When two people marry and both have children from previous relationships, their children become step-siblings. Even though not biologically related, when step-siblings grow up together, they can become as close as biological siblings.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Jeffrey Kluger, author of a book about sibling relationships, performed research showing that “families with half- and step-siblings … can experience the same bonds as those with children from the same set of parents.” He observed that this was true especially of children who had lived together for at least six years.
SUSTAINING STEP-SIBLING TIES
So, when a married couple raising their kids together as step-siblings decides to divorce, how can the step-sibling relationships be preserved?
The answer will depend mostly on the time-sharing arrangements in the parenting plan that must be approved by the court as in the child’s best interests. If one or both parents have children from previous relationships, when they divorce there will also be parental schedules with those other parents to consider. This will make it more complex to create a parenting time schedule that brings the step-siblings together at each of the divorcing parents’ homes.
If possible, the parents should try to negotiate custody and visitation schedules that will give step-siblings time together at their respective homes, even though coordination might be complex. It will be well worth the effort, especially when step-siblings are particularly close.
If the parents cannot come to agreement, the judge will craft one based on the children’s best interests.
BEST INTERESTS ARE THE KEY
Decisions about parenting plans and time-sharing schedules are always based on the children’s best interests. Specifically, the custody statute says that the court must consider all the factors “affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family …” including, but not limited to, a list of several factors.
Of the enumerated factors, some lend themselves to consideration of step-sibling relationships:
• How long the child has been in a stable environment and whether continuity is desirable
• Child’s home history
• Mature child’s preferences
• Any other relevant factor
When reviewing a parent’s request for permission to relocate, one Florida court used the last factor (anything relevant to a child’s best interests) to criticize the lower court for not considering the impact on the relationships of a child with her half- and step-siblings.
In fact, another Florida statute says that if parents are in a dispute about whether one can relocate with the child, one relevant factor that the judge must be consider is the child’s relationship with people who would be left behind, including “siblings, half-siblings, and other significant persons in the child’s life,” as well as whether a “continuing meaningful relationship” is possible.
A parent could submit evidence to the court showing why a schedule or parenting plan that gives the children overlap with their step-siblings is in their best interest such as:
• Parent and family testimony about the step-sibling relationships
• Professional evidence if a psychologist or therapist is involved with the children
• Opinions of any child who is sufficiently mature to give such evidence
A Florida family lawyer can answer questions about custody and visitation when step-siblings are involved.