Splitting Up Kids During a Divorce

By Beverly Bird

Updated March 30, 2020

Father and daughter (4-5) walking outdoors holding hands, rear view, close-up

Erik Snyder/Photodisc/Getty Images

Courts have not embraced split custody as a viable option when parents divorce. This arrangement separates siblings, placing one or more with one parent, and the others with their other parent. Judges tend to take the view that it is in the best interest of children for siblings to remain together.

Split Custody by Agreement

The court will probably only order split custody if you and your spouse jointly request it. Even then, you should be prepared to give good, solid reasons why such an arrangement is in the best interests of your children. Maybe you have a teenage girl who would be uncomfortable living with her father full-time, but dad may be a more suitable parent for her two younger brothers. If you explain your logic to the judge, and if you and your spouse have demonstrated an ability to put your differences aside and work together for the sake of your kids, the chances increase that the judge will honor your wishes.

How Visitation Works

If you ask the court for split custody and the judge agrees, you'll probably have to work out the finer details on your own, such as the visitation schedule. A typical scenario is that the non-custodial parent of one or more children has visitation with the other children at selected times, and vice versa. Ideally, you and your spouse won't just swap kids at these times. A court probably won't look favorably upon such provisions, because the children would never be all together and their interaction and relationships might suffer. Try to work out a schedule in which you and your spouse have visitation on different days so the schedule provides opportunities for all your children to spend time together. For example, the kids who live with you might stay with your spouse -- and their siblings who live with her -- one weekend, then you could reverse the arrangement the next weekend.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

The beauty of creating your own parenting plan, as opposed to having a court order one, is that you can tailor it to your family's unique needs and circumstances. You can combine "community" visitation – all the kids are with one parent at the same time – with one-on-one visitation, where you might spend some alone time with each of your children. You can also create a hybrid split custody arrangement, where your children are only split up for visitation. For example, your spouse might be the custodial parent, but you take each of your children separately on different nights or days each week, with one or more dates scheduled periodically when you have all of them together.

Effect on Child Support

Calculating child support can be difficult under the best of circumstances, so you might think that introducing a split custody arrangement would totally convolute the equation. But some states, such as Virginia, have a formula in place for dealing with split custody. Support is calculated once for the family consisting of one spouse and those children, and a separate support order is calculated for the other parent and the children living with him. Each parent is a non-custodial parent, so each would owe support to the other for the children in their care. The respective support obligations can be offset and might result in no support being paid at all, or just a nominal amount, depending on certain factors. For example, if you earn more or if more children live with your spouse, you might owe her $110 per week in support. She might owe you $90 per week for the kids in your care. Thus, after offsetting the two amounts, your child support obligation would be $20 a week.