Domestic Violence in the Blended Family

Most people feel as though it will never happen to them. That someone whom they love so much and are in such close proximity to would ever lay a finger on them. The truth is that it happens all too frequently. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience physical violence by their intimate partners in their lifetimes.* About 1 in 3 women and nearly 1 in 6 men experience some form of sexual violence during their lifetimes.*

I was like so many people who never thought that it would happen to me. I was a teenaged parent and married my daughter’s father a year after graduating high school. Our daughter was 4 years old when we married. I will never forget that she cried throughout the entire ceremony because she really did not want us to get married. Sometimes children have a sixth sense to know when something is awry.

It was probably a month into our marriage when the first incident occurred. It shocked and scared me so much that I did not tell anyone what had happened. We were discussing past relationships and he wanted all of these intimate details about my dealings with people whom I had dated while we were apart. All of a sudden he snapped, grabbed my neck and choked me until I lost consciousness. When I came to I just stared quietly not saying a word. I could not believe what had just happened.

Take Anna and Charlie. Charlie was Anna’s knight in shining armor. He kept the house clean, paid all of the bills and made enough to where Anna did not have to work. By trade Charlie was in the military. He would deploy for a few months here and there and come home to his civilian job where he would drive trucks for a branch of government.

Charlie was a 45 year old widower and had an 11 year old daughter who was with Anna and him full-time. Together Charlie and Anna had three small children all under 6 years old, all girls. Anna who was 37 years old knew that Charlie had a temper and probably suffered from undiagnosed PTSD. What she did not know is that she would soon be the target of that temper.

It started with a push and Charlie demanding that Anna stay home. He did not want her to do anything outside of the house unless it had something to do with the children. Anna wanted a life of her own as well and wanted to be able to visit her friends and family without the children and Charlie sometimes. One night in particular Anna wanted to go to the movies with some friends. Charlie pitched a fit swearing that she was going out to cheat on him like his ex-wife did when they were together. Anna persisted that she needed this time and needed a break. In a rage, Charlie pushed Anna into the glass coffee table in the living room. She fell smashing the table and cut her arm and back. All of the children heard the noise and upon seeing their mother on the floor bleeding, began to cry. Anna ran to the bathroom to tend to her wounds and texted her friends with an excuse as to why she could not attend the movie.

Charlie and Anna, myself and my first husband and many others are not alone in experiencing domestic violence. So what are some things that you can do if DV hits your home?

  1. Realize that you are not alone. Most communities have resources that you can take advantage of if you are feeling unsafe at home. Look for DV hotlines to talk to a counselor. Take advantage of DV shelters if you are in need of a place to hide out for a while. Call on friends and family if need be, but try not to place them in compromised situations or endanger them.
  2. Try counseling to see if it helps at all. Many times a person has pinned up anger that has nothing to do with their current situation. Charlie had not been diagnosed with PTSD, but Anna realized that he was showing some of the same traits as her father who had PTSD. Anna took the three younger children and temporarily moved out of their family home until Charlie would agree to counseling. The counselor was able to pinpoint Charlie’s issues stemming from his time in the military and to get him signed up for help.
  3. Let someone know what is going on. You have to be very careful with this one, especially if you are going to stay in the relationship or marriage. Once people who love you begin to see your partner or spouse in a negative light it is extremely difficult to change their minds. The point here is that someone needs to know what you are going through. I remember feeling trapped like I could not talk to anyone about what was going on. It was obvious to everyone I knew because like Charlie, my first husband wanted to isolate me from my friends and family to maintain a certain level of control. I was able to talk to my pastor at the time and his wife about the things that were going on. I was too embarrassed to reach out to anyone else.
  4. Give yourself permission to take a break from the situation. Sometimes it gets so bad that you just have to get away. I remember the first time that I left my first husband. I stayed with my parents for a while, then ended up going back to him to try and make things work. As a parent, I was inclined to want my children to have both of their biological parents. By this time we had a second daughter. For me going back was the worst thing that I could have done.
  5. Only you can determine when enough is enough. So many times I meet individuals who are stuck between a brick and a hard place. Anna was lucky enough to have the funds saved up from the time when she had previously worked to get a temporary place to stay until she could decide how she wanted to handle the situation with Charlie. However, many partners and spouses are so financially dependent on their spouses or partners that they do not have funds of their own. Funds or no funds, if the time comes and you are truly ready to make a decision, make the decision that works best for you.
  6. There is life after DV. Sometimes the mental and emotional toll that DV takes on a person makes them feel as though they are somehow unworthy of a healthy love that does not involve violence. This is the furthest thing from the truth. It was just a few months after breaking things off with my first husband that I met a nice guy who was not violent at all. I say that to say it is okay to let go of what you thought would be the picture perfect scenario and allow life to take you to the next chapter.

