Child Custody and Siblings: Is Splitting Up Siblings Ever the Best Answer?

Custody disputes in Mississippi are often emotion filled and difficult.  Two parents who both love their children are put in the unenviable position of battling amongst each other for custody of their children.  Custody disputes are never easy, whether one child is involved or four, but for multi-children households, the issue arises: is it ever best to split up siblings?

The Mississippi Supreme Court expressed in the case Sellers v. Sellers, 638 So.2d 481 (Miss. 1994), that there is a strong preference for keeping siblings together.  Separating siblings should only be done where unusual circumstances justify it.  In Sootin v. Sootin, 737 So.2d 1022 (Miss. Ct. App. 1998), 1998 decision coming out of the Mississippi Court of Appeals, the court overturned an order separating two sisters, ages eleven and twelve, finding that one daughter’s slightly greater attachment to her mother did not justify separation.

However, the preference for keeping siblings together can be overridden if doing so would place a child in adverse or dangerous circumstances.  In the sad case of Carson v. Natchez Children’s Home, 580 So.2d 1248 (Miss. 1991), the court found no error in separating siblings where both had been sexually abused and acted out sexually together.

For all child custody determinations a Mississippi court will ultimately use the best interests and welfare of the child standard.  In making a best interest determination, the court will look to numerous factors including:

  1. The age, health, and sex of the child
  2. Which parent has had continuing care of the child before the separation
  3. Parenting skills of the parent
  4. Employment responsibilities
  5. Physical and mental health of the parents
  6. Emotional ties of the parent and child
  7. The preference of a child over the age of 12
  8. The parent’s moral fitness
  9. Stability of the home environment
  10. Child’s home and school record
  11. The parent’s willingness and ability to provide primary child care
  12. Any other relevant factors

The court will apply these factors and determine what custody arrangement is in the best interest of each child individually. Accordingly, it is feasible that what is best for one child is not best for all.  A court could find that one sibling would be best situated with his or her father, for instance, where the child is more strongly bonded, goes to school in the district where the father lives, and expresses a desire to remain with the father.  Whereas the other siblings might not yet be school age, have a preference for the mother, and the mother has been the primary child care giver.  In a situation such as this, it is not inconceivable that the court would split the siblings, despite the strong preference for keeping siblings together, because the unusual situation dictates such.

In most situations, keeping siblings together is the best course of action.  The bond between siblings is very strong and the courts recognize this.  However, in rare instances, splitting up siblings may be the best interest of each child involved.  If you feel your children may benefit from being split, a knowledgeable child custody attorney can examine the facts of your case and determine whether this may be a viable option for your family.

Matthew S. Poole is a Mississippi child custody attorney who has tackled even the most difficult of child custody cases, often breaching novel issues and managing tough situations.  If you have a complex child custody case, contact The Law Office of Matthew S. Poole today at (601) 573-7429 for a free case analysis.

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