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The rights of third parties, that is, persons other than a mother or father, to visit a child are continually in flux. All states have some kind of grandparent visitation statute, and at one point these visitation rights were interpreted expansively. Recent years, however, have seen a contraction of these rights. Stepparents and former cohabitants, both homosexual and heterosexual, have been increasingly asserting visitation rights as persons who have established psychological bonds with a child.
This Manual will address the visitation rights of those who are not parents, grandparents, or surrogate parents, but persons who have strong ties nonetheless: siblings and half-siblings. Some experts in the field of psychology have stated that aside from the parent-child relationship, the sibling relationship is the most important relationship in a child's development. Others have stated that the sibling relationship provides a context for social development, in that siblings teach one another social skills through their long-term interactions. From these social interactions the child develops a foundation for later learning, personality development, and the proper context of sex roles. As stated by one court:
A sibling relationship can be an independent emotionally supportive factor for children in ways quite distinctive from other relationships, and there are benefits and experiences that a child reaps from a relationship with his or her brother(s) or sister(s) which truly cannot be derived from any other. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to experience a sibling relationship are aware of these basic human truths.
Numerous factual scenarios can be posited where siblings or half-siblings are denied access to each other:
(1) the siblings are placed in foster care in different homes;
With foster care commonplace, with divided custody more prevalent, and with the rate of remarriage at 80% and thus half-sibling relationships more common, the time is ripe for the courts and practitioners to consider the importance of this relationship in pursuing visitation rights for siblings.
National Legal Research Group, Inc.
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