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In 1968 when the movie Yours, Mine and Ours appeared, stepfamilies were still somewhat of a novelty. Not any more.
An estimated eight million families have stepchildren, and according to the Stepfamily Association, more than 20 percent of children under 18, or about 10 million children, live in stepfamilies. And that does not include all the other variations: cohabiting couples, adoptive or foster families or single-parent households.
If the numbers are surprising, the issues facing stepfamilies or blended families can be even more daunting. Any second marriage is tough, because chances are you and your new spouse already have entrenched habits. If you have children, your loyalties can be divided as well.
Many books, courses and Websites have been devoted to stepparenting. Here we restrict our focus to finances. Additional resources include New Families, New Finances by Emily Card and Christie Watts Kelly; the Stepfamily Association of America and the Stepfamily Foundation.
First Things First
It's always important to ask the right questions before you get married, but if you or your future spouse has children, here are a few more to add to the list:
- "What are your ongoing financial responsibilities?"
You need to know how much alimony (spousal support) or child support your future spouse is receiving or paying, how long it will last, whether it can be adjusted, and what, if any, commitments he has concerning college bills. Spousal support often ends if the recipient remarries or lives with a partner, but child support goes on. The new spouse does not have a legal obligation to support stepchildren, so you should be clear going in about the financial realities of your situation.
- How much do you spend on your children?"
This includes allowances, trips, gifts and other extras. What do the children expect? Have they been promised a new car upon graduation and full payment of college bills? Driven by guilt or a competitive spirit, single parents often overspend on their children. In a blended family, you need to walk a path between the wicked stepparent and the overindulgent fairy godparent.