October 4, 2005
Case Law Development: Splitting Siblings in Custody Requires Affirmative Evidence
In this case a high-conflict divorce and child custody dispute resulted in the court granting primary custody of the 13 year old daughter to father and the 4 year old son to Mother. The Louisiana Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a custody order that splits children must support that decision with express findings that the arrangement is in the best interests of the children.
Teachers may find the case especially useful not so much for what it says as for the opportunities for speculation and discussion the case presents. The brevity of the opinion and the intriguing comments about the trial court decision make the opinion a fine Rorschach-test for students to explore their own biases. For example, in supporting its decision to reverse the custody award, the appellate court cited the testimony that daughter was very caring toward her little brother and took responsibility for him. Yet we know that divorce often places children in more adult roles. If keeping siblings together means that one will, in effect, be mothering the other, is this a justification for keeping the children together or a reason to separate their custody?
Sanders v. Sanders, 2005 La. App. LEXIS 2081 (September 23, 2005)
Opinion on the web at http://www.la-fcca.org/Opinions/PUB2005/2005-09/2005CU0803Sept2005.Pub.10.pdf (last visited October 1, 2005 bgf)