Charlie and Anna ended up finding light at the end of the tunnel. Charlie employed the help of military counselors and remained in marital therapy along with Anna to work through their issues. Anna moved back home with the condition that Charlie continued counseling, allowed her to have a life of her own, and employed different methods of expressing his anger. They continue to have some issues, but are on the mend.

Most stories do not end like Charlie and Anna’s. Many couples end up divorcing over DV. Sometimes it gets so out of hand that one or both partners end up dead. Even worse, there are some people who endure year after torturous year of violence for their entire lives. Life is just too precious and short to be lived in that level of misery. Of course there will be disagreements but there has to be a mature adult way to handle the disagreement without bringing unnecessary harm to a spouse or partner.

My first husband and I ultimately divorced. His mental and emotional issues ran too deep for me to understand. Besides, I was not certain that there was any level of counseling that could help an anger that was so strong and unpredictable.

Again, only you can decide what is right for your situation. Get the help you need to move forward with confidence that you are giving yourself and your family the best chance for success. Stay safe and choose wisely.


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When COVID-19 Strikes Your Blended Family

COVID-19 has taken the planet by storm! From a wild meat market in Wuhan, China all the way across the oceans in every direction. Its relentless force has all but brought the world as we once knew it to a screeching halt. There are not many corners of the earth from which this virus has hidden its face. Of course blended families are no exception. How has COVID-19 impacted your blended family?

Take Liz and Errol. Errol has a 3-year old daughter, Angel, with his ex-girlfriend who is now unable to attend her preschool due to COVID-19. Liz, Errol’s current wife, does not yet have children of her own but has been in Angel’s life for the past year and a half. Errol’s current Parenting Agreement gives him 50/50 custody of Angel. He normally gets her one week on, one week off and every other weekend. Angel’s mother has decided that she does not want to adhere to the current Parenting Agreement and has kept Angel from Errol during his normal weekend and going into the third day of his normal week visitation. She has justified this by saying that she is the better parent to protect Angel, and she is unsure about Liz’s working situation and exposure.

Liz is a pilot and has been laid off with all of the controversy around travel. Errol is an accountant and has his own business, so he has been working from home for years. Errol is furious that he is unable to see Angel. He clearly loves her, protects her and provides for her just as well as her mother. So how does Angel’s mother have the right to defy court orders and keep Angel away from her father? She really does not. She is still legally obligated to adhere to the court order despite the outbreak.

Angel’s mother has real fears that Liz’s profession could have exposed her to the virus. Liz is showing no signs of the virus and has not flown in over two weeks since the small company that she works for laid her off. The virus is thought to incubate somewhere around 14 days, so Liz should be clear even if she was exposed at some point. Errol has no idea how long it is going to be before he is able to see Angel and feels like this whole thing is negatively impacting he and Angel’s relationship and causing her more doubts and fears in a time when she needs stability the most. Errol has contacted his attorney and is looking for answers in the meantime of what he can do while he waits.

So what are some things that families in a similar situation can do?

  1. Be mindful of the laws in your state. As COVID-19 spreads and various governments react, laws are being updated to cope with the unprecedented level of legal issues arising. Most states have adopted laws stating that the Parenting Agreement must be adhered to baring any extreme circumstances. It would be a different story if either Errol or Liz were displaying clear symptoms of the virus or had tested positive. Attenuated fears that are unfounded do not carry the same weight as concrete evidence and a parent deliberately disobeying a court order risks being held in contempt.
  2. Try to work as a co-parenting unit to keep things as “normal” as possible for the child/children. Errol wants to keep the schedule as-is baring any changes in he or Liz’s health. He understands that this time is already stressful and confusing for a small child and does not want to confuse her any further. Her mother has to trust that Errol will continue to do what is right for Angel the same way that she would.
  3. Consider employing a mediator to help with some disagreements. This way you can preserve the court’s resources for the heavier weighted cases, save time, save money, and get a much faster solution. Many mediators are able to conduct your session virtually via video chat or phone.
  4. Be as flexible as possible. If the other parent truly cannot make their normal visitation time due to illness, economic or travel restrictions, try to work together to find solutions that still provide some level of parenting time without unnecessarily exposing the children. Maybe allow a video chat or virtual activity together. Also, one or both parents may have to temporarily adjust child support if they have lost their source of income.
  5. Hang in there. No one really knows the long-term impact of this virus. We see the short-term shutdowns and feel the impact of social distancing and vigilant sanitation. However, the messaging is not clear about what the long-term impact will be. Everyday you hear something different. Another guru has put out a study and two days later it is negated with new evidence to the contrary. This virus is sure to change some things, but it will eventually be over. Although this strand of Coronavirus is “novel” and has not been seen before, know that the past has shown us that we will eventually return to some sense of normal. Perhaps a new normal, but a normal indeed.
  6. Above everything, remain calm and show the children that both parents are behaving fairly and with maturity during these uncertain times. This is a time to come together, strengthen your marriage/relationships and family, and re-center yourselves around the things that matter most.

