July 14, 2006
The media have given considerable attention recently to the science of siblings. The July 9th Time magazine cover story examines how siblings shape our identity and ABC's Good Morning America this week had a segment on the personality of single children and the increasing percentage of families with only one child. So its seems a good time for Family Law Prof to turn its attention to recent developments in the issue of splitting siblings in custody decisions.
Many courts have strong statements disfavoring splitting siblings but in practice find a number of circumstances in which they uphold split custody. The Missouri Court of Appeals recent enunciation of the stronger “exceptional circumstances” standard reflects the court’s ambivalence regarding the strength of this preference:
Absent exceptional or unusual circumstances, Missouri courts do not support the separation of siblings or split custody. However, it is also well established that the trial court has the authority to order such a custody arrangement if it is in the best interests of the children. There is no absolute set of rules to follow when awarding child custody; each case must be examined in light of its own set of unique facts.
In re Marriage of Barton, 158 S.W.3d 879 (Mo. App. March 31, 2005)(opinion on web)bgf
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