This post has been updated.
It’s traumatic and painful when a couple breaks up, but when they’re parents, it’s often downright devastating for the kids. Divorce throws a child’s world in upheaval, and almost every aspect of their lives shift with one fell swoop. The end of a marriage often comes with a move, a change in living situation, and swirling uncertainty. In the case of siblings, things become even more complex.
Will the court split custody?
When it comes to child custody, the overriding concern is what’s in the best interest of the kids. In most cases, the court believes keeping brothers and sisters together is the ideal choice.
While it is possible, unless there are extenuating circumstances, the court won’t separate siblings. In the wake of divorce, children are vulnerable enough, and most judges are hesitant to do anything that may increase that.
When The Court May Separate Siblings
On its own accord, the court will rarely separate siblings. That doesn’t mean no judge will order this type of arrangement.
However, in these situations, it falls to the parents to present a convincing argument that this truly represents the best interest of the children in question. Judges typically won’t order split custody simply because it suits the parents.
One instance when the court may agree to separate siblings is in cases of antagonistic relationships. For example, if a brother and a sister are unable to coexist in a single setting, the court may divide them.
We’re not talking about run of the sibling rivalry, a brother pestering a sister, or occasional fights. All kids go through phases, and all sibling relationships have some strife.
These are often situations where one sibling is abusive towards another. Perhaps mental health issues play a part. Whatever the reasons, there likely must be a significant potential risk to one child.
If this is the case, a judge may agree to separate siblings if one parent is better suited to cope with these needs. When it comes to cases like this, it’s best to consult a therapist or other mental health professional.
When Children Request Split Custody
In some instances, the children themselves may request split custody. Make no mistake, the court is under no obligation to honor a minor’s custody request. Ultimately, the child’s best interest takes precedence regardless of preference.
However, if he or she is old enough and presents a compelling reason, the court may—repeat may—take a request to live with one parent or the other into account.
Though if it directly opposes the child’s best interest, the court won’t likely grant such a request.
A number of reasons exist why a child might prefer split custody. It usually boils down to the relationship he or she has with a specific parent. If a son is closer to his father than his mother, it makes a certain amount of sense he would want to live there.
Older teens exploring their independence may also want to live apart from younger siblings. This can provide a sense of freedom, a sense of being “grown-up” or more “adult.” Kids may think things will be better in one household versus the other. Some parents may be willing to indulge these whims.
As long as the home in question is safe and secure, and all parties remain willing, the court may sign off on a parenting plan that includes split custody.
But again, the living situation needs to clearly be in the best interest of the child. These claims must have some substance. It can’t just be, “Mom lets me stay out as long as I want and doesn’t care if I do my homework.” That type of argument simply won’t fly.
Like so many issues in divorce, and the rest of our lives, split custody often comes down to money. Parents may ask the court to separate siblings because they feel like supporting all of the children in a single home presents too much of a financial burden.
In most cases, however, this fear is unfounded. If one parent winds up with custody of all the kids, that parent is entitled to an appropriate level of child support. These court-ordered payments cover everything from basics like food, clothing, and shelter, to medical care and even education costs. For all minor children.
When it comes to determining maintenance payments, the court considers many factors. This calculation includes the income of both parents, the level of need, how much time the noncustodial parent spends with the kids, and more. Regardless of which kids live with which parents, the court wants to make sure their economic needs are met.
After a divorce, parenting plans lay out custody, child support, visitation, and other elements. In situations where the court does separate siblings, this further complicates matters and provides another reason split custody rarely happens.
Not only do these documents need to address the parents spending time with the children, in split custody cases, they must also account for siblings spending time with each other. Custody agreements and arrangements get tangled in the best of circumstances. When it comes to these arrangements, logistical hassles only increase, especially with larger numbers of children.
In cases where the court does order split custody, sibling visitation often figures into the parenting plan.
Related Reading: What Does a Parenting Plan Include?
Guardian Ad Litem
While certain, very specific circumstances exist where the court may separate siblings, it usually isn’t an option.
Even in cases where the parents propose this idea, the court is reluctant to approve such measures. In these scenarios, judges may appoint a guardian ad litem to review the case.
In divorce, child custody cases, visitation, and other domestic suits, a guardian ad litem represents the children and their interests.
An outsider assigned by the court, they investigate the situation, present a report, and make recommendations based on the best interest. Not beholden to any party, they provide impartial advice to protect kids caught in messy situations.
When parties request split custody, the court may bring in a guardian ad litem. This person will examine the claims, look into the specifics, and likely conduct interviews to determine the true best interest of the children. In the end, they present their findings to the court can make an informed ruling.
Divorce and child custody cases are tough on everyone, but especially kids. In such turbulent times, courts are reluctant to separate siblings, even when parents or the children themselves make the request.