Angel’s mother has every right to be protective of her and want to keep her safe. As her father, Errol also has that same right. During a time like this Errol and his ex need to set aside their differences and trust that each other as parents will make decisions that are in Angel’s best interest because they both love her. Of course everyone has to use discretion and everyone’s situation will be different. The contagiousness of the virus is serious enough to warrant great concern amongst everyone. It is not however, a time to pick fights and be unfair to one or the other parent. The children are the ones who suffer most in those situations.

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Blending Families When You Have Older or Adult Children

Older and adult children add a different dynamic to a blended family. They tend to have strong allegiances to their biological parents and are less likely to open up to the idea of welcoming a new parental figure so late in their lives. Sometimes they even feel threatened by the new marriage or serious relationship. They may feel as though too much of their biological parent’s attention will go to the new spouse or significant other, or that the new spouse or partner could inherit assets that they feel rightfully belong to them. So how do you blend with older or adult children?

Now that my own children are 27, almost 22, and almost 18, I accept the fact that they may not bond so well with my current fiancé. I do not expect that he or they will make a significant effort to develop relationships with each other. My oldest daughter is already married and living her own life in a different state. My second daughter is finishing up college and headed overseas for a couple of years, and my son is finishing up high school and heading to college. I feel like it would be unreasonable for me to put too many expectations on my adult children or my future husband to do something that is going to be totally unnatural for all of them. The best that I can do is open up doors of opportunities for them to forge organic relationships by making them all feel included. I also do my best to make sure that my future husband and his children, as well as my children continue to feel my love for all of them as we transition into the full on blend.

It seems like it would be easier to blend with older or adult children, but it is not. It can be downright awkward at times trying to figure out how to navigate all of the various personalities, needs and relationships. Take Sam and Beverly for instance. Sam has never been married and has no children. Beverly was married once before and has 2 adult children ages 19 and 23. Sam and Beverly are currently considering marriage but Sam is concerned that Beverly’s adult children do not like or accept him.

Beverly’s 19-year-old son Shane, and 23-year- old daughter Sierra, still live with her in the house that they have lived in all of their lives. Beverly and her ex-husband Bill have been divorced for 6 years and Sam is her first real relationship since the divorce. Sam comes to Beverly’s house at least 2-3 times per week. Each time that he comes Shane goes to his room and slams the door, and Sierra either leaves or also closes herself off in her room. Beverly has had several conversations with them in an attempt to reassure them that Sam is not trying to take the place of their father. However, Shane and Sierra remain unconvinced and uninterested in establishing any sort of relationship with Sam.

Many blended families experience this when one or both partners have older or adult children. So should Beverly and Sam call it quits and forget about their love? Absolutely not! This is one of those things that they will have to power through in order to get to the other side. Here are a few things that they can do to navigate the landscape of attempting to blend with Beverly’s adult children:

