Is it wise to separate siblings following a relationship breakdown?

Splitting or Separating Siblings when a Relationship Breakdown

Many parents in deciding custody or time spent arrangements of the children often ponder if they should divide the children between them? This article will give you insights into the idea of separating siblings and why it is not the best idea or in the best interests of the children.

Many times when two adults make the decision to separate, the whole process becomes their entire focus, rarely are decisions decided upon in calm moments with consideration extended beyond the emotional turmoil of the separating couple.  It can often become about the individual parents need to think and question “am I getting a fair deal?” with this in mind sadly it is common for the children’s needs to get pushed to the background. Commonly, one parent will throw the idea into the mix of separating the children. The mindset of “you take one child, and I’ll take one child” is rarely of benefit to the children. Generally, it is not in the best interest of children for them to be separated from each other. While two adults may not realize it, their children are losing:

(a) a parent;

(b) a sibling, who is also a confidant and support as both siblings are going through the same experience; and

(c) the only home they have known;

The above is monumental and can be damaging emotionally, psychologically and developmentally. Losing a parent and the only home the children have known is one thing, if the children are separated also, they will have layers of grief to process. Separation is a grieving process for former partners as well as for children. Children will grieve the symbolic death of their once intact family unit.


It is natural for siblings to turn to each other and help each other during the emotion-packed separation dilemma. One big concern for children is the loneliness they face after the separation. A sibling who is present can help with the loneliness. Judith Wallerstein reports in the book What About the Kids? that “only children” have a harder time adjusting to divorce. They experience and feel very isolated, in addition, they feel they have to carry the burden of separation all by themselves with no one who understands it. They feel they have no one to share their thoughts, trials and fears with. If you separate your children, they each become an “only child” in the respective single-parent home.


Children have and develop split loyalties. They love the dad and yet they also love their mum. They don’t want to hurt one parent by appearing to take the other parent’s side. Children constantly have to juggle their feelings and their loyalties, many children feel like they are almost keeping secrets from a parent all the time by trying to stay loyal to each parent. What a heavy burden to carry alone. When there is a sibling in the same home, they have the ability to share the burden. Most children rely on their parents when they are scared or lonely, that is how it should be, however when a separation happens, there are times children can’t rely on “the parent” because “the parent” can’t go with them to the other parent’s home, siblings rely on each other at these times. In her book Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, Elizabeth Marquardt says children of divorce have reported they are always saying good-bye to a parent. In order to say “hello” to one parent, you have to say “good-bye” to the other parent. Do you want your children having to face this alone?


Siblings in separation have the ability to worry together and worry they will. As a parent, you may not be able to see past the separation at this moment but imagine this future scenario. The other parent is supposed to pick the children up at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday evening, the other parent has to work late and calls to let you know. As an adult, you are okay with this, but children are not. Inside they may think their other parent is not coming, they will turn to their sibling and ask, “Do you think dad (or mum) is really coming to get us tonight?”  They will share the “what ifstogether. “What if Dad’s had a car accident?” Or “What if mum has a boyfriend and she really wants to see him more than us?” As a parent, you may never know they are worrying together and what stories they are making in their tender minds. Siblings come to rely on each other, they can plan what to do for holidays and birthdays together. Remember there is not going to be another parent there to help them plan for your birthday or a present for you for Christmas. They will rely on each other, if you separate the children, when are they going to have their time together as siblings? When will they giggle and share their secrets with each other? When will they tease each other and grow up together? When and how will they create their memories if they are always apart?


If one of you re-partners or re-marries, which is more than likely to happen, and there are stepchildren involved, do you want one of your children to have to face that alone? Birth siblings need each other when they enter the stepfamily arena.

SIMPLY PUT……. SIBLINGS NEED EACH OTHER AND THEY NEED BOTH PARENTS  They are family with mum, and they are family with dad.

References: What About the Kids? By Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee (Hyperion, New York) Between Two Worlds, The Inner Live of Children of Divorce by Elizabeth Marquardt (Crown Publishers, New York) © MMVI by the author and/or Church Initiative.

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