There is a presumption that a parent knows what is best for his or her child and can decide who the child sees and when. When parents divorce, siblings or half-siblings might be split and their relationships might suffer. In New York, siblings (full-blood and half-blood) have a statutory right to visitation with each other. This is outlined in New York Domestic Relations Law § 71. Siblings themselves or a parent, on behalf of minor children, may bring a Petition for Visitation with their siblings. Courts employ a two-part analysis in evaluating whether or not it will grant sibling visitation.
First, standing must be established. This means that the petitioner must show that he or she is a proper person to bring the visitation action. For instance, in Noonan v. Noonan, 145 Misc.2d 638 (1989) a mother petitioned on behalf of her three children (two half-blood siblings and one step-sibling) for visitation with the children of their father’s previous marriage. The court held that the half-blood siblings had standing to seek visitation, but that the petitioner’s daughter from a previous marriage (with no blood relation to the children at issue) did not have standing.
Second, the court must determine whether the visitation is in the best interest of the child(ren). This is a common standard throughout matrimonial and family law and is at the court’s discretion. There are many factors the court considers including, but not limited to, prior relationships with siblings, the reason visitation with the siblings stopped after a divorce, the future benefit of having a relationship with the siblings, the opinion and recommendation of the attorneys for the children, and the preferences of the children expressed during camera interview. The prior relationship among the children is given considerable weight. For example, in Isabel R. v. Meghan Mc., 23 Misc. 3d 1102(A) (2009), where there was a strong relationship among the children prior to divorce and the children expressed a strong preference for maintaining their relationship, visitation was granted by the judge and a specific visitation schedule was devised by the court. On the other hand, in In re Justin H., 215 A.D.2d 180 (1995), where there was no familial bond among the half-siblings, visitation was denied in the case of.
It is important to remember that like Humpty Dumpty, a family, once broken by divorce, cannot be put back together in precisely the same way. However, siblings’ relationships should not have to suffer as a consequence of their parents’ divorce. If it is in the best interest of the child(ren) to maintain sibling relationships, the court will see that those relationships continue.