Split Custody: Do the Courts Separate Siblings in Child Custody Disputes?

Divorce can be extremely painful and difficult for the adults involved, but it can be devastating for their children. When two parents decide to go their separate ways, the world as their children understood it is turned upside down.

Divorce can mean moving into a new neighborhood, going to a new school, and leaving old friends behind. Fortunately, children with siblings are likely to continue living with their brothers and sisters, but sometimes even these relationships can fracture if the court splits custody and separates siblings from one another.

What Is Split Custody?

When people hear about split custody for the first time, they might incorrectly assume that it’s synonymous with joint custody. To be clear, joint custody is a custody arrangement in which both parents share custody over one or more children.

Split custody is different. A lot different.

This is a situation in which parents have a different custody agreement for each of their children. For example, one parent could theoretically have sole physical custody over one child while the other has sole physical custody over the couple’s second child. Each child would live with one of the parents full-time, which means seeing the other parent and their sibling would occur on a limited basis.

This is an admittedly blunt example, but it highlights how two siblings could get separated from one another as a result of a child custody arrangement.

Benefits of Keeping Siblings Together

Fortunately, the courts are disinclined to split up siblings in custody disputes. Just as there is a general consensus that children benefit from regular contact with both of their parents, there is a similar understanding that children benefit from staying close to their siblings.

Some of the benefits of keeping siblings together include the following:

  • Stability: Divorce is an upheaval of a child’s life as they know it, so remaining with a sibling throughout these changes can provide necessary stability in both children’s lives.
  • Comfort: Divorce often takes a serious emotional toll on children, so having a sibling to lean on can provide each child with the comfort they require.
  • Support: Similar to comfort, siblings can provide each other with support. This can be practical support with things like homework or support in the sense of having a playmate and someone to talk to.
  • Caretaking: In many divorces, siblings can also act each other’s caretaker – particularly when there is a child who is much older than their brother or sister. When siblings take on a caretaker role, they can help each other navigate the complexities of their shared experiences and shield each other from unpleasant realities.

Ultimately, the Children’s Best Interests Matters

As with any decision regarding child custody, a judge will order split custody only if they believe it is in the best interests of one or more children involved in a custody dispute.

While judges will consider each parent’s ability to meet their children’s needs, it’s more common for split custody agreements to come down when there are safety concerns. For example, if there are credible allegations that an older sibling is physically harming or sexually abusing a younger sibling, a judge may be inclined to order split custody to protect the younger child.

How Can I Avoid Split Custody?

As a parent, splitting your children between you and your ex might not be in the best interests of your children. If it’s important to you that your children stay together while you fight for custody, an experienced family law attorney can help you accomplish your goals.

We at Claery & Hammond, LLP can provide the legal support you need if you are involved in a child custody dispute. Reach out to us online to learn more about our services.