The issue of sibling visitation does not come up all that often. However, it comes up often enough for there to be a statute that addresses it. In fact, it is part of the same statute that provides for grandparent visitation. The statute (N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1) provides, in part, that: " A grandparent or any sibling of a child residing in this State may make application before the Superior Court, in accordance with the Rules of Court, for an order for visitation. It shall be the burden of the applicant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the granting of visitation is in the best
interests of the child. The statute then provides a list of 8 factors for a court to consider.
Subsequent to the enactment of that statute, the US Supreme Court in Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 120 S. Ct. 2054, 147 L. Ed. 2d 49 (2000), and the NJ Supreme Court in Moriarty v. Bradt, 177 N.J. 84 (2003), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 1177 (2004) issued opinions regarding third party visitation statutes in the context of grandparent visitation. In light of the decision is Troxel which struck down Washington’s grandparent visitation statute, the Court in Moriarty construed the NJ statute to require grandparents, when the parents refused visitation, to demonstrate by the preponderance of the evidence that such visitation was "necessary to avoid harm to the child." I know a little bit about the Moriarty case as I wrote the Petition for Certification in that matter.
The issue of sibling visitation was addressed in an unreported case released on November 6, 2008 entitled T.R. v. L.R. To see the full text of the case, click here.
This is a sad case which involved domestic violence, allegations of abuse and estrangement between parent and child. In this case, an older sister filed an application to intervene in her parents’ divorce case , seeking visitation with her younger sister. In this case, the trial court applied the same standards as it would to a grandparent visitation case. The daughter appealed on the basis that the Troxel/Moriarty analysis applied only to grandparents and not to siblings because the nature of the relationship is different.
The Appellate Division never decided that issue in affirming the trial court decision because it said that they were unable to conclude that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied the motion for visitation.
The decision is interesting because the Court also noted other judicial authority which commented on importance of sibling relationships. That said, given the facts of this case, the judge never had to reach that issue.
However, given the constitutional questions addressed in Troxel/Moriarty it appears likely that an analysis under those cases will necessarily be required in future sibling visitation cases.