How Step-Families Can Impact Child Custody
Blended families can grow as close as biologically-related siblings, and the connections between them can be just as strong. Separating children who have formed such close bonds when the parents decide to divorce is the worst possible outcome. However, the law does not look at step-siblings the same way it does biologically-related sisters and brothers, and there is the added complication of the other parent who has a right to regular parenting time. Typically, courts try to keep siblings together when evaluating time-sharing schedules, because children tend to do better if they have each other for support. Step-siblings do not receive the same treatment, though, and the step-parent has no right to ask for parenting time in the event of divorce. As a result, everyone will have to work together to create a schedule that allows all the children to see one another on a consistent basis, which can prove challenging in practice. Further, courts are always concerned with the best interests of the child and could take into consideration the relationship between all the children to justify approving or implementing a plan that allows for frequent contact.
Factors Pertinent to Child Custody and Step-Siblings
Courts use a number of factors to assess what is in the best interests of the children, and while there is no legal requirement that step-siblings be taken into consideration, judges will include anything that has an impact on the child’s wellbeing. Certain factors, though, will have more relevance to this situation than others, and parents interested in preserving these relationships should place a focus on these issues when presenting their claims to the court. These factors include:
- The age of the children and how long they have lived together;
- How stable the home environment has been and the desirability of maintaining this arrangement;
- The history of each child’s home environment;
- The child’s preference, depending upon age;
- The ability of the parents to put the needs of the children first; and
- The geographic viability of the plan.
The trickiest part of coordinating a parenting plan that factors in step-siblings is the need to balance the schedule against the schedule the children have with the other biological parent. In order to accommodate this issue, the divorcing spouses will have to cooperate at a high level so that all the children can be scheduled to spend time with each other when the step-siblings are present. Ideally, the other biological parent is on-board with this plan, as it will make it easier to formulate a schedule that works for everyone. Thus, the standard split of weekends and a few nights per week between parents may not accommodate this situation. Instead, parents may need to alternate the schedule during certain weeks of the month so everyone can get together and create the amount of flexibility that will likely be needed to address the large number of schedules impacted. It is possible to keep step-siblings in contact, but working with an experienced divorce attorney is crucial to ensuring the time-sharing schedule is arranged to minimize the likelihood of problems and/or disputes.
Speak with a Florida Divorce Attorney
Divorced and blended families present unique issues that standard plans cannot accommodate. To ensure that the needs and desires of everyone are adequately addressed, consult with a Florida divorce attorney about appropriate options for your situation. The Fort Lauderdale divorce attorneys at the office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. have years of experience helping divorcing spouses find the right solution for their family, and are able to speak with you about your circumstances. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.