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Sibling Visitation Rights
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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 adress 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;
(2) the parents of an intact marriage can refuse to allow a minor child of the marriage to associate or visit with an adult sibling;
(3) the siblings are separated by the parents' divorce decree which divides custody between the parents; and
(4) the custodial parent remarries, has new children (half-siblings), and custody of the half-siblings is awarded to the new spouse.
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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