Yours, Mine, and Marital Mediation

It is estimated that 65% of people who remarry have a child from a prior relationship. In reality, the percentage could be higher because there are no accurate statistics about the number of stepfamilies (when at least one spouse has a child from a previous relationship) and blended families (when there are children born of the marriage and at least one child from a previous relationship). Household demographics focus on the makeup of a child’s primary residence, indicating whether the custodial parent has remarried. Demographics do not usually consider when a child is a part of a stepfamily because the non-custodial parent remarried. Current methods of reporting also ignore the fact that one child can be a part of two stepfamilies if both parents have remarried.

Despite shortcomings in calculating the actual number of stepfamilies and blended families, there is information available about the divorce rate in these families. Statistics consistently show that the risk of divorce is higher in marriages that have children from prior relationships, as compared to marriages without children from prior relationships. Stepfamilies and blended families tend to have additional stressors due to the dynamics of the relationships involved and the more complex family structure. When there are children from previous relationships, many couples find it helpful to address parenting issues before having children together. Marital mediation is a comfortable environment in which couples can explore the challenges and sources of conflict within their family, then develop solutions together.

Couples must learn how to balance being a devoted spouse and a devoted parent or stepparent. Stepfamilies are usually given advice that the children must always come first. Under this approach, spouses easily become consumed with the needs of the children and dismissive of the needs of each other. This can result in a decrease in marital stability. To create a lasting marriage, it is important that you make your marriage a priority.

Historically, attention has focused on the difficulties children face in adjusting to a new family situation, while ignoring the challenges spouses face in adopting the stepparent role or adapting to a joint parenting style. Each spouse enters the stepfamily with their own traditions, family norms, and expectations. This can be a major source of conflict, especially when spouses disagree on child rearing issues. In order to have strength as a couple, it is important for both spouses to be comfortable with the decisions made regarding children.

In marital mediation, couples can develop a unified parenting approach. A couple can work together to establish clear rules, appropriate expectations, and acceptable standards for behavior for all children of the household. The couple can develop a framework for the types of decisions regarding children that will be jointly made. Additionally, the couple can work towards defining the stepparent role. For example, to what extent does the stepparent participate in discipline?

In addition, there may be other stressors due to estate planning considerations. For instance, a person in a second marriage who has children from the first marriage may wish to put estate planning in place to ensure that part of his or her estate goes to the children of the first marriage. This can be done through a prenuptial agreement prior to the second marriage, or by a postnuptial agreement after the marriage. If it is not done, it can cause severe conflict between the spouses and the children that could lead to divorce.

In stepfamilies and blended families, problems are usually based on the dynamics of the relationships involved and the complex interactions among family members. Effective conflict resolution skills are needed to handle matters involving children, especially since these are often emotional issues that require sensitivity. In marital mediation, spouses have goal-oriented discussions and learn necessary communication skills. When spouses in stepfamilies and blended families participate in marital mediation, they are more likely to have strong marriages and stable families.

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