Splitting Up the Twins? What Unusual Custody Agreements Mean for Children

When “My Fair Wedding” reality-show host David Tutera announced last week that he and estranged partner Ryan Jurica would split up their infant twins as part of a custody arrangement, tweeters and bloggers responded by calling them “crazy,” “selfish,” “wrong” and deserving of feeling “ashamed.” 

More on Shine: Twins Separated at Birth Meet for First Time. Get Out Your Hankies.

But this real-life version of “The Parent Trap” is just one example of today’s more unusual custody agreements — from splitting up siblings to kids spending entire years divided between their parents. To wit: When Russell Simmons and Kimora Lee Simmons divorced several years ago, their agreement was that Dad would see their two kids for a full week every eighth week, but only while accompanied by a nanny or security. Sharon Stone and ex-husband Phil Bronstein tried annual back-and-forth custody with their son years ago. And, while the splitting up of twins is one of the most unusual formulas, it has happened before.

More on Yahoo: 'My Fair Wedding Star' Splitting Twins with Ex

How such arrangements affect children, though, is still largely unknown.

“We don’t have any real research that tells us much of anything,” psychologist Constance Ahrons, author of “Family Ties After Divorce” and lecturer at the University of Southern California in San Diego, told Yahoo Shine. But, she added, what she’s found through her own research is that, when it comes to grown kids who had spent childhoods being shuttled between parents, “They didn’t love it, but it was better than not seeing one parent.”

When it comes to separating siblings, referred to as “split custody,” Ahrons noted that it is still pretty rare. “I have not seen this happen very much, but often it’s done for the wrong reasons — to settle a case, or because parents can’t make a decision,” she said. “With the twins, I think it sounds like one of those far-out things that I can’t imagine is good for anybody.”

Experts seem to agree that split custody is not usually the best way to go — especially when twins are involved.

“We take the position in the field, generally, that this kind of arrangement is not in children’s best interests, because the sibling relationship is seen as an important, supportive relationship,” Ken Neumann, a divorce mediator at the Center for Mediation & Training in New York City, told Yahoo Shine. “We’re always balancing two factors: a child not having too much back and forth, because of not having the ability to settle in and get comfortable anywhere, versus how long a child goes without seeing a parent.”

As for the babies of Tutera and Jurica, who were just born in July, via a surrogate, “They’re not going to know what happened for a while,” Neumann said. He added, “I think this is very complex. It’s not as if they are 3 years old and attached, which would be disastrous. But I do think [the men] ought to go work with a family therapist.”

He added that the fathers are “looking to redefine [the twins’] relationship,” and said, “I don’t know if you do that, morally. When they find out about it, they will always wonder what might have happened had they stayed together.”

Tutera defended the idea to split up the twins on “The View” last week by explaining that the children are actually half siblings, each with a different father.

“We transferred two embryos into the surrogate. Now, one was biologically mine, which was my daughter, Cielo, and one is biologically [Jurica’s], his son,” he said. “When we were going through the process of divorce now, we decided to ensure that I had custody of my daughter, Cielo, and he’d have custody of his son, Cedric. Now, the fact is that they are half — half — brother and sister. But they aren’t full brother and sister.”

But they’re still twins — albeit a rare type, called “heteropaternal superfecundation,” or twins who share a mom but have different dads. This occurs when a woman releases two eggs in one cycle, and they are fertilized by sperm from separate incidences of intercourse within the window of conception.

“We regard these children as twins, and I would be opposed to separation,” Nancy Segal, author of “Born Together — Reared Apart” and director of the Twin Studies Center at California State University, Fullerton, told Yahoo Shine. “I would also be opposed to separating half siblings.” Though the damage of splitting them up at such a young age is much different than if they were older, she added, issues are bound to arise later in life. “Usually, there is regret about all the childhood years spent apart,” she said.

“Splitting twins is a death in itself,” identical celebrity sibling Carlos Ramirez, twin of film actor Efren Ramirez, told TMZ this week in response to the fathers’ plan. “Twins grow together emotionally, and to not let them connect like that will be damaging.”

On Monday, Jurica spoke to TMZ Live along with his lawyer, alleging that the plan to split the twins is actually temporary, and that it was Tutera’s alone. “This isn’t what we planned. This isn’t what we were hoping for,” he said of the situation — in which the men ended their relationship in the midst of the surrogate’s pregnancy, several months before the twins were born. “And unfortunately, David made the demand that they were separated immediately.”

Both men say they will do their best to have the twins in each other's lives, though. Tutera lives in L.A. and Jurica is in Connecticut.

“I have no right to not have them know each other, but I can protect my daughter about when that time is the right time,” Tutera said on “The View.”

Jurica, on TMZ, added, “Our goal is to keep the kids in each other’s lives as much as possible.”

And that's a goal worth sticking to, said Robert Emery, psychology professor at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, and author of "The Truth About Children and Divorce."

"Our relationships with our siblings are potentially the most enduring of all," Emery told Yahoo Shine. "Hopefully, these fathers will encourage a relationship between the kids, as well as between each child and each father."