit, and I can’t visit her.  We are only able to communicate by talking and texting on our cell phones, and I’m not even supposed to do that and have to do it behind my mom’s back.  Some of my friends have said that it must be nice to have my own room again, but for me the opposite is true and I really miss the companionship of having her in the room with me.  Since we only have one bathroom and needed to get ready at the same time we had to share it in the morning even when we were using the shower and toilet and were comfortable with it since we felt that we were sisters.  It may sound wierd, but I even feel lonely when I’m alone in the bathroom in the morning on the toilet as I was so used to her being there and talking to her.  However, unlike Debbie’s and Mindy’s cases we have different parents, so there’s no hope of an arrangement where we could stay together even though we feel that we’re sisters.  But I do think we should still be able to visit each other and have sleepovers, since their breakup had nothing to do with us, but my mom doesn’t see it that way.

    Marsha

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  4. By Cindy, age , from Toledo, OH on 03/18/2011

    I agree that the fact that you’ll be going off the college in a couple of years is all the more reason to stay together and enjoy your time together as long as possible.  I couldn’t wait for my sister to go off to college so that I could finally have my own room after sharing a room with her my whole life and to be able to have the bathroom to myself during the morning rush.  However, after a couple of weeks the novelty of having my own room wore off and I started missing her and actually wishing that we were sharing a room again.  Even having the bathroom to myself in the morning without her walking in on me on the toilet wasn’t any big deal, and I had to admit that it never really bothered me that much since we’re sisters.  But I didn’t appreciate her until she was gone, so I would like to tell all sisters that you should appreciate and enjoy each other while you can and if you share a room, look at the positive side of it.  Even though I see my sister and share a room with her when she comes home on vacations, it will never again be the same and that makes me sad.

    Missing Her In Toledo

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  5. By no name please, age , from Los Angeles, CA on 03/25/2011

    As a parent who is 11 years into a 14 year divorce, no one wants to say this out loud, but it’s really up to the teens themselves to make their parents listen to their needs and desires so that they get what they need. The law will not do that for them. And most therapists will not do that for them either.  And court appointed advocate most certainly will not.  The law exists for the conflict between the parents and really doesn’t step in in any meaningful way on behalf of the children.

    Nothing about my divorce has gone as I expected it to in any way. The Family Court experience differs greatly not only depending on what state one lives in but in what county.  In my experience, it has been a constant and for the most part fruitless endeavor to get anyone to listen to my kids as to what they want.  They are very articulate and reasonable kids and have been denied what would work best for them at every step of the way by a wealthy, angry, vengeful ex, who as you might have guessed, isn’t really interested in what they want and by a court system that cares far more about upping the legal fees than it does about the children.

    My personal experience is with a court system filled with judges who are loathe to make a decision on their own and a system that forces the adults to lawyer up and the case does not move forward without spending astronomical sums on experts of all stripes and subjecting the kids to a psychological evaluation.  The judge then rubber stamps the expert’s recommendations—even when the expert is demonstrably biased and has offered conclusions that are not based in the facts of the matter but rather on their own childhood issues.  Meanwhile, these same judges refuse to speak to the kids or to consider their opinions.  I see one of your teen consultants speaks of 14 as being the age when a child decides and I want to point out that this is not true and children should not be encouraged to think that it is true.

    My youngest is 15 and still struggling to be heard.  Last year, her two year legal battle to live with me (and be separated from her 17 year old sister) ended with a court victory.  She asked me to go to court and fight for her and I did.  She was ecstatic and my older daughter was extremely happy for her because she knew how unhappy the years of not being heard have made her sister.  I have known all along that this was the solution that would work best for my children and have been rejected at every step of the way by the ex and by the system—both of whom adopt the arrogant assumption that this is never good for the children.  My children would say otherwise and I’m sure thousands of other children would too.  Isn’t the point to find what works best for each child and provide that to them?

    I felt that someone who has been in the ugly trenches for way too long, against my will and desire, had to correct some strong misconceptions contained in this column. Anybody looking for justice in the justice system is barking up the wrong tree.  And that includes teenagers in the Family Law court system.  Children should not be given false hope for help that isn’t going to materialize.

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  6. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Fair Oaks, CA on 03/25/2011

    Dear Jennifer,

    Thank you for writing. I’m sorry for all the pain you and your daughters have been through… and am glad things finally worked out, albeit frustratingly too late. I appreciate your pointing out how hard or impossible it can be to work within this system—and how it varies by county and state. I noticed how hard it was to get information myself when I researched it. People were not very helpful.

    Nevertheless, I still want teens to try, rather than give up based on your experience! There are many stories where things worked out and the child’s wishes were honored.

    Take home message to parents and kids: Parents: don’t be selfish, don’t play popularity contests—and keep your family out of court if at all possible. Kids: don’t take the easy road by picking the “house with the most toys” (or the fewest rules).  Do what’s really right for your development. To this end, be prepared to do what Jennifer says and MAKE your parents hear your point knowing that the courts may not be your answer and that one or both of your parents may be acting like children. Many teens I’ve talked to have had to be the mature ones.

    Love,
    Lauren

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  7. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Fair Oaks, CA on 03/25/2011

    Dear Marsha,
    My heart goes out to you and other step-siblings who are separated at divorce. Yours is another example of where parents act like children and have ego, image, and blame issues around divorce causing unnecessary grief. It’s all too human. But humans CAN rise above ego and many do. I rarely recommend going against your parents wishes, but this is one of those cases where I think it would be okay to keep in touch with your step sister and meet with her as often as possible on neutral turf. (Unless there is another reason she doesn’t want you hanging out together… your stepsister isn’t a bad influence is she?) If the answer to that is no, then I see no reason not to take matters in your own hands and continue your sisterhood. You very likely both need each other to emotionally process the divorce. Let me know how it goes.

    Love,
    Lauren

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