Do Siblings Have Visitation Rights?
Sibling visitation rights are a tricky subject because while courts emphasize that the best interests of the child is what matters most, siblings do not have constitutionally-protected parental rights (because they aren’t parents); thus, any sibling that is seeking visitation rights with other siblings against the wishes of one or both parents is a difficult subject for many courts to address, especially given the ultimate question of what is in the best interests of the child they are seeking to have visitation with.
Courts have always preferred that families work out visitation issues like these amongst themselves, and leave the legal system out of it. And grandparents—like siblings—have traditionally been considered third parties that do not have parental rights. Siblings have had a difficult time obtaining visitation rights absent exceptional circumstances (typically facts that will allow a judge to overcome the presumption that a parent is fit and acting in the best interests of the child in denying the visitation with the sibling), but it does depend upon the specific state.
Circumstances & Rights
GIven how important many experts deem sibling relationships to be–particularly when it comes to social development–it is hard to believe that more courts aren’t open to granting sibling visitation, regardless of what parents think. However, parents’ rights are strongly ingrained in traditional legal rights.
Regardless, some individuals have continued to persevere and try to obtain the right to visitation with their siblings by arguing that they have a constitutionally-protected and/or due process rights to associate with their sibling; however, these cases tend to apply to circumstances where the state government has actually separated the siblings, as there are no first amendment or due process rights guaranteed against parents.
In circumstances in which divorce and/or parents have interfered with sibling relationships, siblings who want visitation with their siblings, like grandparents, are left with no choice but to petition the court for sibling visitation. While some states have actually passed very specific legislation that allows for sibling visitation after divorce and/or in circumstances where separation occurred due to foster care, unfortunately, Florida is not amongst them. In fact, Florida isn’t even amongst the states that have other, explicit laws that allow for “interested parties with a significant relationship” to petition for visitation (given that the petitioner has standing and it is in the best interests of the subject child).
The Case in Florida
Without a state having either of these explicit statutes, courts typically hold that siblings do not have the right to visit other siblings over the objection of the sibling’s parents, with a few exceptional cases. Although the Florida District Court at one point granted a petition brought by a mother on behalf of her daughter, who was seeking visitation with her own two half-siblings that she previously had visitation with, the Florida District Court of Appeal ordered that the lower court had no authority to order such visitation, and can only do so under the explicit state grandparent visitation statute. However, it is important to note that the dissent in this case pointed out that the majority misstated the posture of the case, as the child’s mother was simply seeking continuation of visitation that had at one point existed on behalf of her daughter; thus the case for sibling visitation in Florida could be stronger than it initially appears.
Let Us Assist You Today
At the office of Sandra Bonfiglio, P.A., we believe it is our job to not only act as your legal counsel, but to provide sympathetic, compassionate counsel in order to provide you with peace of mind with regard to your visitation issues. If you live in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, or Broward County, contact us if you have any questions about a family law issue.