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Stepkid and ex-spouses often cited when second marriages fail

Stepchildren are not only the product of divorce. Statistics show that stepkids are frequently the cause of divorces. Okay, it’s unfair to blame the children. More accurate to say that frictions within blended families and the challenges of stepparenting make it more difficult for second marriages to survive.

Couples who actively prepare for stepparenting have better odds of making it work. Those parents also have better outcomes for all involved in the unfortunate event of a second divorce.

Blended families are hard on marriage

About 40 percent of first marriages — and 60 percent of second marriages — end in divorce. When both spouses have children from a previous marriage, the divorce rate is 70 percent. Ouch.

The early plots of the ‘The Brady Bunch’ addressed the growing pains of blended families. Soon it was just a show about a big family. They meshed. They figured it out. Happy ending.

In real life, stepsiblings don’t always get along. Stepparents don’t always bond with each other’s kids. Jealousies. Resentments. Rebellions. Conflicting parenting styles. “You’re not my mom!” Not to mention ex-spouses stirring the pot. It takes a toll on the marriage.

Going in with eyes open

The slim odds for blended families can be improved by anticipating the pain points. Yet research shows that few couples consciously prepare for steppparenting when they remarry. They may be more focused on the new partner and the marital relationship than the seismic shift in the family dynamics. Or perhaps they just assume everything will sort itself out.

Experts on remarriage and blended families recommend reading books, taking classes, and considering marital or family counseling to confront the issues proactively. For example, stepparents tend to unintentionally favor their biological children or clash with their stepchildren over rules or disclipline. That not only creates friction in the step-relationship but drives a wedge between the parents.  

The keys to successful blending include consistency in parenting, communication, flexibility, patience and knowing how to deal with the inevitable conflicts in a healthy and productive way. Some of that comes naturally and from parenting experience. But parenting stepchildren is different. When the new spouses are deliberate and united in their approach, the Brady Bunch “happily ever after” is more likely.

Sometimes it just doesn’t work out

Just as stepkids complicate remarriage, they complicate divorce proceedings. If a stepchild was formally adopted by the new mom or dad, the stepparent has both parenting rights and financial obligations. There could be child support and/or alimony – overlapping with existing alimony or child support orders from the previous marriage. Some parents end up paying and receiving support.

Aside from financial matters, it is crucial to consider the emotional and psychological impact of divorce on stepsiblings. They may have been ambivalent (or even hostile) at the beginning, but now those bonds are being abruptly severed. Once again, they have no say in the outcome. And what kind of relationship does one have with an “ex-stepbrother”?

Amidst divorce proceedings, mediation or family counseling can help parents and children sort out these issues in the most positive manner. A good divorce lawyer will help clients find a way forward without unnecessary conflict.

Source:  Minneapolis Star Tribune

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