Blended Family

After a divorce, families can face significant changes — and the challenges for blended families can be even more numerous. Nearly 40% of families in the United States today are blended, meaning one or both partners have children from prior relationships. Critically, when blended families go through divorce, there are important legal considerations when it comes to matters such as custody, support, alimony, and many other issues.

What is a Blended Family?

While not defined by law, the term “blended family” refers to a family where one or both partners have children from a previous marriage or relationship. The partners form a new family unit, which may or may not include children that they’ve had together. While the partners are often married and have come together after divorce or the passing of a previous spouse, this is not always the case.

All families are unique and in some instances involving blended families, couples may cohabitate rather than legally marry. Blended families may also involve adoption — whether one spouse adopted the biological child of their partner, or the spouses adopted a child together.

What Legal Challenges Do Blended Families in California Face During Divorce?

Like other families, a blended family will often face emotional and legal challenges when the parents decide to part ways. These issues can sometimes be difficult to navigate. It’s a good idea to have an experienced family law attorney by your side who understands the corresponding legal nuances and can guide you through the divorce process.

Custody Issues

Child custody is one of the most complex — and emotional — issues families face in divorce. These matters can be even more complicated with a blended family. Before a couple can obtain their divorce decree in California, they will need to create a parenting plan and visitation schedule. If they are unable to settle custody matters between themselves, a judge will determine the outcome.

A stepparent usually has no custody rights regarding their spouse’s children, unless they legally adopted them. However, California law allows for stepparent visitation after a divorce in some cases. In determining whether stepparent visitation is appropriate, a court would evaluate the length of time the stepparent was in the child’s life and the extent of their parenting role. A court might also consider stepchild custody if both biological parents were unable to care for the child due to substance abuse, mental illness, or another reason.

Child Support

California law requires both biological parents to financially support their children. There is no statute that requires stepparents to pay child support for the needs of their stepchild. But if a stepparent legally adopted their stepchild, they would be responsible for making child support payments after divorce.

In limited cases, a stepparent’s income can have an impact on the amount of child support a biological parent would be required to pay. For example, a parent can request the court modify the amount of child support if the circumstances have significantly changed and one parent’s income has dramatically increased or decreased. If a stepparent reduces a spouse’s living expenses, the court may determine the biological parent will have more money available for child support. Child support payments might also be modified if the amount of time a parent spends with the child considerably changes or when another child is born.

Spousal Maintenance/Alimony

If you’re considering remarriage and you receive alimony payments from your previous spouse, it’s crucial to understand how it will be affected. An award of alimony, also referred to as spousal maintenance, in a California divorce can be issued based on a number of factors. Usually, it is granted in cases where one spouse was financially dependent upon the other. However, it can also be modified if there is a change in circumstances — and terminated in cases involving remarriage or cohabitation.

Consider a Prenuptial Agreement

Spouses in a blended family dynamic should consider entering a prenuptial agreement before marriage. This can allow you to dictate what will happen to your finances in the event the marriage does not work out. It can also work alongside an estate plan and help ensure you protect your children from a previous marriage by specifying what will happen to your separate property when you pass away. Without a valid prenup in place, a surviving spouse might be able to claim a substantial portion of your estate, leaving much less for your children.

Contact an Experienced California Family Law Attorney

If you’re parting ways with your spouse and have a blended family, it’s vital to be aware of the unique legal challenges you might face. A skillful divorce attorney can best advise you regarding your legal rights and walk you through the divorce process. With more than 20 years of experience, the Law Offices of Rick D. Banks provides clients with compassionate counsel and experienced representation for a wide variety of matrimonial matters, including gray divorces and blended family divorce. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559) 222-4891.