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When a couple divorces or separates, it can have a significant emotional impact on their children. They might not only have to adjust to a new home or school, but children can face many other changes regarding their living situation. Significantly, siblings often rely on each other during these stressful times, providing comfort and support. California family courts recognize the importance of sibling relationships — and judges frown upon separating siblings unless there is a compelling reason to do so. However, it’s not always easy to keep children together in cases where they share only one parent. Although California law does not explicitly provide for half-sibling visitation, it’s crucial to work out a parenting plan and visitation schedule that will help to keep the relationship half-siblings have with each other intact.
Visitation is a critical component of child custody that allows a noncustodial parent to spend quality time with their children. While courts favor joint custody arrangements that allow a child to spend substantial time with each parent, this may not always be possible. When one parent has sole physical custody, the noncustodial parent will have visitation rights.
Parents can either reach an agreement regarding visitation between themselves, or a judge will determine the outcome if the parties are contentious. Under California law, the court must grant “reasonable visitation rights” to a parent, unless the child’s welfare or safety would be threatened. A reasonable visitation order doesn’t specify a set schedule. Rather, it is open-ended so that the parents can work out the details.
Blended families are very common and many children form strong and lasting bonds with their siblings — whether they share one parent or both. But regardless of their age, neither a sibling nor a half-sibling has legal standing to bring a petition for visitation in a California court. While there is no statutory right to half-sibling visitation, it is up to a parent to facilitate the relationship and encourage the interaction between them.
To help preserve a half-sibling relationship, parents should consider the emotional attachment they have, their ages, and whether the children were raised together. These factors are essential when creating a parenting plan and putting together a visitation schedule that will benefit everyone in the family.
Since half-siblings cannot bring a petition for visitation to the court, establishing stepparent visitation rights can be a way to maintain a half-sibling relationship. Importantly, a stepparent who was legally married to their stepchild’s biological parent may be entitled to seek visitation with them. A judge may grant a request for stepparent visitation if the child’s best interests would be promoted by doing so — and it would not interfere with the biological parents’ rights.
Courts are guided by the “best interests of the child” standard for all custody matters — including those involving stepparent visitation. Specifically, a judge would look at a number of factors related to the child’s safety, welfare, and overall well-being under the California Family Code.
In evaluating whether it would be in the best interests of a child to grant visitation rights to a stepparent, the court would consider the following:
Additionally, if both biological parents are unable to care for the child, a stepparent may be able to invoke the doctrine of “In Loco Parentis.” This principle is typically applied in cases where the stepparent was the only parental relationship the child had ever known.
In most cases, a judge would deem keeping half-siblings together when possible to be in their best interests. However, there may be circumstances that warrant keeping them separate in order to ensure their safety or limit their exposure to domestic violence.
There might also be instances in which a child prefers to live with one parent over the other — which could potentially result in siblings being split up. In California, a court must consider the child’s wishes if they are “of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to custody or visitation.” While the court may sometimes allow a younger child to convey their wishes to the judge, a child who is 14 or older must be permitted to do so.
Family dynamics can be complex after a divorce — and the best interests of your children should always come first. If you are facing a child custody or visitation matter, it’s vital to have a knowledgeable attorney by your side who can advise you regarding your legal rights. The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks provides clients with compassionate counsel and experienced representation for California child custody issues and a wide variety of family law matters.
The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has been helping clients throughout Fresno and the surrounding area in their divorce and family law matters for more than 20 years. To schedule a no obligation consultation to discuss your legal issue, call (559) 222-4891.