I was recently contacted by State Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood, D-Philadelphia, for assistance in supporting her recently introduced House Bill 642 “Standing for siblings to seek partial custody or visitation” before the PA House of Representatives.
Apparently, when siblings are separated from each other in cases of adoption, divorce, or parental death they have very little legal recourse to seek visitation rights. Very few states permit sibling visitations and, even in those states do, things are much more restrictive when dealing with half-siblings. In some states siblings are allowed to petition the court for visitation, but the decision is entirely up to the jurisdiction of the court.
The story for grandparents, on the other hand, is quite different. By now it is common practice in almost all states that grandparents can petition for visitation rights. I guess siblings would have fared better if they had the money and the lobby power that grandpa and grandma have. I wonder if there is an equivalent of AARP for siblings.
Thankfully, Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood was hard at work on changing this reality and I was delighted to join this important effort.
After reviewing the draft legislation and researching the issue, I was disappointed to learn about the minimal role played by siblings in family law. It seems as though the majority of domestic-relations law focuses on the parental and matrimonial dyads with little attention given to the sibling bond. This is particularly disturbing considering the overwhelming scientific evidence highlighting the importance of the sibling relationship throughout life.
The central role of siblings throughout life is clear. First, the most long-lasting and enduring relationship an individual develops during life is the sibling relationship. Considering the average proximity of age between siblings and the fact that the relationship between siblings begins early in life, a sibling bond may exist a lifetime. More importantly, empirical investigations by myself and others have revealed that children who have a positive relationship with siblings show greater emotional understanding, greater cognitive abilities, greater social understanding, greater moral sensibility, and better psychological adjustment.
Beyond the advantages of sibling support in normative situations, researchers and clinicians are beginning to appreciate the advantages of sibling warmth for non-normative family situations. Studies tell us that siblings can serve as a buffer for children and adolescents experiencing family distress and divorce.
Legislation to allow for siblings to seek partial custody or visitation when appropriate is a natural extension of the overwhelming scientific evidence highlighting the critical and unmatched role played by siblings throughout life. By definition, this legislation will be impacting children who have experienced some type of family turmoil. Allowing for the sibling relationship in these circumstances to offer warmth, support, and comfort is clearly in the best interest of children.
I am delighted to serve as a consultant on this important legislation and will be testifying on the merits of this bill in front of the Children and Youth Committee this upcoming week in Philadelphia.