  1. Realize that older or adult children may never accept your new spouse or partner. As bad as Beverly wants Shane and Sierra to accept Sam, the truth is that it may never happen.
  2. Beverly should have a talk with Shane and Sierra to establish ground rules for when Sam comes over. At least a hello before disappearing. No slamming doors. No expectations that they will accept him but they are required to be respectful of what she is currently establishing.
  3. Beverly can also discuss the role that Sam will play in her life as they move toward marriage. She can assure Shane and Sierra that Sam is not taking their father’s place or taking over their home.
  4. Beverly should also discuss the disposition of their home and any assets that she has in the event of her death. Little does she know, this is probably a pressing issue on her children’s minds. This is a good time to employ the help of an Estate Planning Attorney to update her estate plan.
  5. Beverly and Sam should have a serious talk about their expectations of each other and their expectations of Shane and Sierra. They have to be realistic in their expectations and not put too much pressure on any of them to try and forge relationships. If the relationships form at all, they will form organically and generally through shared experiences.
  6. Beverly will have to be patient. Many parents want their new spouses and significant others to immediately embrace their children and treat them as their own. While Sam may have the desire to do this, Shane and Sierra are clearly not going to make this easy for him. If they ever open up at all, it is going to take time. No amount of force will make it happen any quicker.
  7. The whole family should attend blended family counseling to have an open discussion about everyone’s new roles and how they will function going forward. This is a great opportunity for everyone to air their concerns and work on solutions to make the transition as smooth as possible.
  8. Beverly and Sam should consider purchasing a shared home of their own. Sam can see that Shane and Sierra clearly do not want him in their home. While this is not a reason for Beverly to just stop her relationship, this is likely to be an ongoing issue for a lot of reasons. Establishing their own marital home will give Sam a lot more leverage in the home as opposed to moving into an already established household with adult children.

Blending with older or adult children is not impossible. It is just very different from blending with younger children. None of it is easy. It all takes a great deal of extra effort to make it work. Two people with the right mindset and a deep love and respect for each other can do the work to make their blended family work no matter the age of the children.  

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Making Healthcare Decisions as a Blended Family

Healthcare decisions are never easy. Sometimes tough choices have to be made and many times someone is left hurting because they were not involved in the process or they did not agree with the choice that was made. How do you make healthcare decisions in a blended family and keep the conflict amongst family members to a minimum?

Take Elizabeth. I met her during my time in the Probate Court. She was 72-years-old and the second wife of her late husband James who had died 13 years earlier. Elizabeth had been an art dealer during her working years. She managed to amass a small fortune, but had not done any planning. She was at the point of incapacitation and in need of more extensive care. Her court hearing was to appoint a Guardian to assist with healthcare decisions.

If you have ever been through the courts for a guardianship hearing, you know that it is an arduous, costly, and lengthy process. Elizabeth was in the position to where she could no longer make decisions for herself and the court basically had to step in and appoint someone to do this for her. Since she had not done any planning, she would likely also need to have someone appointed to handle her financial affairs as well. That is a different process called a conservatorship.

Elizabeth and James had two biological daughters Amy and Amber.  James also had two sons with his first wife James Jr and Richard (Elizabeth’s step sons). All of them felt as though they had a stake in what happened to her. Elizabeth was estranged from her two step sons since her husband’s death over 13 years ago, but they sure as hell showed up for her guardianship hearing to check the state of her affairs. They knew that she had an art collection worth over $1M as well as the house that all of the children were raised in also worth over $1M. Furthermore her step sons had their eye on their father’s hunting gear, his antique cars, and what was left of his retirement savings.

Elizabeth’s daughters were concerned about their mother’s failing health, but they also wondered what would happen to all of the things that she and their late father had collected over the years. To Elizabeth’s surprise, the court room was full of hungry wolves sniffing around trying to see if there was anything for them to gain. In fact at one point during the hearing, Elizabeth turned around looking at the crowd and said “all of these people are here for my money.” These were people that she had not seen in years and even people she did not know learning all about her personal life. Guardianship and conservatorship hearings are open to the public, so anyone can attend.

The court ended up appointing a Guardian for Elizabeth who was outside of the family. The judge felt like there was too much discord amongst the children and that there was the possibility of decisions being made that were not in Elizabeth’s best interest. All four of the children were upset since this took control from them and put it in the hands of a total stranger. The judge also decided to appoint a Conservator to handle Elizabeth’s financial affairs.

Elizabeth could have avoided all of this by making some very important decisions about her care when she still had the capacity to do so. She could have created a Healthcare Directive outlining who should make decisions in the event of her incapacity. She could have also created a Power of Attorney to outline who should make financial decisions in the event of her incapacity. This can be different people or the same person. While she had capacity, it would have been totally up to her to decide. Once the judge is brought in to make a decision on her mental capacity, she and her family lose control, lose privacy, and lose some level of dignity.

