Thank you again.
Perhaps I phrased that poorly. Of course I (we, DH and I) care what DSS wants. And he should be entitled to stand up and have a judge hear his preference, if he wishes to broadcast it. But under the circumstances, I don't think his opinion should be a major factor in the final decision, nor should he believe that is (either because he initiated an emancipation request, nor because Mom assures him a judge will base custody on what DSS wants).
1- As Mummoth said, it's hard for those closest to DSS - and for DSS himself - to distinguish his own wishes from what he feels obligated to say, to please the adults in his life (even those of us who aren't trying to make him feel obligated). A judge may fail to see/understand this and might think DSS seems mature and clear-headed about what he wants. DSS could wind up in an extremely unhappy, unhealthy situation, because when given the chance to say what he wanted, all he could think about was how to make his neediest parent happy. The pressure-cooker DSS finds himself in makes him a good advocate for his mother, but (IMO) a worse advocate for himself than other 14-year-olds might be.
2- He has had a voice. Since age five, he's had three custody evaluations/updates by the same top-notch child psychologist/attorney and has been seen/followed, at various times, by a guardian ad litem, a court-appointed counselor and two psychiatrists. Each was charged, in part, with letting DSS express his wishes and communicating them to the court, without DSS having to appear and feel like he personally made a decision, or gave testimony, that broke one of his parent's hearts. He consistently said he wanted equal time with both parents; that he would like living with either one; and that if someone had to choose, he wanted it to be a judge, not him. When he was eight, he basically told the custody evaluator staying in CA would be nice in terms of being with Mom, but he really wouldn't like it because he'd miss his Dad and everyone he loved here; and he'd really like to live here with DH, but if he did move back, he'd like Mom to move back, too.
In his convoluted, 8-year-old way, he DID say something completely reasonable, respectable and mature: It's my parents' mess. Don't make me feel responsible. I want my Mom in my life, but I'd rather not have to give up everybody and everything else I love, to have that. Couldn't she move? To me, all this crap (pushing him to either get emancipated and move to CA, or testify which parent he wants to have custody) isn't about giving him a voice. It's about dismissing what he's said and telling him to have new wishes, that work better for everyone else: "Well, your Mom doesn't want to move and we can't make her. So humor us and pretend you DO want to choose between your parents. Which one do you pick? After all, we CAN make YOU move."
3- Older kids' wishes are "given more weight" because they're better-able to discern what's in their best interest than younger kids. By the same token, there's a list of other things the Court must consider, because even older kids don't always assess their own needs as well as an adult can; and some older kids do it better than others. If I recall correctly, our state guidelines give the example of a teenage boy with a promising athletic future, whose divorced parents can't decide where he should live. They live in the same town, so he'll see plenty of both of them, regardless who has custody. The boy wants to live primarily with Dad, because Dad is more reliable about getting him to his daily, early-morning practices. Obviously, another teenage boy who wants to move in with his dad because Dad lets him slack off on homework, skip school, and buys him pot is less capable of making decisions in his own best interest. That kid's wishes should be heard, but certainly shouldn't be "controlling".
DSS enters high school next year and has not experienced spending school nights at his Mom's since third grade. It's one thing for him to spend vacation times:
- Sharing a one-bedroom apartment and a bed with her (I shudder to think how her long-term boyfriend fit into that scenario);
- Dealing with her smoking (he's asthmatic), plus her more worrisome personal habits;
- Being alone a lot while she works or attends work-related social events in the evenings;
- Eating poorly, participating in no sports or activities and gaining alarming amounts of weight;
- Having little or no support in completing school work (he does summer reading at her place);
- Being indoctrinated to think his Dad is bad and he shouldn't want a relationship with him and
- Filling the role of Mom's soul mate and "best friend"; being responsible for her happiness and emotional health.
Since third grade, DSS has gotten all of that in brief spurts. If he would choose all those things as his full-time reality, then he is not making decisions in his own best interest; he's prioritizing his mother's wishes - or how much he misses her - over the many other things he needs.
Edited by VocalMinority - 9/12/12 at 8:51pm