I have 3 kids. The eldest boy is 20 and is studying at University, my middle son is 17 and still at school and my youngest is a 12 yo daughter.

About six and a half years ago my wife left and at the time she agreed to my request that we maintain 50-50, week-about custody. For me this arrangement has been good as I have been able to maintain good relationships with the kids and also start and maintain a new relationship with my new wife of 5 years.

Life at my ex-wife's house(s) has been a bit of a rollercoaster for our children. In the 5 years that I have been with my new wife, my ex has had 7 or 8 boyfriends, none of which have lasted more than 14 months, and some that she has moved into her house (with their own kids) within days of meeting them on-line.

My ex is an 'intense' parent. Some call them martyr-mums. When she is between boyfriends she focusses her love and attention on the kids very intensely. She also tends to treat them more like friends rather than parent-child. What this means is that during those times the kids get very attached to her.

In contrast I am a more even, but less intense, parent. I probably don't tell them enough how much I love them, but that is probably more a bloke thing than anything else.

Of course, kids being kids, they can be incredibly selfish as most of them think the world revolves around them. So what has happened at various stages during the last 6 years is that any or all of the 3 of them have decided that they want to live solely with one parent or the other, whether it is me or my ex.

Now when they have come to me in that time (all 3 have done so at various times) and made the request to live at my place full-time, I have almost always said No, as I have told them that it is not fair on the other parent when that happens, and that I believe that the best outcome for everyone (parents and children) is the 50-50 split. There have been exceptions though, most notably 5 years ago when my ex felt physically threatened by my eldest boy, and I agreed to her request for me to take him.

Unfortunately my ex does not take the same stance, and while she may not encourage the children to live with her full-time, she does not encourage them to maintain the 50-50 access. I have found out recently from a mutual friend that my ex never liked the 50-50 arrangement and has always wanted the kids to herself. This has meant that my middle son spent some time in the last 2 years living at her place full-time (until she moved boyfriend no 6 or 7 in and my son didn't get on with him).

So once again, my ex has been between boyfriends, and once again my middle son is saying he wants to be with his mum full-time. Because he is over 16, he can legally choose where to live. He is coming to me this weekend, but this is the first time he's been at my place for 5 weeks. I really miss him and just want the arrangement to go back to 50-50.

Is there anything that I can say to my son to try and fix this? Should I even be trying to persuade him to go back to the 50-50?

I only have just over a year before he heads off on his own big life adventure, and I would really like to have him in my life for half of that time.

UPDATE - 20th April, 2017

Well 18 months later I thought I should share how things went.

My son is now half way through his 18-week basic training in the Royal New Zealand Navy. While he has always continued to keep up the contact with me (more so, now that he is away from home), he never came back to me 50/50 before he went off on his big life adventure.

He spent last year trying to get into the armed forces, and spent most of the year working after dropping out of school. I was dismayed by some of the decisions that he made, but without much access to him he got very little 'good' advice. His mother even encouraged him to drive around illegally on a learners license for most of that year. Which ended up with him being caught and having to sit, and pass, his driving test.

However, since leaving for the Navy he seems to have had a renewed interest in me and more importantly, my (and his) family.

My ex is still doing her damnedest to keep him as close as possible by almost controlling his activities during his 4-day leave over Easter when he flew back down here to our home town. His car had mysteriously had the battery drained so she ended up ferrying him wherever he (or perhaps she) wanted to go.

Anyway, I do feel that I have a better relationship now with my son since he has been released from the apron strings.

  • 1
    Have you told him that you miss him and that you would really like to spend more time with him?
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 2:24
  • @Kit Yes, many, many times. Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 19:51
  • How far apart do you live?
    – hkBst
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 13:59
  • 4
    This may sound odd, but I wouldn't take it personally. Teens often get restless as they get older, and a shift in households is not uncommon. I myself moved into my grandparents' house around that age, despite having a good relationship with my parents. It's probably all part of nature's weaning process. Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 16:49
  • 2
    Hi @DuncanKinnear How did it go? Did it work with the 50/50? Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 8:42

2 Answers 2


First of all I think you are a very good parent. I'm not being sarcastic or something, I just see it how you describe the whole situation.

Sixteen is a very difficult age though. Everybody is different, some 16 year old kids are grown up and some have problems. You should talk to him. Tell him that you are his father and you love/like to spend time with him. Tell him that even seeing him everyday makes you happy. Tell him that he is an indispensable person. Tell him that you're hurt.

And you should talk to your ex. I think her behavior is not OK at all. You are his father and you got the right to see and care for your son! It may be written in law that he can decide by himself. But you are his father! You can persuade him to do this 50/50 thing again. And if he still don't wants to, find another solution that you can see him more often, something like 30/70.

I wish you very good luck and I'm pretty sure everything gonna be alright soon! Keep us updated

  • 4
    In principle I agree - however, do not put too much pressure on the son. "Seeing you makes me happy" is probably ok, but "telling him he is indispensable" might go too far - parents should be there for their kids, but asking the reverse is usually a burden a child cannot (and should not) bear.
    – sleske
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 8:29
  • I'd +100 this if i could, @sleske.. Aah, I wish someone would tell this to my (s)mother!
    – learner101
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 19:38

I have changed my original response after learning some details which made me realize how context-dependent an appropriate response is. It seems the OP lives in New Zealand, which it seems has very different custody rules and trigger-ages than in the USA -- which makes a major difference.