Here are a few things that blended families can do to empower themselves to make the best choices for their families:

  1. Have a conversation with the family about your healthcare and financial wishes. Make sure that the people you love understand what you want. This is one of the most critical steps because when there are remarriages, step children, and biological children involved it can get difficult for people to figure out your wishes if the time ever comes when you are unable to communicate that to them. Imagine getting into a car accident and being unconscious. Maybe your spouse feels like they should be making the medical decisions on your behalf. Perhaps your biological children also feel like they should be making those decisions, or even your step children. What if the decision comes up about whether or not to resuscitate or to perform a life-saving surgery? Who would you trust with your very life?
  2. Be sure to document and notarize your wishes. It is not enough to just talk about those wishes, you must put them in writing and have them notarized in order for them to have any legal effect. A Healthcare Directive including a HIPAA release form, a Living Will (for life saving treatment decisions), as well as a financial Power of Attorney are critical documents.
  3. Check your short-term and long-term disability plans at work to make sure they are adequate in the event of a lingering medical emergency that takes you out of work for an extended period of time. If these plans are not available at work, check with private insurers for rates.
  4.  Make sure that your Will or Trust is up-to-date and has all of the right decision makers and beneficiaries for your current situation.
  5. Check your long-term care policy and make sure that you understand what it does and does not cover. It is important to note that not all long-term care policies are created equally and coverage can vary widely amongst the different plans.
  6. Be certain that your emergency fund is adequate enough to cover several months of expenses if you ever happen to face a medical emergency.

Elizabeth was still alive when I left the Probate Court but fully incapacitated. Her daughters and step sons were still fighting amongst themselves and fighting in court to get access to her assets and for the authority to make healthcare decisions. This is not what she would have wanted for herself or for her family. The guardianship and conservatorship court proceedings cost thousands of unnecessary dollars that did not need to be spent, opened up her private affairs to the public, and threw her family into disarray.

Taking the above steps can keep your family out of court and out of conflict during an already stressful time. It can also help to insure that your wishes are carried out without court costs, delays, or intervention.

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Bringing Assets Into a Second or Subsequent Marriage

It is much easier when you marry in your earlier years before either of you have acquired much in the way of obligations, property or assets. There are no children involved, no ex-spouses, little to no financial obligations and you are starting fresh. It is a little different when you enter a second or subsequent marriage having already built an entire life, family and career.

In my second marriage, although both of us had already been married once before, I was the only one with existing children. Neither of us had much in the way of property or assets. Although he did not have children at the time, he did however have lots of financial obligations.

Take Alan and Denise. Alan is 49 years old and was married to his first wife for 17 years. Alan and his first wife have 2 daughters ages 16 and 10 and two sons ages 13 and 6. Denise is 52 years old and has been married twice before but only has one son age 29 from her first marriage. Alan and Denise have recently gotten engaged and are trying to figure out how to join forces without causing any financial animosity. They both have substantial assets and no debt obligations.

Current ownership:

Asset Type           AlanDenise
Real Estate3 houses total value: $700k1 house $500k, 1/3rd share of fam farm $300k
InvestmentsRetirement $250k, brokerage $175kRetirement $400k, brokerage $350k
Bank AccountsPersonal $100k, Business $150kPersonal $150k, Business $230k
BusinessesHome improvement business $340kCoffee shop franchise owner $420k
Personal/family items/collectionsKnife collection $40kGrandmother’s art collection $250k

As you can see, Alan and Denise have a lot to think about going into this marriage. They are both brining substantial assets and they both have children who may be expecting those assets to ultimately come to them and not to a new spouse. How do they keep their financial status in place without possibly tearing down all that they have built if their new marriage ends in divorce?

The first step for a couple like this is a prenuptial agreement. Simply put, a prenuptial agreement is an agreement made by a couple before they marry concerning the ownership of their respective assets should the marriage fail. It outlines all of the assets that each party is bringing into the marriage and how those assets should be handled if things do not work out. It is a good way for Alan and Denise to protect their separate interests and keep the separate nature of the property by making sure that it does not become marital property which would have to be split in the event of a divorce.

The second step for Alan and Denise is to discuss how all of the assets are titled. They can employ a good financial advisor or estate planning attorney to help with this. For instance, Denise owns 1/3rd of her family’s farm and her two sisters own the other 2/3rds. That is good for Alan to know in the event that anything happens to Denise and he has to handle the disposition of her share of the property. He knows that he will be dealing with at least 2 other ownership interests. We are basically forced into doing a bit of estate planning in our everyday lives and titling is one of those ways.

