When a couple makes the decision to get a divorce or to separate, the family unit as they knew changes in an instant. When making a decision for a child, the decision must always be based on the child’s best interest above all else. In exceptional cases, siblings may be separated where each parent lives separately with one or more of the children. As a result, the children must adapt to a new reality with many changes. With this in mind, we have been asked: is it ever favorable to separate siblings in the context of a divorce or separation?
Typically, during this time of this significant transition, siblings often lean on each other for support and a sense of security and stability when everything around them seems to be crumbling. The sibling bond can be an important source of comfort for a child as they navigate this sudden change in the family dynamic. The sense of loneliness can be eased by knowing there is someone who is living through the same experience, and who can act as a reciprocal confidant to share their feelings.
The importance of the sibling bond is that the emotional burden of the divorce or separation can be shared, which can otherwise be quite isolating. Often, children develop a sense of “split loyalties” because they don’t want to take sides and risk hurting one of their parents. As they undergo all these internal battles, a sibling is there to share the burden. On a physical level, it can also be comforting for a child to have a sibling present each time they have to pack their bags and switch homes. If the parents involved choose to separate the children, not only must a child cope with losing a parent part of the time, they must also deal with losing their sibling/s and confidant. Keeping siblings together allows for stability regardless of which house they are in. This many drastic changes all at once can be extremely challenging to a child on an emotional level and the added loss of a sibling is most often decided that it is not in the child’s best interest.
In Quebec, over the years, the Courts have established a series of factors to consider when determining what is in the child’s best interest. Among these is le maintien de l’intégrité de la fratrie, which refers to maintaining “sibling togetherness”. Although an individualistic approach must be taken for each child, the fact remains that sibling togetherness is an element in the best interest of each child. There are always exceptions of course. The Courts have long recognized that ensuring the stability of parenting time is particularly important in the development of younger children. Additionally, the courts have repeatedly ruled that the separation of siblings can constitute a serious risk, especially when the children are young or have always lived together.
Although there will always be exceptions that may merit separating siblings, the norm is to keep siblings together, as research shows it is ultimately in their best interest. If you have any questions/concerns, do not hesitate to contact us!