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Florida Court Reviews Judge’s Order to Split up Siblings Between Parents

Florida law doesn’t favor separating siblings from each other—sending some children to live with the mother and one or more to live with the father—whenever possible the family unit shouldn’t be further fractured by divorce.

Typically, courts shouldn’t deprive brother and sisters from growing up together with some common denominator of discipline and the advantages of sharing mutual experiences within the home and family unit.

Recently a former husband in Florida appealed his divorce judgment and order for relocation that separated the three minor children between the parents. The final divorce decree partially granted his relocation allowing the couple’s 15-year-old twins to relocate to Virginia with him…but denied the request concerning their other child (a nine-year-old son), who was ordered to remain with the former wife in Florida.

The husband argued on appeal that the trial court erred by separating the siblings without a compelling reason.

When the couple filed for divorce, both parents lived in Florida. The original parenting plan approved by the trial court set out rotating timesharing between the parents. The husband later lost his teaching job in Florida. He then received a job offer in Virginia, where his extended family resides. He asked the trial court to relocate the minor children to Virginia pursuant to Florida Statute § 61.13001. After an evidentiary hearing on the petition, the trial judge separated the children between the two parents, ordering that only the two oldest children to reside with the Father.

Compelling Reason Needed to Separate Siblings

Judge Eric Eisnaugle of the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal found that the trial court erred when it separated the siblings without stating a compelling reason for the split. Judge Eisnaugle noted that there are circumstances that justify separating siblings, but children in a family shouldn’t be separated from each other and distributed about in different homes, except “for the most compelling cause.”

The District Court of Appeal found that the trial court judgment lacked a compelling reason to separate the siblings. The judge’s finding that the younger son was doing well in his current placement didn’t, by itself, justify separating him from his siblings. In the same vein, the trial court’s finding that there was no evidence that relocating to Virginia will be an improvement for him, by itself, wasn’t a compelling reason. Instead, to overcome the requirements of Florida law, any reason to separate the younger son from his siblings must necessarily be based upon evidence that relocating to Virginia would be detrimental to him. The Court of Appeals ordered on remand that if the trial court again separates the siblings, it must make findings of a compelling reason to do so.

The judgment was reversed, and the Court of Appeal remanded the case for the trial court to determine whether there was a compelling reason to separate the siblings. Sickels v. Sickels, Case No. 5D16-2399 (Fla. DCA 5th June 30, 2017).

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