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Ask Yourself

* Is living in a Blended Family or a Stepfamily “more than you bargained for?”

* Does step parenting feel like the most challenging and thankless job of all?

* Is the tension and conflict taking its toll on your relationships

* Are you becoming worried about your children and their well-being?

* Are you constantly arguing with your partner about the kids, discipline and parenting in general?

• Is your ex or your partner's ex causing real problems in your blended family and in your relationship

• Are you at the end of your rope and need some answers NOW

* Are you considering entering into a Blended Family or Stepfamily and want to be prepared?

Does Money have to be a "Four Letter Word"?

2009-02-13

Step Institute

DOES MONEY HAVE TO BE A “FOUR LETTER WORD?”

For couples who choose to blend their lives and their families, they are choosing to blend their financial realities at some level, whether they realize it or not. And few, if any, can appreciate the complexities of this merger. With so many other competing demands, emotional realities, and relationships to focus on, the logistics around money, financial planning and equity don’t often get attended to, at least until there is a problem. For a small number who are willing and prepared to discuss this openly, a prenuptial agreement can help them to put the issues on the table and get them dealt with well before the remarriage occurs. But this group is definitely in the minority and for several reasons. But even if couples don’t want to entertain the idea of a prenuptial agreement, even a series of discussions aimed at establishing some openness and a plan around financial issues, is a must if you don’t want to get into trouble down the road. Agreeing that this is not easy to talk about, but important none the less, and committing to deal with the financial concerns together, creates an environment with far less tension and less room for anger and resentment to take hold.

Money, quite simply, is a very sensitive and often contentious issue to discuss and so the majority of couples I have worked with, don’t willingly put this topic at the top of their list of discussion items. Even when it is something that one or both is silently concerned about, the reluctance to share is so strong, that issues stay in the closet so to speak. As a result, issues involving money, equity and inequity, or any type of financial planning in general often remain un-discussed and unresolved, leading to bigger problems down the road.

There are a number of scenarios that I see in families and questions that get brought to me in my practice with blended families. I will share these with you and hopefully bring attention to the fact that most families are dealing with some form of financial issue in their day to day life. The common thread is of course, that not talking about these issues and seeking out solutions, inevitably creates more tension and conflict in the home and between partners. Anything that is gained by not talking about these things in the beginning, is quickly lost when the issues, lack of communication, resentment and misunderstanding begin to erode the very relationships people set out to develop in the first place. The solutions begin with normalizing our discussions about finances, setting an expectation that it is necessary to talk about this if two people are serious about merging their lives together and committing to have these conversations in a way that respects each other’s differences, views and even fears about money and all that it stands for.

Here are a number of issues that come up at various stages for couples in step or blended families:

1.) The new blended family may experience reduced income because payments are going towards first families and the expenses incurred there. While in a first family, 2 adults may be supporting the financial needs of one family, in a blended family with 2 combined households, significant portion of one person’s income may be going towards the costs of the first family/household. If one parent in the family is not receiving any child support, or less than is required from their ex-spouse, this can put an additional burden on the biological parent and the blended family in general. Reduced income for any of these reasons can create a financial squeeze and may limit the options or the types of activities that the family can engage in, and as a result, may bring additional stress into the family.

2.) When one partner has significantly less income than the other, or is financially dependent on their partner, this can set up a power imbalance in the family. In addition there are no easy answers to questions such as: Because I have more money, how much am I responsible for paying for when it comes to my partner’s children in terms of daily costs, activities, education, travel, etc?

And because money isn’t the only resource in any family, time and energy are equally important, it isn’t always easy to determine what is fair and equitable unless you factor in all of the contributions of both partners. One partner may contribute more time and energy to the raising of their children, but less financially, and the other partner may cover more of the costs financially, but not have the same amount of time to contribute to other family responsibilities. Out of respect for both people and in order to reach agreements and plan around financial issues successfully, other aspects of the couple’s life and commitments also have to be factored in and weighted accordingly.

3.) In a blended family constellation that involves 2 sets of children, there are 3 families co-existing. The new blended family in addition to both former spouse’s families. The spending choices, attitudes towards money, as well as the degree of finances at each family’s disposal, obviously vary and have definite impacts on all families involved. The children live in two homes where the dynamics around money and resources, the types of activities they are involved in, the size of their home, etc. can be very different. Also, within the newly formed family, stepsiblings may bring very different experiences. It is not uncommon for children from one family to have considerably more material possessions and options available to them, than their stepsiblings who originate from another nuclear family, which translates into inequity – or as some people call it: the haves and the have-nots living under one roof.

This raises a lot of issues for the parents – the couple who is merging their two families together. Just how far do you go to make a situation more equitable for all? Obviously there are limits as pre-existing circumstances determine the financial security of members in each family. For example, one set of children may come with an education savings plan in place and the promise of an inheritance while the other set of children may not. These are issues that parents need to be able to discuss openly at some point, because even if there is not a lot that can be done to address certain issues, there will no doubt be feelings and concerns and not talking about them could lead to anger, resentment, jealousy, etc. Often through talking, and even consulting with an expert in these matters, solutions can be found to matters once thought unsolvable.

 

 

 

 

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