Fewer couples are divorcing in the US, but the divorce rates remain high. About 600,000 Americans undergo the process yearly, with their children often reeling from the effects. The American Academy of Pediatrics says kids separated from their loved ones, such as after a divorce, are at risk of suicide.
When divorced parents decide to remarry, their kids can encounter an entirely new set of challenges. Adolescents, in particular, are highly sensitive to matters of affection and sexuality. Any ongoing romance in the family can push them off track in their development.
Even in adulthood, children of blended families may encounter legal complications over asset and property inheritance. For this and many more reasons, divorcees with children must carefully plan before entering another marriage.
The Emotional Impact of Remarriage on Children
Regardless of the purity of their intentions, couples who remarry are bound to disrupt established family dynamics, which can be unsettling for kids. Parents and stepparents should therefore take time to understand potential issues and guide each child through the transition. Here are six common ways children may react emotionally to remarriage:
Increased attachment to the remarried parent
A child might display signs of increased attachment to a parent who remarries. They may have difficulty letting go of that parent or may express resentment toward the new spouse and step-siblings. Sometimes, they may even attempt to come between the parent and the stepparent.
A child may hesitate to accept the stepparent because of guilt, thinking it’s a form of betrayal against the biological parent. Consequently, the child may feel awkward about building a relationship with the stepparent. These emotions can magnify when the other parent talks ill about their ex’s new spouse.
Difficulty finding their own space
When kids find themselves in a large blended family, they may have trouble finding their space in the new home. They may feel they have lost their privacy, which growing kids need to develop autonomy and individuality.
Feeling out of place
Not all kids get along quickly with other kids, let alone step-siblings living with them under one roof. A timid or reserved kid may particularly struggle with feeling a sense of belongingness in a family that now includes relative strangers.
Grief or loss
It’s normal for a child to grieve when their parents divorce. Remarriage can reinforce those feelings. They may even fantasize about their parents reuniting as a coping mechanism. The more they cling to their fantasy, the longer they may accept their stepparent.
Stressing over new rules and expectations
This problem usually occurs between blended families with different individual cultures. For example, a child from a free-spirited family may stress over new house rules imposed by a stricter stepparent. The introduction of new expectations in the new family can also be overwhelming for a growing child.
Helping the Kids Cope
Remarriage is not a wholly negative experience for families. Some exes may even plan on it after divorce to maintain socio-economic stability. Although 67 percent of second marriages in the US also end up in divorce, the rest are presumably successful.
Of course, success in blended families relies heavily on the adjustment of the children. Co-parents and stepparents should thus ensure everyone adjusts well to the new family structure. To help achieve this result, here are some tips to consider:
Peaceful and civil co-parenting
It’s natural for children to go through emotional hardships when one of their parents remarries. However, these issues can be mitigated when co-parents maintain a healthy and respectful relationship. This also makes it easier for young people to accept their new life.
Engaging in bonding activities
Bonding activities are essential for all families, but blended families may have to dedicate extra quality time together. They don’t need to go on extravagant vacations, but the kids must have a chance to enjoy themselves and let their guard down around their stepparents and step-siblings. It makes it easier for them to warm up to the changes the remarriage has brought upon their lives.
Talking it out
Sometimes, all children need is a good talk about their feelings, apprehensions, and doubts about their new family. Even kids need to vent, and co-parents should listen attentively. Most importantly, the kids should feel loved and supported unconditionally.
Keeping old family traditions
An effective way of making a child feel loved in a blended family is by preserving old family traditions. This thoughtful act reassures the kid the remarried parent still enjoys the things they used to do together. As a result, they can avoid developing feelings of jealousy and resentment.
Allowing free expression
Letting children express themselves freely encourages them to be honest and accepting of their feelings about remarriage. It also helps keep the line of communication open and healthy between the kids, the parent and stepparent, and any step-siblings.
Building relationships naturally
Blended family relationships can be harder to build when the kids feel forced to deal with the situation. Encouraging them to open up is good, but pushing too hard can create the opposite effect. The best approach for parents and stepparents is to let the children embrace their new family dynamic at their own pace.
Effect of Remarriage on Assets and Inheritance
With proper guidance, children within a remarriage can cope reasonably well as they mature and widen their views on life. However, legal complications may occur once they become adults and deal with the complex scenario of blended family assets and inheritance. It could even get more complicated if they have to deal with the prospect of bankruptcy, mainly as a result of poor financial management.
Remarriage can blur the lines of who gets what from which marriage and why, leading to disagreements that can quickly turn into lawsuits. To avoid disputes among siblings and step-siblings, parents should consider the following issues early into the remarriage:
The first sensible decision couples should make is whether or not to combine their current assets or keep them separate. When they opt for co-mingling, each spouse gets a hundred percent stake in everything the other owns. When kept separate, assets from the first marriage can be designated solely to the children of the first marriage.
Investment and life insurance beneficiaries
Beneficiary designations on investments and life insurance policies supersede those in a will. If the second spouse is listed as the beneficiary, children from the prior marriage will receive nothing.
Retirement plans and financial investments
Generally, any child designated to inherit money from an investment is guaranteed to receive a financial inheritance. The only exception applies to any 401(k) plan, which automatically goes to the current spouse unless they legally designate other beneficiaries.
Adding a second spouse to the title of a home owned before remarriage grants the second spouse inheritance rights to the property. Consequently, children from the deceased spouse’s first marriage may get nothing. Note that home titles supersede wills.
Protecting the Children’s Inheritance Rights
Avoiding inheritance conflicts in blended families goes beyond understanding the issues involved. It requires removing potential triggers that could escalate into full-blown legal battles among siblings and step-siblings. Here are some tips to help prevent such conflicts:
Making inheritance plans with divorce in mind
Nobody enters a second marriage thinking of a second divorce. However, it’s prudent to consider inheritance issues in case the inevitable happens. It can be an uncomfortable thought to entertain. But planning for the worst is a smart way to ensure the financial security of children from the first marriage.
Giving the children gifts straightaway
A practical way of safeguarding children’s inheritance from a first marriage is by giving it to them while the remarried parent is still alive. It may be done through a will or as cash gifts. Again, wills are secondary to investment fund beneficiary designations, so it’s vital to consider this aspect when creating a will.
Updating beneficiary designations and wills
Concerning beneficiary designations and wills, keeping both in sync is vital while the remarried parent is alive. It helps ensure no child will be deprived of access to their otherwise lawful inheritance due to a technicality. Unfortunately, some children lose their right to a deceased parent’s assets simply because of a disconnect between beneficiary designations and wills.
Creating a trust
A trust ensures children from a deceased spouse’s first marriage inherit their parent’s assets after the second spouse dies. If the trust charges the second spouse’s long-term senior care bills against those assets, the children may have nothing left for them after the stepparent dies.
Protect the Well-Being and Inheritance Rights of Children in Blended Families
Marriage is a life-changing decision, and so is remarriage – with at least double the changes, especially for the children. It often thrusts the young ones into emotional rollercoasters and the older ones into inheritance feuds.
In any case, blended families can seek professional assistance for the children and themselves as they all try to cope with the challenges of remarriage. Psychologists can assist in helping the kids through their emotional transition, while lawyers can provide expert direction regarding family assets and inheritance.
Overall, professionals can help second-marriage families maintain harmonious relationships or at least co-exist civilly. Whether the children are going through personal or legal issues due to the remarriage, everything can be managed through awareness and planning.