There’s nothing quite like getting a chance to start over. If you’ve fallen in love later in life, you have the opportunity to begin a new, exciting relationship that’s supported by everything you’ve learned from your past relationships. However, relationships you start when you’re older are more likely to come with extra complications: kids.
Blending families isn’t easy, but it can be done. Whether you, your new partner, or both of you have children, you need to prepare if you want everyone to get along with minimum stress. Keep reading to learn what it means to blend families in California, what you need to consider during the process, and some tools to make things go a little smoother.
Considerations for Blending Families in California
A blended family is one that includes “step” relatives: stepparents and stepchildren. These families are sometimes called “complex” families, for a good reason. While you and your partner may get along well, there’s no guarantee that the respective stepparent-child relationships will go as smoothly. Even stepsibling relationships can be fraught when the kids need to learn how to live with each other.
There’s more to blending families than living together, of course. There are many considerations you need to pay attention to if you want to successfully integrate your families together. These issues range from the emotional to the financial to the legal.
Children go through many stages of emotional development. Depending on where they are in the process, joining a step-family can be anything from entirely painless to intensely stressful and anxiety-inducing.
When you’re blending your family, the children should come first. Reassure them that their new stepparent isn’t supposed to “replace” anyone. Whether their other parent is deceased or simply separated, they still hold an essential place in their children’s hearts. Frame the new stepparent as an addition to the family, instead.
If you and your new partner both have children, you should also be careful not to play favorites. One-on-one time is necessary, but each child should get equal amounts of individual focus. It’s easy for kids to feel “left behind” or like they no longer fit in the new family. By giving each child equal attention, you can help them feel more secure and prevent conflict between them.
On a more serious note, blending families also requires a careful look at child custody orders. Unless you and your partner both have sole custody over your respective children, they will be spending at least some time with their other parents. You need to take into account the rules and experiences they have when they’re away to make sure that your kids and stepkids have a consistent, happy, and healthy upbringing.
Beyond custody, children from past relationships can also come with complex financial baggage. For instance, marrying a new partner will likely impact your child support situation. Similarly, you may have a prenuptial agreement that affects how your children are treated in any new wills, trusts, or insurance policies you take out. Even past divorce orders can impact your new family with potential requirements like college funds for your own children that don’t exist for your stepkids.
Three Solutions to Blend Families Legally
So how can you blend your family effectively? There are three primary legal tools you can use to support every aspect of the blending process. Here’s how you can use the law to make your family more cohesive despite the hurdles you may face.
The least complicated way to begin legally blending your families is to marry your new partner. While stepparents don’t have all the same rights regarding a child as their legal parents do, stepparents do still have some privileges. For instance, a stepparent can:
Marrying your partner is the first step to other critical legal changes designed for blending families.
If your children agree to it, having your partner adopt them is the next step to making your family a coherent unit. If all living parents and guardians agree, a stepparent can quickly legally adopt their stepchildren.
Once the stepparent has adopted the kids, they are considered a legal parent to them in all ways. An adoptive parent can make medical decisions for their children and choose how they’re raised. These additional rights make it much easier for everyone to navigate doctor visits and school pickups.
Name changes aren’t a mandatory part of marriage or adoption, but they can be a valuable tool for reducing confusion. If your kids or partner agrees, a simple name change can help everyone in the family share the same last name. This makes it easier for the stepparent to prove that they are genuinely related to their stepchildren.
Names are also an important emotional factor. When everyone in your family unit shares a name, it’s clear that you’re all on the same team. Don’t push a name change on your kids, though; let them decide whether they want to do something as permanent as a name change on their own terms.
Expert Help Makes Building New Families Easy
There’s a lot to consider if you’re building a new family with your partner. From child custody issues to financial considerations like support orders and insurance, blending your families takes a lot of work. You don’t have to do it alone, though.
An expert family law attorney can help you navigate all the complexities of combining your families. You can schedule your consultation with the professionals at Kaspar & Lugay, LLP, to discuss your concerns today. They can handle the legal and financial problems so you can focus on the emotional ones. Get in touch to begin blending your family in every way.