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Considering sibling relationships in parenting arrangements

Family courts in Michigan are compelled to act in a child's best interests in cases regarding child custody, visitation rights and parenting plans, but they do not always consider the child's relationship with his or her siblings. This can make the stress of divorce even harder to deal with for children who rely on siblings for emotional support. This can be especially true for step-siblings who are informed that they are no longer legally related after their parents' divorce.

Research shows that children who maintain positive relationships with their brother and sisters develop stronger emotional, cognitive and social skills and are more able to psychologically adjust to stressful situations like divorce. In fact, even teenagers and adults who remain close to siblings show the same types of benefits. Studies suggest that children in non-normative circumstances, such as those living in foster homes, single parents or with divorced caretakers under joint custody

As the benefits of strong sibling ties become more understood, lawmakers have begun to take steps aimed at helping brothers and sisters deal with the rigors of divorce. One state legislator recently introduced a bill that would effectively allow siblings to petition for visitation rights or partial child custody, a dramatic departure from laws that grant siblings few rights regarding their brothers and sisters.

Many experts have lauded the move as a step in the right direction for providing increased support for those struggling in the wake of a parent's divorce, though similar legislation has yet to hit Massachusetts. High-quality attorneys will consider the impact of divorce on siblings when representing clients in child custody or parental rights cases, ensuring that the court properly serves the needs and interests of the children at the center of these disputes.

Source: Huffington Post, "The Non-Existent Sibling in U.S. Family Law" Avidan Milevsky, Aug. 23, 2013

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