Changing family structures - living in a Stepfamily - Family Law Partners

Changing family structures – living in a Stepfamily

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At Family Law Partners we often support clients through a relationship breakdown where a new stepfamily or stepparent relationship is formed.Kim Crewe

In the first in a new series of guest blog posts we invite Kim Crewe, Family Consultant with Separation Matters, to explore the impact of new family structures on the children.

“Most of us live our lives like chips in a kaleidoscope, always part of patterns that are larger than ourselves and somehow more than the sum of their parts” (Minuchin 1984)

Many children are living in families that consist of stepparents and stepsiblings. As the number of stepfamilies continues to increase they will soon outnumber first marriage families. Changes to the family structure take time to settle, new relationships need to be formed and adjustments to the usual family routine take place. Both parents bring to the newly formed family their experiences from their previous family and from their original family.

For the children, this shift in the pattern of family life can be challenging.

Rose, 22yrs, who grew up from aged 5 in a stepfamily reflects on her experience:

Probably the most difficult thing for me was dividing my time and belongings between two houses and two different families. I went on alternate days to each house, which meant I always had to take stuff I needed for the next day and had to plan ahead. When my step dad moved in I found it difficult to adjust to how he lived, it was strange letting someone come into my family. Over time this got easier, and as I got older I realised that my stepdad treated me like one of his own children and helped bring me up.

My mum encouraged my stepdad to attend everything that my dad would as well, meaning that nobody was left out and there wasn’t any awkwardness. Everyone gets together at Christmas and birthday celebrations, which is a stress free experience!

10 Good Guides for Blending a New Family

  1. Change needs to be gradual with lots of preparation; the children can help to set the pace.
  2. Just because children who come together in a stepfamily are the same age it doesn’t mean they will get on!
  3. Do lots of fun things together so that the new relationships can form slowly.
  4. Understand that different children will have different needs and ensure relationships are respectful.
  5. Keep as many of the ‘old’ routines as possible, this will help the children feel secure.
  6. Ensure your previous partner stays involved, ex-partners can feel very left out and the children can feel very worried about their mum or dad so if you can include them in some celebrations or other events this can help.
  7. Older children can find it helpful to have a calendar showing them clearly which days they will be in which home.
  8. When children come back from the other household, tell them what has happened whilst they’ve been away
  9. Adolescent children need privacy and adults may need to agree a suitable ‘dress code’ in the home.
  10. Look at stepfamily life from the viewpoint of the children, keeping in mind the children’s developmental needs at various stages.

Our next blog in this series will consider changes in the family structure from a mother’s point of view.

Separation Matters provides consultancy and therapeutic support for adults, children and families.

Some recommended reading:

My Parent’s Divorce, Julia Cole
ISBN 0761308695, Copper Beech Books
For 4-8 years. Discusses why divorce happens, how to cope with it,
and how to deal with difficult feelings as well as friends whose
parents are divorced.

How do I feel about my stepfamily? Julie Johnson
ISBN 0749636297, Franklin Watts
For 4-8 years. Young people in stepfamilies describe how they cope
with having stepbrothers, stepsisters, stepparents and offer tips on
dealing with change in your family.

Suitcase Kid, Jacqueline Wilson
ISBN 0440863112, Corgi Juvenile
For 9-12 years. A look at joint-custody life, the book follows Andrea
West and her tiny stuffed rabbit, Radish, through the painful
adjustment of being a kid with divorced parents.

Step by Wicked Step, Anne Fine
ISBN 0140366474, Puffin Books
For 9-12 years. Five children gather around a mysterious diary and
share an evening of stories about their lives and trials, discovering
common bonds in adversity. This is a story about the effects of
divorce and remarriage upon children.

7 responses on “Changing family structures – living in a Stepfamily

  1. Is their likely to be any change in the law for step parents who do not have shared PR and would not get permission from the ex-partner/biological parent for shared PR, to have some legal rights when it comes to dealing with their step children. This would help in scenarios where neither biological parent was available to make a decision eg medical interventions for children who have had accidents, need medication etc

    1. If everyone with parental responsibility agrees that a step-parent should also share parental responsibility then a step-parent parental responsibility agreement can be entered into. If there is a dispute about whether it is appropriate and necessary for a step-parent to share parental responsibility then an application can be made to the court. We do not expect to see any change in the law in this area.

  2. If I have a 15 year old and a soon-to-be 14 year old under my care for the last 6 years and their mother goes to the hospital we don’t know how long she will be in there can the girls be removed from my care are there anything I can do if they want to stay here until we find out what is up with the mother

    1. This is an extremely sensitive issue and we recommend, if you have not already, to seek specialist legal advice.

  3. What if the the mother is in a mental hospital on drugs is there anything has a step mom we can do (not for me for a friend)

  4. Can a parent legally be able to say their child will stay with extended family members or stepmum if they have to go offshore? What I mean by this if say dad is due to have the child but gets called offshore and won’t physically be there, the child would either be returned or stay with the other birth parent and not go, nor stay with anyone else other than the other birth parent? As this isn’t right nor fair to the child.

    1. Thank you for your query. We are unable to comment on specific circumstances in this forum and the arrangements in relation to your child will vary depending on your particular set of circumstances and the arrangements that are in place for them (for example, whether there are any court orders in place that specify with whom the child will live). However, it is not uncommon for children to spend time or stay with their step-parents, grandparents or extended family, and the family courts understand that parents will often need help with childcare (for example, to enable a parent to work). We recommend that you should seek advice from a family law specialist who is a member of Resolution to further discuss your concerns.

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