Friday, July 14, 2006

Do courts split custody of half and step siblings more readily?

Another issue that often arises in these cases is whether the policy of keeping siblings together applies as strongly with step or half siblings

Some courts treat all siblings equally in terms of the interest of keeping siblings together. Willenbring v. Roepcke, 2006 Iowa App. LEXIS 233 (March 15, 2006)(opinion) (“Siblings, whether full or half-siblings, should be separated only for compelling reasons.”) ; Aragon v. Aragon, 104 P.3d 756 (Wyo. January 19, 2005)(opinion)(we find the strong public policy toward preservation of sibling relationships to be equally applicable whether the children are full sibling, half sibling, or stepsiblings.)  Other courts conclude that “The prohibition against separating siblings in the absence of exceptional circumstances does not apply with equal force in cases where the children are half-siblings” Evans v. Evans, 2005 Ark. App. LEXIS 442 (June 8, 2005)(opinion)

As a practical matter, of course, each parent may have formed a new family and separating the child from one set of siblings will be a necessary consequence of any custody decision.  See, e.g., In re Rohlfsen, 2006 Iowa App. LEXIS 472 (May 24, 2006)(blog posting on this case)

As the Pennsylvania court commented:

The policy in Pennsylvania is to permit siblings to be raised together, whenever possible (the doctrine of family unity or the whole family doctrine). Absent compelling reasons to separate siblings, they should be reared in the same household to permit the continuity and stability necessary for a young child's development. This policy does not distinguish between half-siblings and siblings who share both biological parents. However, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has made clear that the policy against separation of siblings is only one factor--and not a controlling factor--in the ultimate custody decision. In the majority of cases in which this doctrine has been invoked, the children have been reared together prior to separation or divorce of the parents. In cases where the siblings have not been reared in the same household, the force of the doctrine is less compelling. A divorced parent who has another child by a subsequent relationship should not thereby be favored in a custody decision regarding any older children, based on the whole family doctrine. Such an application of the doctrine would imply an unacceptable policy: that a parent who subsequently has additional children with a different partner is automatically favored in a custody dispute. Johns v. Cioci, 2004 PA Super 492 2004 PA Super 492; 865 A.2d 931; (December 30, 2004)

The Alaska Supreme Court in a similar vein concluded that a parent’s remarriage and new children not be changed circumstances justifying custody modification but a child’s bonding with those new siblings may be.  Robertson v. Phillips, 2006  Alas. LEXIS 32 (March 1, 2006)(See blog posting) bgf

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Comments

The GAL for my grandson who is age 3 is going to recommend he be split from his step brother who he has resided with for the past 3 years and loves dearly. His father has provide 85% of his care since birth. Is it standard practise in the state of Connecticut for the judge to rule onbehalf of the GAL's recommendation?

Posted by: Tracey Carpenter | Apr 17, 2009 3:58:05 PM

I have a twist on this. My wife and I were married a year ago and she has two children from a previous marriage ages 6 and 4. We just had a child of our own. The father of the two children is asking that he have shared custody of our child and he is actually going to court for it. Do I have anything to worry about are you aware of a case where this has happened?

Posted by: Concerned Father | Mar 2, 2014 5:26:53 PM

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