Will Courts Separate Siblings?

Split Custody: Will Courts Separate Siblings?

Goldberg Jones Child Custody, Featured Content 2 Comments

As traumatic and painful as divorce is for the adults involved when a couple has kids, it’s often even more intense for them. A parental split drastically alters a child’s entire world.

Divorce often arrives with changing living situations, new schools, and uncertainty. Siblings often lean on each other to make it through these tough times. But during the process, the question often comes up: Will the court order split custody and separate siblings in divorce?

Split Custody And Best Interest

The good news is that, unless there are extenuating circumstances, the court will rarely separate siblings in divorce. When it comes to child custody in Oregon, the primary concern is the best interests of the kids. In most cases, keeping brothers and sisters together is the ideal choice.

Children often go through so much during the process that judges are hesitant to split up siblings in divorce and potentially add to that.

A number of studies show the benefits of siblings staying together in the wake of divorce. These often-cited positives include:

Stability: In times of great change and upheaval, children tend to cling to any sense of stability. With new living situations, stepfamilies, shuttling back and forth between households, and more, this is frequently a sibling.
Comfort: It’s reassuring for a child to know they don’t have to go through this alone. Having a sibling nearby during tough times provides comfort and eases stress. It’s common to hear siblings talk about the relief of having a brother or sister around during divorce.
Support: Support has many meanings. It can be in the practical sense of the word, like having someone to help with homework. But it also often means something along the lines of moral support. Again, sometimes simply having a consistent presence around helps a great deal.

Caretaking: Siblings who have gone through a divorce often mention another sibling serving as a caretaker or protector as a benefit of not having split custody. Older siblings often help younger ones understand what’s going on or even shield them from some of the less-than-pleasant realities.

For these reasons, as well as others, the court is generally reluctant to separate siblings in divorce. That doesn’t mean, however, that split custody doesn’t happen sometimes.

When The Court Will Separate Siblings

Because the courts usually view keeping siblings together after divorce as in the children’s best interest, split custody is rare. A judge typically won’t separate siblings simply because it suits one parent or the other.

However, if breaking up the band truly does serve the children’s best interests, it can happen.

Safety is one example of when the court may order split custody. For instance, if a brother and sister are unable to safely live in the same place, a judge may separate siblings.

This type of situation goes beyond a normal antagonistic relationship between siblings. That happens to just about everyone with brothers or sisters. We’re talking about a scenario where one child legitimately poses a threat to the other.

If there’s a potential danger, and if one parent is better suited to deal with the situation, a judge may agree to separate siblings. If things are this bad, however, it’s probably best to consult a mental health professional if you haven’t already.

What If Children Request Split Custody?

The court won’t necessarily separate siblings to accommodate parents, but what about when the children themselves request split custody?

Again, in these situations, the children’s best interest remains the chief concern, regardless of preference.

The court is under no obligation to consider such a request. That said, if a child is old enough and has a legitimate reason to want to live with one parent over the other, the court may—emphasis on may—take this into account.

Many reasons exist why a child might prefer split custody. In most cases, it has a great deal to do with the parent/child relationship. If a son is close to his father but has a strained relationship with his mother, it makes sense he would want to live there.

Additionally, an older sibling may also want to live apart from a younger brother or sister. This may provide a sense of independence or freedom they crave at that age.

There are as many reasons for a child to request split custody as there are children. But if it isn’t in their best interest, the court won’t likely honor such a request.

Whatever the living situation, it must truly be in their best interest. It can’t just be, “Mom lets me stay out as long as I want,” or “Dad doesn’t care if I do my homework.” There needs to be actual substance to the claims or they won’t fly.

Parenting Plans

In child custody cases, parenting plans lay out all of the aspects of the living situation. This includes primary custody, visitation schedule, child support, and more.

Custody plans become tangled in the best circumstances. If the court separates siblings, it often creates a logistical nightmare.

In most cases, parenting plans specify the time parents spend with their children. When it comes to split custody, they must also account for siblings spending time with each other. This further complicates what is already a complex situation, which is another reason why the courts prefer not to separate siblings in divorce.


As is so frequently the case in divorce, split custody often comes down to money. If a parent feels like supporting multiple children presents too much of a financial burden, they may ask the court to separate siblings.

When it comes down to it, in most cases this is unfounded. When the court awards custody, the custodial parent is entitled to an adequate level of child support.

These payments cover:

  • the cost of basics like food,
  • shelter,
  • medical care,
  • clothing,
  • as well as educational expenses and other expenses.

The amount changes depending on the number of children. The court considers numerous factors when calculating child support.

  • They account for the level of need,
  • the income of both parents,
  • parenting time, and other considerations,
  • the court wants to ensure the child’s economic needs are met.

While certain circumstances exist where parents or children may request the court separate siblings in divorce, in most cases it’s not even an option. Divorce and custody battles are tough on everyone, but especially kids. Courts are reluctant to do anything that adds to this burden, including awarding split custody.

Related Reading: Enforcing A Parenting Plan
Related Reading: Parental Evaluations In Oregon
Related Reading: Dealing With Parental Alienation

Comments 2

  1. My son in law is moving to Reno several hours from his two children, but wants to take one child with him and bring him back once a month an take the other child.
    I do not think this a a good idea they are 4 and 2 the two year old will be fine for a year or so, but the 4 year old this could have damaged effects, help $ I value you opinion!
    Concerned Papa….

    1. Post

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for reaching out. That sounds like a tough situation. I passed your contact information along to our managing attorney, Colin Amos, and he will contact you shortly.


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