Family life is changing. According to an article by the Pew Research Center, 16% of children in the United States are a part of what is known as “blended families” - a household with a step-parent, step-sibling, or half-sibling.
When two people marry and both have children from previous relationships, their children become step-siblings. Step-siblings are capable of growing very strong bonds, and many of them do. They live together, grow up together, depend on each other, make inside jokes, and become best friends. The large number of blended families across the country is a testament to the fact that the step-sibling relationship isn't any less real or stronger than the relationship between biological siblings.
So, when a blended family falls apart due to divorce, what happens to the step-siblings? Every situation is different. Unfortunately, it isn't unheard of for Pennsylvania courts to decide that split custody is the ideal agreement for parents of blended families. This ruling dictates that the children are to reside with their own respective biological parents after a divorce, which could ultimately result in the end of a relationship between step-siblings. A split custody agreement is reached in some cases despite evidence that concludes there are advantages to keeping bonded step-siblings together. In fact, experts have concluded that to cope in the midst of a family crisis, step-siblings tend to depend on each other for emotional support, even when their parents are at odds.
However, some Pennsylvania courts choose to treat all siblings equally in terms of the interest of keeping siblings together. Many judges believe that siblings, whether full or step-siblings, should only be separated for compelling reasons. In this case, decisions made about parenting plans and time-sharing schedules will be 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 these enumerated factors, some lend themselves to consideration of step-sibling relationships:
- The child's home history
- The child's maturity and preference
- How long the child has been in a stable environment and whether continuity is desired
- Any other relevant factor
In most custody cases involving step-children, to determine what's in their best interest is to consider the impact of a decision on the relationships of a child with his or her step-siblings. In fact, if parents are in a dispute about whether one can relocate with the child, a relevant factor that can be considered by a judge is the child's relationship with the people who would be left behind, including siblings, step-siblings, and other significant persons in the child's life.
Pennsylvania Child Custody Attorney
If you're involved in a child custody proceeding, it's important you retain legal counsel from an attorney who knows their stuff. Joseph D. Lento has helped parents from across the state score an agreement that includes their contributions, protects their parental rights, and most importantly, reflects the best interest of the child. For more information about Mr. Lento's representation, contact the Lento Law Firm today online or by phone at 888-535-3686.