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Families in America are changing- here is what you need to be aware of

It wasn’t that long ago when divorce was relatively uncommon and most people’s households looked pretty similar. Mother. Father. Children. Everyone lived under the same roof. Dad worked, maybe Mom too. Pretty simple. Your neighbor’s family looked like this and their neighbor’s did too.

Somewhere along the line this all stopped, however. Families began to change. Divorce became more common. Some people even stopped getting married before cohabitating. Depending on the source you consider, households are more likely now to be comprised of unmarried people living together than married people living together. Times and people change.

That doesn’t mean that these sort of blended or non-nuclear families are better or worse- just different. Those differences come to bear when you consider the rights and duties each parent has to their children and to their step children. In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC we will go over information regarding step-families. It would be nice if these families had no differences from the sort of families that were more commonplace in years past, but that simply isn’t the case. Before you start a life within one you should consider the content of this blog post first.

What are your rights and duties regarding your own children and your step-children

Saying that you feel the same towards your step-children as you do your own children is a nice sentiment in and of itself, but the law does not hold you to that. Indeed, if you were to divorce the parent of your step children you would not be under any sort of obligation to provide for that child financially before, during or after the divorce.

Another aspect to this situation to keep in mind is that if your ex-spouse has remarried or is living with another person, there is the possibility that the child support you pay to him or her is being used to pay for things having to do with a child that is not yours. There is little to no recourse for you in this situation as the Texas Family Code does not have anything to say on this subject.

Finally, consider a situation that a recent client of ours has run into. He and his wife divorced three years ago and since then his ex-wife has moved in with another man. That man has a child from a prior relationship who is addicted to drugs and is extremely violent. Our client was forced to file a modification of their divorce decree to attempt to put some safeguards into place. He attempted to limit the contact that his children would have with this other child.

These are typical issues that can arise in non-nuclear, non-traditional families. Be aware of what you are getting into before deciding to engage in a long term relationship with another person. Also, make sure you are talking to your children frequently about issues in their other parent’s home if you are aware of a change in the living arrangements. If your ex-husband has brought in a girlfriend who has a child you need to be aware as much as possible of the habits of that child in case he or she poses a potential threat to your own children.

How are the parenting roles going to be shared in your new home?

If you are living a post-divorce life and decide to seriously consider marrying another person you need to have an honest conversation with that person about what the roles will be as far as parenting in your new home. An understanding is needed as far as how you will be caring for your own children and how your spouse will be caring for his/her.

In the age of huge college expenses, how will you all plan to save for college for each child? Will you be supporting these children financially after high school in any way? Before making decisions on your own and hoping that your new spouse agrees with your plan, talk to him or her first. If you all cannot agree on the role that each of you will play in your children’s lives then it may be a good time to seek pre-marital counseling. After all, if you and your spouse get a divorce later on and do not agree on how your money was spent you may be facing a potential reimbursement claim for all the money you chose to spend on your child over and above what your spouse was comfortable with.

Get your agreements in writing

Texans, by our nature, are self-reliant and independent. Even if you’re not from the state originally, I think once you cross the borders in our state something happens where you become a little more self sufficient. In many ways this is a good thing, but in the context of family law cases it probably is not. Oral agreements/contracts are very difficult to enforce. There is no clear definition of the terms of the agreement and no indication, therefore, that there was complete agreement on each point. Your oral contract will probably not be worth much, as a result.

With that said, the law in Texas provides for spouses to enter into both premarital and postmarital agreements that encompass a wide range of subjects. These agreements allow for you and your spouse to know ahead of a divorce or death just how financial assets are to be treated and in some cases how family dynamics are to be as well.

For instance, if you and your spouse are firm in your wanting to make sure that your step child and their child is cared for sufficiently after the age of 18 a good way to ensure that this happens is to create a postmarital or premarital agreement. You can, before it gets to the point of an argument, decide how a child or step child is to be treated once a divorce begins. Costs like schooling, extracurricular activities, medical bills and other commonly encountered subjects can be dealt with in this manner rather than by a bunch of haggling at the time of a divorce.

It is terrific if you are in a position where you are able to help care for a step child after your divorce from their parent. If you are willing to do so you can make a huge impact on that child’s life. However, you are not legally obligated under any of our family code to do so. Your spouse will likely want some sort of written agreement in place to make sure you are held to your word.

No two families are alike, no one type of family is the best in all regards

Thank you for your interest this increasingly relevant topic. I think it is safe to say that as non-traditional families become more commonplace the need to discuss the sort of specific issues these families face has become more commonplace as well. The important thing for you to keep in mind as you make decisions in your post divorce life is that you do not have to do anything that is not in your or your children’s best interests.

While you may feel strongly about a person you are in a relationship with, it is critical to consider their family, their children and your future life together before committing to a marriage. This scenario can seriously complicate the life you lead with your children and can lead to many problems, potentially. Use your head and talk to an experienced family law attorney if you have any questions on this subject.

Considering a second marriage? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC before saying “I do”

If you are considering a second marriage, before you do contact the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We can answer any questions that you might have and let you know what legal consequences could be in store for you based on your specific circumstances. Our attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in our office. We take great pride in meeting with and helping people in our community, just like you.

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