Common Legal Struggles for Blended Families

The concept of a “blended family" has become more common over the past several decades. According to the Census Bureau and the Pew Research Center, 16% of children are a part of blended families. This means they live in a household with a step-parent, step-sibling, or half-sibling.

After a divorce, families need to adjust to new challenges. Although the divorce is final, and you may have had a prenuptial agreement, you may still have tasks to do. There are probably a few relating to previous relationships.

You can solve issues like child support, custody, and alimony in your family's living room or in a court of law. Every family is unique. Thus, blended families have different approaches to specific financial and custodial matters.

Families navigating life after a previous marriage are common, but their legal issues may remain complicated. From redoing estate plans to working through custody and child support issues, blended families often have outstanding loose ends to tie up. The next steps depend on several factors. It can sometimes depend on whether the blended family includes minor or adult children.

Redoing Wills and Estate Plans

Taking care of your estate planning issues as a blended family is just one more step you can take to care for your loved ones during a transition period. One of the first things blended families must handle after a second marriage (or subsequent marriage) is redoing estate plans. New spouses and children may be in the mix. So, all legal documents must reflect current family members.

Seeking legal advice and researching can help you with estate planning to properly prepare for your family's future. You can get help with specific state law requirements and estate tax law, among other matters. Depending on your situation, you could provide inheritance and financial security not only for your own children but also for your step-children.

Last Will and Testament

You can use your will to create a plan for your entire family, whether they are related to you by blood or marriage. Following remarriage, it is critical to update your last will and testament. For example, you may have named your first spouse your personal representative. You may want to name your current spouse. Or, you may have named a previous spouse as the beneficiary of your entire estate in your will. When you remarry, it's important to revisit your will. Ensure your probate assets, including real estate, reflect your current wishes.

Remember a blended family's specific challenges when creating your will and other estate planning documents. If there are children in your house with guardians who live outside of your home, then this may influence your plans. If your child's other biological parent is neither involved nor has custody, their step-parent may be the guardian.

Beneficiary Designations

Changing beneficiary designations is a crucial task to handle when your life's circumstances change. There's good news, though. Updating beneficiary designations is typically an easy task. Contact the financial institution holding your asset. It will provide the form.

You can name anyone you'd like as a beneficiary. There are special rules, however, if you name minor children as beneficiaries. For example, if minor children are beneficiaries of an insurance policy, the proceeds go to their legal guardian. Beneficiary designations are common for assets such as:

  • Life insurance policies
  • Bank accounts
  • Retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401ks

Depending on your circumstances, you may not only need to change primary beneficiaries but secondary beneficiaries as well. You want to have updated beneficiary designations. Maintaining updated beneficiary designations can keep those assets out of your probate estate. This will help your loved ones avoid probate court for your estate. Beneficiary designations take precedence over a will.

Advanced Directives

Ensure any advance directives you have in place reflect your current wishes. For example, you may have had a living will or healthcare power of attorney to express your wishes regarding healthcare choices when incapacitated. If you named your previous spouse in such documents, consider updating the document. The same is true for a durable power of attorney.

Trusts in Blended Families

Establishing and administering a trust within a blended family often takes the form of an AB Trust. An AB Trust is a type of irrevocable trust. Part of the trust (Part A) is under the power of the surviving spouse, while the second part (Part B) is for the deceased spouse's children.

An AB Trust ensures your spouse receives funds and your children have a set inheritance. Such a trust cannot be changed or altered after your death. Beneficiaries can include your biological children and your step-children.

When your current spouse does not get full custody of your child after your death (this may go to their other biological parent), there are options. You can still name your current spouse as the executor of your estate so that they can help provide for your child's financial needs using the funds in the trust.

Shared Custody of Children

One of the most common problems with blended families is shared custody. Custody matters after a divorce differs depending on the specific circumstances. Sometimes, one parent gets sole custody of a child or children. The court often rules that the divorced parents should share custody.

This might mean one parent has physical custody while both share legal custody. A child might live with her father and stepmother. In such circumstances, the child's mother has the right to help. She can decide the child's schooling, religion, and other life factors.

Shared custody often takes the form of visitation. A child could live with one parent during the school year and another during the summer. Or they may spend certain weekends each month with one of their parents. No matter the arrangement, parents should ensure that their situation's rules are clear. This could help avoid undue stress for the child.

Child Support

Parties often determine child support at the divorce or confirmation of paternity. Simply put, the parent without physical custody of the child must pay funds to help with the day-to-day care of the child.

The income of the non-custodial parent typically determines the child support payment amount. The purpose of these funds is to help with the cost of food, clothes, and other necessities for the child. Child support also eases the burden on the primary caregiver of that child.

The parties can determine child support more informally between the parents or through court or mediation. If parents have joint custody of a child who spends equal time in both homes, then child support may be based on a significant disparity in the parents' incomes. This allows the lower-earning parent to cover the costs of the child when the child is in their home.

Spousal Maintenance and Alimony

Another type of financial support negotiated during a divorce is spousal maintenance and alimony. Child support goes toward the upkeep of the child. A spouse can receive alimony. Child support is very commonly required. State law determines the amount paid until the child is an adult. But there is much more flexibility in determining alimony.

Alimony seeks to lessen the negative impact of a divorce on a non-wage-earning or low-wage-earning spouse. Sometimes, stay-at-home spouses give up career opportunities to care for their families. These spouses need time to develop their professional skills. They may reenter the workforce and support themselves. Alimony payments help maintain their standard of living until they can pay that for themselves.

Consider Speaking With a Lawyer

Legal issues are complex for any family, but blended families have unique challenges. Whether you are ready to create new estate planning documents, establish custody, or determine support, consider speaking with an experienced attorney. Even if you just need to contact an attorney for information, get started today.

Was this helpful?

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • DIY is possible in some simple cases
  • Complex estate planning situations usually require a lawyer
  • A lawyer can reduce the chances of a family dispute
  • You can always have an attorney review your forms

Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

If you need an attorney, browse our directory now.