Take Alan’s retirement account. He had not checked it since his divorce. When he finally looked he realized that he still had his ex-wife as the beneficiary. He will need to update that so there is no confusion as to where the funds should go. In the case of bank and brokerage accounts, they can be titled with a payable on death (POD- for bank accounts) or transfer on death (TOD- for brokerage accounts) instruction where you add a beneficiary to the account. Additionally, you can add a joint account holder who would essentially receive full ownership of the account in the event of the other joint account holder’s death.

The third step for Alan and Denise is to discuss their estate plan with an attorney licensed in their state. They are good candidates for using a few different types of trusts to hold and distribute their assets. Even if they already have wills, medical directives, or existing trusts, they will still need to revisit this area of their lives as they take on the new responsibilities of marriage, step parenting, and combining households.

They will need to assess the impact that this new marriage could have to their existing properties, businesses, accounts, and how they are going to handle all of these things without losing site of their current and future needs, and the needs of their existing children.

The fourth step for Alan and Denise is to meet with a tax advisor and get an understanding of how they should file their taxes going forward. They should also get an understanding of what impact that taxes will have on any planned purchases or if they were to sell off any of their assets.

Lastly and most important, Alan and Denise should have a frank and open discussion about their expectations, parenting of the minor children, and how they will handle their finances. This is a great time to employ the help of a therapist or family counselor who understands the nuances of blending. They should talk about how to handle Alan’s ex-wife and if there are things that Denise should understand about his children. They should also discuss Denise’s adult son and how to incorporate him. Of course it is very different when the children are older teenagers or adults when you remarry. It is still important to consider them and make sure the other partner understands how you would prefer for them to deal with their adult children.

While Alan and Denise are in a good situation, they have to be mindful as they blend families not to make any avoidable financial or legal mistakes. Getting competent professional help, they will position themselves and their respective families to blend intelligently and eliminate what could have been a huge set of problems if left unaddressed.

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Establishing Rules and Routines in a Newly Blended Family

Starting a blended family is exciting and nerve wrecking at the same time. Will the children like their new step parent? Will the step parent get along with their new step children? Will the children like each other? How will things be with the other biological parent(s)? How will the finances be handled? What will the living arrangements be? What if your parenting styles differ?

The beginning of my second marriage was so exciting. My then husband was doing all of the things that I wanted. He would take my two daughters out to the park to ride their bikes so that I could read and get a breather, take me out to plays and to do nice things, and really was an overall delight. As everyone knows once the honeymoon phase is over things can get a little tricky.

I had a pretty strict parenting style. My girls got away with nothing if I found out about it. Things changed when we had our son. Our son was his first and only child at the time and my third. When you have an “ours” baby it can really bring your parenting under a lot of scrutiny. How do you balance the competing needs of your existing children with the new baby, and try to keep things as fair as possible?

Take Leslie and Gary for instance. Leslie has two biological children with her ex-husband. A daughter age 7, and a son age 10. Gary has three biological children. One son with his first wife age 19, and two daughters with his second wife ages 12 & 9. Gary and Leslie recently married and are trying to figure out how to blend. Gary has a strict demanding style with his children. He expects them to obey on command and punishes them harshly when they do not. Leslie on the other hand is firm but very loving and attempts to teach lessons more so than harshly disciplining her children.

Leslie’s children are not adjusting well to Gary’s harsh style and barely want to come over for their weekend visits to their mother and new step-father. Gary’s younger girls live with them full-time and feel like they do not have to listen to Leslie because her parenting style is unlike their father’s. What are Leslie and Gary to do? Should they give up on their marriage because the children are not adjusting well?

I’m here to tell you there is hope for couples like Gary and Leslie. Some of these things my ex-husband and I did, and others we should have done. They are things that my current fiancé and I are taking to heart as we prepare for our new blend. Here are a few tips for establishing ground rules at the beginning of a new blend. When I say at the beginning, I mean it. Habits get formed quickly and you want the right habits formed up front.

