Will the Court Separate Siblings in a Custody Case?

 The courts seek to provide the best possible living situation for minors during custody cases. In rare cases, siblings might be living under two different roofs.

As a general rule, Florida courts are extremely reluctant to separate siblings when making a child custody determination. The reason for this is fairly common sense and based on Florida’s best interests of the child standard. Separating siblings, for the typical child custody case, only serves to further disintegrate the family instead of helping the family heal.

Like most general rules, however, there are unusual exceptions when the court will decide it is in the best interests of the family and children to separate siblings.

When Will the Court Separate Siblings in a Florida Custody Case?

The 2007 Florida family law case of Matias v. Matias highlights one of the rare legal instances where a family law court decides it is necessary to separate Florida siblings. In the case, the husband (Bill Matias) appealed a final dissolution of marriage judgment that awarded primary residence of one child to him, while the second child was given to his wife (Melissa Ann Matias).

Citing previous cases, the appellate court recognized that a court should not generally separate siblings absent “compelling circumstances” to do so. When the couple in the Matias case first divorced, the father moved to Naples, FL with the son while the mother remained in Tampa with their daughter. Additionally, the facts of the Matias case showed that a child custody investigator determined the children’s best interests would be served by awarding each parent the primary residence of the child already in their primary care. The investigator also noted that a visitation schedule should be created that allowed the children to be together every weekend.

The trial court ultimately accepted the investigator’s recommendation, which is what the husband was appealing. On appeal, the court noted that the children (ages 13 and 6 at the time of appeal) had already been living in the primary residence of their given parent for a period of more than 4 years. As such, awarding the primary residence of both the children to a single parent would have seriously disrupted the life of one of the children, which would not have been in that child’s best interest. And, the visitation schedule ensured that both children would retain a strong bond as siblings.

In summary, the Matias case is a reminder that, while unusual, Florida courts may choose to separate children when compelling circumstances show that the separation is in the best interests of both children.

Florida spouses going through a divorce should keep the Matias case in mind if there is reason to believe there are compelling circumstances that may lead a court to believe sibling separation is in their best interests.

If you have questions regarding your court case, or are unaware as to the terms and conditions in, talk to, and retain, a family law attorney who can help. Contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at contact@themckinneylawgroup.com

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