For USA readers (only): despite what some DCF (Dept Children/Family Services) counselors and teens themselves might say, a 16-year-old is not "legally allowed to choose" in most States in the US, where a Judge must usually decide custody primarily upon a finding of what is in the child's best-interest, and there are procedural rules limiting how much "voice" a child is allowed to express in the matter. (I've removed most of that content, since it isn't apropos to NZ). Also, it sounds like 16-year-olds in NZ are more mature than the average American teen, who lives are still moderately determined by their custodial parent.

Anyway, given that NZ son gets to make his own choice, the question is, on what basis is son making it? 2 factors immediately come to mind, and one anti-factor. The primary one I expect is "in which home does son feel more comfortable", the secondary one is "which one will be more convenient". The anti-factor is "what does Mom or Dad want."

In my experience, most conscientious Dads are stricter than the Mom's -- maybe not even intentionally -- we just feel like we have to raise our kids right, and we're OK being tougher about it if we believe its the right thing to do. You've already described Mom's household as being loosy-goosy -- which may be exactly why son wants to live there -- fewer rules to follow. This is just a guess.

There's possibly also the convenience factor. If Mom lives closer to son's friends or to school, or provides a car (and Dad doesn't) -- that makes a difference.

Therefore it's not about telling son something to "fix" the living accommodation, as much as "marketing" your living arrangement to him. And you DO have some powerful selling features, I expect.

First, you're a dude, and he's a dude. Focus on the notion that he's only got a year left to learn some of the finer points of how to be an adult male who has integrity (and which may be in opposition to what Mom says), and yet who expresses his masculinity appropriately, because frankly, it wasn't age-appropriate yet; and learning some of that stuff is best learned by watching and discussing; the catnip is the idea that Dad knows the Secrets of Manhood (at least maybe a few.) "Look, you can live with your Mum, but I have a perspective on what is important in picking a girl (deciding when to fight/persuading another guy to follow you, etc.), that I'd like to share with you before you go off to school. You'll have to decide whether it applies, but those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it."

At the same time, make clear that you're sure his Mom is going to want to spend time making sure he knows "how to treat a girl", "what kind of guy not to be etc" -- and that "she's right!" too. Your point is to make clear that BOTH perspectives are equally valid, and both are really valuable -- and that time-is-of-the-essence.

Then take a look at the convenience factor. Is there anything you can do to make your place more desirable? If he doesn't have a car, then offer him one (or offer to put him on your policy while he lives with you.) Would it make a difference, if you replaced the sofa and bought a new TV for the TV room in the basement, "in order to make it a place your friends would want to hang-out".

Think about how to cast the living arrangement you want, as being a stepping stone to his future. Perhaps offer to buy him some new furniture for his room using the excuse "Look, if you're going to be living here, we should consider upgrading your furniture; we should make sure we get you some stuff you'll want, when you go off to school".

Another line of discussion might be: "hey -- there are some experiences I've been wanting to squeeze in, before you go off to school, in case we don't have the time to do them later -- things you want to have done before you meet your girl's parents. You may be think they're dorky, but trust me, you'll be glad you've done them." (Here's some examples for my daughter, tune accordingly): "I want us to go to 4-star restaurant for dinner -- creamed herring! Yum! And there's a place about 3 hours from here, where I can get us some pilots to take each of us in our own glider to fly for a few afternoons. BTW, I'd like to go deep-sea fishing, to try to catch a shark. Any interest?" Think about how to give him bragging rights.

The point I'm making, is that you're focusing him on the opportunity cost of living only with his Mom, during his last year, and the fact that he has to maintain an active relationship with you to benefit.

  • 2
    I'm not sure this answers the OP's question at all, but focuses on legal aspects which may or may not apply to him, and what kids should know. The question was, "Is there anything that I can say to my son to try and fix this? Should I even be trying to persuade him to go back to the 50-50?" Would you please edit to give an answer to the OP's question? Thanks! Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 16:57
  • While your answer may be useful to other people who find my question, as anongoodnurse points out, you have not answered my question in any way. And since I am in New Zealand (there are other countries in the world apart from the US, you know), your legal advice is null and void, as here, 16yos have many legal rights. Besides, legal bullying is probably the norm in the US, but here the courts are the absolute last resort when it comes to the Family Court system. Counselling and mediation are the required steps before parents are allowed to take up the court's time. Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 22:00
  • Thanks for your revised answer. I have removed my -1. It was (past tense - see my edit) almost certainly the convenience factor. He wanted to live 100% at one place, and when I refused that (I didn't think it was fair, and my new partner would not have appreciated having him with us all the time), he asked his mum instead. Of course, she jumped at the chance to grab him, because she has 'lost' our first son (long story, but he doesn't want a bar of her any more), so she wants to make sure she can keep on side with this one. If I had offered him full-time 'access' he would have been with me. Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 20:37

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