Divorce in Blended Families

Odds are if you are a divorced parent, there is a very reasonable chance that you will get remarried.  Today, it’s very common to work with families where spouses have remarried and perhaps each spouse or one of the spouses has a child or children from a prior relationship or maybe a child or children were born during their new marriage and there is a child or children of a spouse from a prior relationship. 

This is what is known as “blended families” and such a situation in divorce or custody matters can present very unique complexities in that there are many factors to take into account when there is a blended family.

What is the nature of the relationship of the kids & the stepparent?

For example, what if:

The parent of the stepchildren is not “present” in their lives, does not have an established relationship and does not provide financial support for the children from the prior relationship.

The stepparent has a significant bond and a close relationship with the stepchildren and wants to share in custody.

The stepchildren are older, say 16, 17 or even 18 and still in school and expresses a clear preference to reside with the stepparent and not either parent of the child?

The lifestyle of the children in the new relationship is one that cannot be sustained post dissolution of the relationship by the biological parent(s) of the stepchildren, but the stepparent has no legal obligation to financially support the stepchildren (i.e. private school, selective extracurricular or summer activities, therapy or specialized medical treatment)?

What are the circumstances of the dissolution of the relationship of the blended family?

            For example, what if:

The new relationship has a present and/or a past concern with family violence?  Have the children been present, what is the impact of such a history on the children, and what steps has the parent taken to protect the children, if any?

There are allegations against the stepparent for a form of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of the children from the prior relationship?  And what steps to protect the children, if any, has the parent taken?

A parent now, with more children to support in the home, has elected to remain a “stay at home parent” and sacrifice a career and it will be difficult to gain reentry into that parent’s career?

What is the character of the marital home, community, separate or perhaps owned by the family of a spouse or a trust benefiting one of the spouses in the marriage?

            For example, what if:

The marital home is one owned by the parents of one of the spouses and the other parent, perhaps even the ‘primary parent’ of the children is not able to remain in the home?

Similarly, the marital home is one owned by a spouse prior to marriage or was inherited during the marriage and is that spouse’s “separate property” and due to the conflict between the other spouse and the other parent, perhaps even the ‘primary parent’ of the children is not able to ultimately remain in the home or have the home awarded to him/her in the divorce?

What is the nature of the relationship between the spouses?

            For example, what if:

The parents are not married, reside in the home of one of the parents whether a short or long period of time, and have not only blended their families but moved in and “blended” their property such as furnishings, financial accounts, etc?

What is the nature of the relationship between the parents of the child(ren) from the prior relationship?

            For example, what if:

The parent of the new relationship is receiving child support from a parent of the prior relationship, but is now ordered to pay court ordered child support for the child of the new relationship?

The parents of the children from the prior relationship are divorced — what are the custody terms set out in the divorce? 

The “primary parent” is subject to a geographic restriction on where that parent may relocate with the children from the prior relationship and what impact would that have on consideration for establishing a residence for the children of the new relationship?

The parents of the children from the prior relationship were not divorced, were not married and there are no prior court orders but due to the circumstances of the dissolution of the new marriage relationship and that parents seeks legal custody of the child or the children from the prior relationship? 

Other Examples to Factor

Other examples of considerations that have to be factored are the impact of the dissolution on the siblings, the circumstances of parent of the child from the prior relationship and the nature of that parent’s relationship with the children, financial support needs for the child(ren),     childcare, school, or after school care issues.

How does remarriage affect spousal support? 

If there is a prior order requiring a prior spouse to pay spousal maintenance, otherwise what is known more commonly as “alimony” (yes, Texas is an alimony state click here for more information), careful consideration needs to be made as to the terms of the prior court order in that remarriage can be a “terminating event” causing the obligation of the prior spouse to pay spousal maintenance/alimony.

There are many “forms” of alimony or spousal maintenance, and many spouses agree to customized terms with regard to alimony in their court orders.  However, “court-ordered” spousal maintenance, under Chapter 8 of the Texas family code requires that the obligation of the prior spouse to pay court-ordered spousal maintenance terminates on the remarriage of the prior spouse.

Texas Family Code 8.056 (a) provides as follows:

Sec. 8.056.  TERMINATION. 

(a)  The obligation to pay future maintenance terminates on the death of either party or on the remarriage of the obligee.

