Thursday, January 28, 2010

Never Too Late?

It’s Never Too Late
They’re off on their Harleys or to a dancing lesson on Saturday night. The fun isn’t over for these young-as-you-feel couples who’ve found a new lease on life – and romance.

by Patricia J. Lasher

Debbie had only been divorced a few months, but after 25 years of marriage, she wasn’t used to dating. The slightly-past-middle-age mother of three let herself rush into a relationship.

“It was too quick, too soon,” she recalls, not bitterly, but with a note of puzzlement in her otherwise animated tone. “Finally, after that relationship quickly ended, I had reached the point that I was happy, on my own, for the first time in my life, ready to have fun and ready to take my time as far as any relationship. I was happy to travel with girlfriends, do things I had never had a chance to do. . . . I wasn’t looking for anyone else to make me happy.”

And when she unexpectedly fell in love with Scott, 11 years her junior, Debbie was reluctant to tell her family and grown children. “I was worried about what others would think about me going into another relationship.” She enjoyed a year of courtship, then a romantic and surprising wedding proposal that whisked her off her feet. That family she was worried about informing came a hundred-plus strong to their 2004 wedding. Their only complaint? Now these lovebirds are often too busy to watch the grandchildren. Debbie recently bought a Harley-Davidson to match Scott’s, and, she says, “We’re off riding nearly every other weekend.”

Statistically, Debbie’s remarriage is the rule, not the exception. A study of the patterns of remarriage following divorce in this country by Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics in 2002 indicates that the odds that remarriage will occur are better than even. According to this study, 75 percent of divorced women remarry within 10 years of divorce.

Remarriage, especially after a long first (or subsequent), established marriage, adds a whole new level of complexity, from household belongings to finances. Monies from a divorce settlement, or a survivor’s annuity, Social Security benefits, or medical insurance coverage may automatically cease. (Information is available on the Social Security Administration website .) Alimony payments that a divorced spouse receives usually end when that person remarries; on the other hand, a paying spouse who remarries must continue his or her obligation, causing more than a few parties in the new relationship to hesitate before saying I do. In addition, marital agreements and airtight trusts often keep a spouse responsible for the long-term care of the divorced spouse, sometimes even affecting Medicaid eligibility.

For businesswoman Gloria Berthold of Elkridge, Maryland, remarriage was not even on the radar screen. Divorced for 21 years, Berthold’s life was a busy but satisfying whirl of business – she runs a company that helps others seek government contracts – and good times with a tight circle of wonderful friends.

“I had been in relationships over the years, but had really given up on the idea of remarriage,” she says. So when Berthold received a call from her broker, Patrick Larkin, she assumed he was calling “to ask me to invest some more funds.” But after that one lunch date, the couple saw each other with “different eyes,” Berthold says, and pretty soon the decision to remarry was “shockingly clear cut.” They married a year later, in May 2008, with the blessings of Patrick’s children. The biggest challenge, she says, has been that of getting used to a new last name. “When you’ve been in business or in a career and built up a reputation with a name, it is really difficult to make the switch, but I never doubted that I would use ‘Larkin’ once we were married.”

Kids at Heart

Ah, the children. Patrick Larkin’s first wife had died of breast cancer after a long and happy 39-year marriage, and his adult son and daughter welcomed someone into their dad’s life. “The children have been so supportive,” says Gloria Larkin, who had none of her own. “I think they are pleased to see their dad happy.”

Jack and Shirley Cohen Wald met at nightly synagogue services; Jack had been a widower for several years, but Shirley’s husband had only recently died. Her children were still mourning, as was she, the loss of their father, and were reluctant to accept a new man in her life. Over the next 3 years, Jack and Shirley’s friendship grew, and they brought both sets of children and grandchildren together on holidays.

The families finally grew comfortable – then happy – about the marriage when 67-year-old Shirley married 80-year-old Jack, about 10 years ago. “Holidays are wonderful now,” Shirley said, when discussing her golden years’ marriage last fall. “Each of our children takes a holiday and everyone comes together. I think of Jack’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren as mine and he feels that way about mine.” Jack’s granddaughter, Ilene Glickman Horwitz, a family law attorney in Towson, Maryland, says, “Shirley became the matriarch of our family and took us all under her wing.” Jack Wald died in April, 2009, and as a loving, blended family, they bid their farewells to Jack and celebrated his rich life.

Not all offspring are so accommodating. Those adult children who so vehemently spurned parental advice when diving into their own marriages are often pretty loose with unsolicited advice for their own parents who contemplate remarriage.

