Divorce and Preserving Sibling Relationships
Divorce is unavoidably difficult for people, both inside and outside of a couple's core family. However, children almost universally suffer a negative impact from divorce. Having a sibling to commiserate with and draw support from can help to mitigate the damaging effects. Still, this system of shared support can only work if siblings live together, or at the very least, visit regularly.
Splitting up siblings in a divorce is rarely the best or desired option for the children involved. However, for practical or legal reasons, sibling separation may still occur. Large families, blended families with half-siblings, and children with significant age differences are all examples of circumstances in which the children may be split between each parent. The best interests of the child are always at the forefront of child-related family law cases, and Illinois specifically wants to enable separated siblings to maintain regular contact.
Sibling relationships are special and important to each child's emotional and psychological development. To support these relationships, Illinois authorizes Courts to order visitation if a parent is preventing contact. Consider the following information with regard to when and how visitation will be granted by an Illinois Court.
Who Can Petition for Sibling Visitation?
Courts do not automatically make provisions for visitation between siblings in a divorce and prefer to give parents an opportunity to determine the type of arrangement that is right for all parties. However, if siblings — which include whole, half and step — are being denied contact with each other, Illinois law permits a sibling to request visitation and reasonable electronic communication as long as the other sibling is at least one year old.
The sibling asking for visitation must be able to demonstrate that an unreasonable denial of contact is occurring, and the other sibling is suffering significant mental, physical or emotional harm due to the loss of interaction. The Court assumes that the parent denying contact is fit, acting reasonably and not causing actual harm. The sibling requesting visitation must challenge this assumption.
A petition for sibling visitation may be filed during or after the parents' divorce, and one of the following conditions must be met before a Court will look at the merits of the request:
- The minor child's other parent is deceased or has been missing for at least 90 days;
- A parent is found incompetent by a Court;
- A parent was incarcerated for at least the 90 day period preceding the filing of the petition;
- The parents are legally separated or have a pending divorce where parental responsibilities will be allocated, and at least one does not object to the visitation. In addition, the visitation cannot diminish the parenting time for this parent; or
- The child was born to unmarried parents that do not live together, and the petitioner is a sibling. For paternal siblings, paternity must first be established before visitation may be requested.
Factors in the Court's Decision
Assuming the petitioner meets at least one of the conditions mentioned above, the Court then moves to a consideration of factors designed to determine if visitation is in the best interests of a minor sibling, including:
- The child's wishes if he or she is sufficiently mature to make a reasoned decision;
- The mental and physical health of each sibling;
- The quality of the relationship between the siblings before contact was denied;
- How much visitation the petitioner requested, and the potential impact visitation would have on the child's daily life; and
- Whether a visitation arrangement is possible that would minimize the child's exposure to conflict between adults.
Discuss Your Case with an Illinois Family Law Attorney
Lost time with a sibling can never be fully rectified. Therefore, if you or your child is experiencing this unfortunate situation, take action now. An experienced Mt. Prospect family law attorney can assess the facts of your family circumstances and advise on the ability to take legal action. The Law Office of Nicholas W. Richardson, P.C. understands the stress associated with divorce and rearranging family dynamics, and will work to obtain the best possible results for you. Contact the office for a free consultation.