  1. Take the time to talk through your expectations with your new partner/spouse. Really dig deep on what you want and do not want in the relationship, and discuss your deal breakers. Discuss how discipline will be addressed and routines to put in place for consistency in the household.
  2. Discuss how to handle the various children who will be involved in the blend. Even if one or both of you have adult children, still discuss them because they will inevitably be involved at some point in time. This is a good time to disclose any medical, mental or emotional concerns and to give a heads up on any behavioral concerns.
  3. Discuss how to handle the other biological parent(s). Your new partner or spouse may not realize that your child’s other biological parent is high conflict, uninterested, strung out on drugs or a helicopter parent. Lay out how to deal with the other biological parent and what to expect as you move forward. This is a good time to review custody and visitation agreements as well as any child support or alimony obligations.
  4. Openly discuss your house rules and what the living arrangements will be. One couple recently married and moved into the husband’s house that he previously had with his ex-wife. His three children had large sized rooms to themselves while her three children were piled together into the smallest room in the house. Not very ideal. A good rule of thumb is to iron these details out prior to making any big moves. If it is feasible, it is a good idea to get an “ours” house or work toward eventually getting a home that belongs to both of you.
  5. Exercise patience and understand that blending takes a lot of time and effort. Leslie and Gary eventually went to counseling and learned that they had moved entirely too fast and they had overlooked how those changes impacted their children. Leslie’s ex-husband got full custody of her children in the divorce. Her children lived with her ex-husband throughout the week and visited her every weekend. Gary got full custody of his children when he divorced and they visit his ex-wife every other weekend. Within a year both sets of children were uprooted from their childhood homes, had to leave their regular schools, and got thrown into situations that they were ill prepared to embrace. Leslie and Gary had been dating while they were both married to their exes. They decided that it was time to break things off with their current spouses and make their thing official. It was a huge blowup and the children were caught in the middle trying to make sense of it all.No matter the circumstance when it comes to blending, give everyone time to settle in and make gradual changes. Too many huge changes at once can be confusing and difficult for everyone.
  6. Openly discuss how you will handle finances and your estate plan. Inevitably finances are going to be an issue. Some couples in second or subsequent marriages choose to keep their finances separate. Some couples combine their finances. Decide what works for you, but do not skip this step. Discuss how bills will be handled and what each partner is expected to contribute to the household. Discuss expenses surrounding the children and how they will be handled. Discuss any debt obligations, credit scores, insurance policies, and so on. Also openly discuss what your spouse or partner is to do in the event of your death or disability and who the key players are in case of an emergency. A good rule of thumb is to have an emergency binder containing all of the important information about your life.

One thing that my second husband and I did that helped us through some of the tougher times in our marriage was to hold family meetings and discuss things that were going on in our family. My daughters started to feel as though they were being pushed aside by him as our son got older and more of my ex- husband’s time and attention went into our son. No more outings to the park to ride bikes, no more outings to the library, play places or anything else that he used to do with them. They wondered if they had done something wrong. The family meetings gave them a place to voice their concerns and openly discuss how they were really feeling.

Only you can decide what will work for your family. I think that communication is a huge key to getting through any situation and mustering up the ability to move forward in the face of challenges. Blending is not impossible, it just takes a lot of additional work on the part of all parties involved.

Join my Facebook group DMV Happy Blended Family Network for more content related to financial and estate planning for blended families, and overall blended family support and information.

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When the Past Creeps Up

Back in the day when I was young I’m not a kid anymore but some days I sit and wish I was a kid again (Song credit: Ahmad, Back in the Day). Has something either from your past or from your significant other’s past ever crept up and bit you in the ass? Maybe a long lost sibling, a dirty little habit that they were able to hide before you moved in together, or an additional step child that you did not know about.

It is not uncommon for people to enter blended families with a little extra baggage. Besides there have been exes, possibly children born, maybe properties purchased, maybe a divorce or two, and a whole life that was established prior to your current relationship. There is bound to be at least a skeleton or two lingering around in the closet. So what do you do when things get a little strange because of an unanticipated revelation?

I went into my second marriage with the hope of getting all of the things right that I missed in my first marriage. We were being “transparent,” open and honest with each other about everything (at least I thought we were). Being a person who was heavily into finances I asked the big question “how is your credit? Is there anything that would stop you from being able to purchase a house?” His answer was oh yes, my credit is good. I have one thing on there that I am currently paying on and it is $5,000.

$5000, no big deal right? Wrong! We proceed to get married and I find out that not only was that $5000 there, but page after page of financial irresponsibility was on his credit report. What was I supposed to do? I should have run his credit report before saying I do and sitting in front of a mortgage broker who laughed us out of his office. I really had no clue what to do. I was about 2 months pregnant with our son and I had two young daughters from my first marriage to consider.

I’ll be honest. My first reaction was to call an attorney to find out if we could get the marriage annulled. When they said no, I decided to dig in my heels and make it work. When I tell you that finances were an issue for us for the entire length of our marriage and ultimately broke us apart, I tell you that attempting to hide things from your significant other or spouse is never a good idea. It has a way of eventually leaking out and permanently damaging the trust in the relationship.

