Lions, and Tigers and … Blended Families – Oh My.

LionDivorce Rate Hits 50 Percent (Even Greater In California). The current statistics indicate that over 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. In Southern California it is estimated that the divorce rate is between 60 to 75 percent. Those are really staggering statistics, and when you add to that the statistic that between 80 percent of men and 75 percent of women remarry within 3 years, it is no wonder that the “blended family” is becoming a very common occurrence. What is a blended family? It’s a family where at least one of the partners (husband or wife) has been married before and has children from that earlier marriage or relationship.

The Children.  Blended families present special challenges when it comes to estate and child care planning, and the first place conflict in planning might arise is with children.  In general, there is often conflict between step-parents and step-children, that’s not surprising. Add to that one parent’s desire to benefit their biological children more than their step children, and it is easy to see why many parents want to avoid even talking about what to do if one of the parents dies.

The Step-MadTM. What is a Step-Mad?  It’s just a term I have coined for a StepMom or Dad.  The problem with blended families is not just a children and young family’s problem. There are a lot of later in life marriages, often after the death of the prior spouse and often after the children are fully grown. The kids may want Mom or Dad to be happy, but that only goes so far and after Mom or Dad dies, the Step-Mad is often an irritant and someone the deceased parent’s children have no lasting relationship with. Protecting the Step-Mad from the children may be the most loving thing their second partner can do.

The Ostrich Syndrome TM. I often see blended families caught in the “Ostrich Syndrome”, a term I use to describe the belief (or hope) that if you just bury your head in the sand and don’t look at the problem, everything will be alright.  I have this image of an ostrich standing right in the middle of a railroad track, head buried deep in the sand, with a freight train barreling down.  Now we all know that just because you don’t see the train, doesn’t mean you’re not going to get hit.

The Time Bomb and How to Diffuse It.  Families are about more than you and me.  They are really about an “us”.  If you had a time-bomb ticking away in your closet, chances are you would not ignore it; you would diffuse it.  Now diffusing a time bomb is not easy or without danger. But taking action to neutralize the problem is a lot safer for the “us” than doing nothing.  Hard as it may be to address, dealing with blended family issues calmly and rationally now is the only real solution.

The Process. In my practice I follow a process with my blended family clients who have identified this as a sensitive area.  We start by getting in a “safe place.”  A safe place is a neutral environment with a neutral moderator, in this case your planning attorney and you agree to some very specific rules about not criticizing or arguing with your partner regardless of what they might say. The safe place is a place where you can be honest without fear and without a lot of emotion. When you are in a safe place, you then go through a list of questions and answers to understand how each of you feels about support of children, property distribution and timing, care and a list of other concerns. The goal is to develop a plan and to come up with a result that both feel comfortable with. It can often involve some rather creative solutions that can really work to diffuse the situation with very little pain. The key is to start the process.

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