However, if you do not remarry but live together with your new significant other Chapter 8 of the Texas family code requires that the obligation of the prior spouse to pay court-ordered spousal maintenance terminates when the former spouse who is court-ordered to receive spousal maintenance/alimony payments – known as the “obligee” – is found by the court to cohabitate with another person with whom that person has a dating or romantic relationship and they reside in a “permanent place of abode” on a “continuing basis. 

Texas Family Code 8.056 (b) provides as follows:

Sec. 8.056.  TERMINATION. 

(b)  After a hearing, the court shall order the termination of the maintenance obligation if the court finds that the obligee cohabits with another person with whom the obligee has a dating or romantic relationship in a permanent place of abode on a continuing basis.

Thus, “shacking up” may likewise be a ground for a prior spouse to terminate the obligation to pay alimony that was court ordered under a prior divorce decree.

However, in the reverse, remarrying does not impact the alimony or spousal maintenance obligation of the paying spouse – known as the obligor.

How does a blended family affect existing child support obligations? 

Complications can arise when a parent in a new blended family receives court-ordered child support from a parent of a prior relationship, but for various reasons that parent is being court-ordered to pay child support for a child of the new relationship.

This can occur for too many reasons to discuss here.  And there are many factors that go into calculating the “net resources” of a parent for determining the amount of child support that the parent pays under the Texas Family Code. 

However, by way of point of information for but what is important to know is that when child support is being received by a parent from a prior relationship and that parent is ordered to pay child support for a child that was born during the new relationship / marriage, the child support received by that parent from the prior parent is considered “income” for purposes of calculating that parent’s child support.

Meaning, the parent of the prior relationship is paying child support from “one household” and that parent who is now ordered to pay child support for a child born during the new relationship would be considered under the Texas Family Code as “another household” for child support purposes.

Under the Texas Family Code, section 154.070 this is a situation that involves what is known as child support due that involves “multiple households”.

Texas Family Code section 154.070 provides as follows:

Sec. 154.070.  CHILD SUPPORT RECEIVED BY OBLIGOR. 

In a situation involving multiple households due child support, child support received by an obligor shall be added to the obligor’s net resources to compute the net resources before determining the child support credit or applying the percentages in the multiple household table in this chapter.

The term “obligor” refers to a parent court-ordered to pay child support.  Thus, the parent in our example here is receiving court-ordered child support from a prior parent and is court-ordered to now pay child support for a child born during the new relationship, that child support received from the prior parent is added to that parent’s income — the obligor’s income — for determining child support.

Accordingly, if that parent works part-time and earns $25,000 per year but receives the guideline “max” amount of child support from the prior parent of $1,840, that parent will be court-ordered to pay child support on $25,000 + $22,080 or a total of $47,080.

New Spouse’s Income May Not Be Considered Income for Determining Child Support

A new spouse’s income may not be considered “income” for the purposes of determining a child support obligation. This is true both for the payor, otherwise known as the “obligor” (the person obligated to pay child support) and the recipient of child support, otherwise known as the “obligee” (the person court-ordered to receive child support).  

If you are getting remarried, Consider a Pre-Nuptial or Pre- Marriage Agreement

Of course, if you are considering getting remarried you should definitively consider signing and executing a pre-nuptial or pre-marriage agreement.

Second marriages can affect estate planning and even if you own assets from prior to the new marriage, there are many examples of how such assets can be “at risk” in divorce being divided in a divorce, if one occurs, from the new marriage.

A prenup is the easiest way to protect your assets and to ensure that you can continue to survive financially if a second – or yes even a third marriage — results in divorce. 

If you’re getting remarried, we encourage you to consider establishing a prenuptial agreement.

Mr. Evans in particular is an expert in prenuptial agreements and drafts a significant number these agreements each year.  For more information on pre-marriage agreements, click here.

Experienced Family Law Attorneys at the Evans Family Law Group

And these are just a few examples as custody matters with blended families can be highly complex.   Accordingly, a dissolution of a relationship — whether by marriage or not married – that involves a blended family requires careful consideration and professional advice.

The family law attorneys at the Evans Family Law Group exclusively practice in the area of family law and have experience with these types of situations and whatever situation your family is in, the divorce and custody attorneys at the Evans Family Law Group can help.

You can contact us now for a consultation, or read on to learn more about divorce and custody in blended families.