What things have either crept up from your past or from your spouse or significant other’s past? Take Mike and Gloria for instance (based on a true story). Gloria found out that not only had Mike been sexually active with men in the past, but he was also HIV positive. Mike never told Gloria any of this. Perhaps he was too embarrassed. She found out by snooping through his things and looking up the name of his medication, and by checking some of his text messages and online activities. Gloria chose to hang in there and try to make it work. These remain major issues in their marriage.

Like a slithering snake the past comes up and before you know it, it has paralyzed the relationship and thrown all of the lovely plans that you started with into a whirlwind. The questions arise. The communication either gets non-existent, or vicious and unproductive. And what was once the ideal situation quickly becomes terribly uncomfortable. So how do you handle it when things from the past unexpectedly creep up?

  1. Be upfront and honest about what is really going on with you. If you have a thing of the past that is likely to come up, just go ahead and spill the beans. If your significant other or spouse cannot handle it, at least you have been fair enough to allow them to make that decision for themselves. Inevitably they will find out and will most likely become resentful.
  2. If you forgive, also let go. Many people will forgive small mishaps. However, when the revelation is a big one it can be more difficult to forgive. If you decide to forgive, let it rest and let it go for good. Bringing it up over and over again only re-opens the wound each time never allowing it to fully heal.
  3. Something that is major or important to you could be insignificant in the eyes of your spouse or significant other. I know finances were major for me, but my ex did not really care much about his financial health. Try to catch and discuss those things early on. Ask the hard questions and dig for the answers that you need.
  4. Take a step back. If a big revelation came out and your spouse or significant other is hurting, you initially want to give them some space. They may need time to process what they have just learned. Gloria took a few days to herself to really process what she had learned about her husband Mike. It was shocking and painful, but she eventually forgave him and they moved on together.
  5. It is okay to decide to move on. Some spouses and significant others cannot handle the revelation that comes out and they decide to move on instead of figuring out the current situation. This happens in some instances where the betrayal is so deep that the person just cannot bring themselves to stick around for the pain. When this happens, it is okay to move forward.

Some things that were acceptable as kids can be intolerable for an adult. Put yourself in the shoes of your spouse or significant other and evaluate whether your thing is something that they really should know. Everybody has something from the past that they are not proud of. It is just a part of our human experiences.

Join my Facebook group DMV Happy Blended Family Network for more blended family related topics. Reflections Life Planning is an estate and financial planning firm that focuses on helping blended families to navigate the landscape of planning where the legal and financial nuances are different from nuclear families. If you have questions or concerns related to your blended family’s finances or legacy planning reach out for answers.

Instagram: @reflectionslifeplanning

Phone: 202-796-9311


The website is currently under construction


I started this blog with the belief that blended and step families need a place where they are supported and understood. Having been raised in a blended family, I understand all too well how difficult the dynamics can be. My parents are a second marriage and both of them brought children from exes into the marriage. I am their only “ours” child. This space is designed to be a positive, supporting environment where blended families can get the tools and resources necessary to work through their unique issues and thrive through the storms that are sure to come.

By training I am a financial planning attorney. My practice, Reflections Life Planning, is a financial and estate planning firm that focuses on helping blended families with adult children and the adult children of blended families to build the life and legacy that they deserve. I am a mother of 3 adult children. My nuclear family failed (first two children’s father), my first attempt at blending failed (youngest child’s father), and now I am on the journey again to blend with my current fiance and his two children. This time I am determined to get it right!

In the context of blended families, financial and estate planning are a lot more complex. How do you blend finances if at all? How do you determine who gets what in the event of the death of one or both spouses? How do you handle assets that you had prior to the marriage? What if there is a large age gap between the new spouses? What if there is a huge financial gap between the spouses? Who makes medical decisions if one or both spouses were to become incapacitated? How do you handle inheritances from other family members? How do you work through the inevitable fighting that happens over the step and biological children? How do you determine whether or not you need a prenuptial agreement?

These and many other questions will be answered through this blog. I will also create courses, books and materials to help you navigate the financial and legacy aspects of things as you go on this blended journey.

I encourage you to get involved, get your questions answered, make suggestions for content that you would like to see and invite others to participate in our forum. Buckle up and let’s support each other in getting this blended family thing down packed.

FB & IG: @reflectionslifeplanning