Legal Considerations for Blended Families
Over the past decade, there has been an uptick in blended families. Some of this is due to traditional second marriages, but some are because individuals are choosing to have children without feeling the need to get married. Whatever the reason, with this increase in blended families, the legal implications should be addressed.
What is a blended family? There is no legal definition of blended family, but the term has come to describe when two parties with children of their own marry and create a new family unit. With the creation of this new family unit comes additional considerations for all involved, including:
While you may have married and created your new family unit, you cannot forget that the children involved have other parents as well. If there is a custody order, the child may very well have to travel back and forth for periods of custody. As a new step-parent, you may be responsible for some of this transportation, and with it, interaction with your spouse’s ex. It is in the best interest of all involved that all the adults develop some relationship with one another, which can be easier said than done. Remember, you not only will be sharing custodial time with another household, but if you are doing it right, you also will be at extracurricular and sporting events for the children as well. Life is complicated. If you find yourself entering into a blended family, it is highly advisable to establish a formal custody agreement so all the parties know their roles going into it. However, it is important to keep in mind that if you are a step-parent, there will be times you need to take a backseat and let the parents make the major decisions.
Finally, if there is a custody order in place, and the child at issue lives in your household, you will be precluded from relocating. As a new step-parent of a three-year-old child, it is important to know that you and your new spouse cannot move out of the county with the child (without the other parent’s permission or the court’s permission) for the next 15 years. That is quite the commitment.
Child Support Order
With or without a formal custody order, there may be a child support order. This means, additional income is either coming in or going out of your new household unit. Developing a family budget is always important, but it becomes especially important in blended families. Each family may choose to treat child support coming in differently, and it is important to have those discussions in advance. It is just as important to address child support obligations your new family unit must pay out.
Finally, how does this all impact estate planning? A step-parent is not a legal next of kin for a step-child. Accordingly, it is very important to meet with an estate planning attorney to review your options and prepare all the necessary estate planning documents for your new blended family.
Attorney Kellie Rahl-Heffner focuses her practice in the area of family law, assisting individuals in divorce proceedings as well as child support, child custody, adoption, and other matters.