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Studies find expanding stepfamilies after divorce

In many cases, divorce may eventually lead to bigger families. As people divorce and remarry, families might expand through the addition of stepchildren, stepsiblings and stepparents. A study carried out by researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that in households with an adult younger than 55 at the head, nearly a third have a stepparent. Around one-third of couples older than 55 who have adult children have a stepchild.

With the divorce rate on the rise for older Americans, stepchildren and others may continue to lead to family growth. One issue that these stepfamilies raise is what kind of obligations stepfamilies have to one another. Bonds may be weaker in these families. According to one study, couples with adult stepchildren are 10 percent less likely to get attention from those adult children or to give them attention.

Parents may argue about how much financial obligation they have toward sending a stepchild to college. Issues may also arise involving care of elderly stepparents.

A couple that is going through a divorce might not be thinking about stepfamilies yet, but they may have to make decisions that could affect those families in the future regarding finances and child custody. For example, during property division, people may want to make sure that they feel they are getting their fair amount of the shared property. How a stepfamily is later built may be strongly influenced by child custody decisions. For example, when a noncustodial parent starts a new relationship, the child might feel left out. Parents might want to consider these possibilities when creating a parenting agreement and think about issues such as how long they would like a relationship to exist before the child meets the parent's new partner. Divorce mediation may help parents reach an agreement on these and other issues.

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