Accountant Kathy Becker of Columbia, Maryland, believes that when you “get married, you get married, with all that it involves.” She and her husband of 5 years each have an adult child from prior marriages. “Everyone gets along great,” she reports. As for estate planning, Becker and her spouse decided to provide by will for each other, with a level of trust between them that each would be fair to the other’s child. “Today it’s hard to be sure you have enough for retirement and long-term care,” she says, “so unless the estate is bigger than ours, there’s not enough to even think about setting aside trusts for children.” But, of course, some larger estates require separate trusts or stronger plans; many CPAs advise couples to put financial agreements into prenuptial or carefully worded postmarital agreements.

“It seems that adult children are either really in favor of the later marriage, or really against it,” says John Abosch, a CPA and personal financial specialist and estate planner with Baltimore-based KAWG&F. Dealing with sophisticated clients, Abosch says that, at minimum, parties should look at the tax consequences of marriage along with the estate ramifications. “Written agreements, where both of the parties are represented and understand their rights, can prevent some of the current extended family distrust and family disputes that often arise.”

Among the issues that clients ask matrimonial lawyers to address include support in the event of death or divorce, property brought into the marriage, disposition of personal property, life insurance trusts, real estate ownership, medical directives, powers of attorney, and living wills. Family law attorney Liz Scheffee says that almost all of her older clients who contemplate a later remarriage have premarital agreements. The Portland, Maine, matrimonial lawyer notes that it’s “usually to protect the kids, and, perhaps, assure them as well.”

“The older gentlemen are more generous in negotiating prenups than the younger men,” Scheffee adds, “most likely because they already know what their future holds…if you get my drift.” In short, “there is less future to negotiate about, and the estate is a known quantity rather than a potential one. I find the premarital agreements for older people are more about estate planning and preserving each person’s asset base for the kids. For younger couples, the prenups are more about what happens on divorce rather than death.”

Yours, Mine, or Ours

High up on the checklist of issues for these later-in-life couples is housing, whether a spouse has died or individuals are moving out of an established postdivorce situation. For the Walds, the “your place or mine” question was easily resolved: Each sold homes, and the couple moved to Leisure World, an active retirement community outside of Washington, DC. “Everything that had belonged to their mother went to Jack’s children and grandchildren before we moved,” Shirley says. “I wanted them to know that their mother’s things were theirs.” Debbie and Scott solved the question by purchasing a home together along with an RV that has them spending the occasional weekend with family in tow. Patrick moved into Gloria’s residence, and they’ve discovered a new hobby: getting Patrick’s home ready to sell. Most weekends these days, says Gloria, “we are do-it-yourselfers: painting, carpeting. We’re doing it all.”

When one spouse moves into the other’s family home without receiving legal title, big questions can arise in the event of death or subsequent divorce. Without a prior written agreement of the parties, the divorce agreement – or, as a last resort, the courts – will have to stipulate who may remain on premises. If the marriage ends in death without wills, state law may address the resolution. A few states, in some instances, do grant a surviving spouse homestead rights for the remainder of his or her life. In other states, the parties who inherit the family home can decide whether the surviving spouse may remain – and under what terms – or must vacate.

Annette and Hal Kuntz celebrated their remarriage last year by buying a penthouse apartment in Texas. “We each sold our homes and sold, stored, gave away, or incorporated some of our furniture and furnishings.” Between her beach house and his ranches, which they kept, both were ready to give up the yard and the upkeep for a home in the city. “It has also been fun to find new items that we both like, says Annette, a family court judge, “making this home truly ‘ours.’ ” The biggest excitement came when the hot tub, delivered and placed by a helicopter, was set on their patio overlooking the Houston skyline.

Going for the Gold

Although the number of cohabiting senior citizens is on the increase, marriage in the golden years is still a welcome option to many. Research holds that married seniors are more likely to eat breakfast, wear seat belts, engage in physical activity, have their blood pressure checked, and avoid smoking than widowed elderly persons. The benefits of marriage tend to be more substantial for elderly men than for elderly women, according to a 1998 study by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (now the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality).

If Olympic medals were awarded to the couple best suited to represent the joys and benefits of remarriage in the senior years, then Jane and Albert Schleuter, now 84 and 80, respectively, would be in the running. The couple met several years ago down the hall from their apartments in the Charlestown Retirement Community, located in a Baltimore suburb. This past July, the Schleuters celebrated their fourth anniversary, squeezing a lunch celebration with family in between plans to work on the community’s Benevolent Care Foundation Treasure Sale, crab feasts, and dinner dates with friends.

Contradictions and laughter greet my question, How did you meet? “A friend introduced us at the elevator,” says Al. “That’s not right,” Jane quickly interrupts. “I was waiting for an elevator, and you walked right up and introduced yourself.”

On almost everything else, though, they seem to agree. As they dined frequently together, each talked about the lack of desire to remarry. After a little more than a year, when friends asked them to come along on a trip to Italy, Al popped the question. Jane said yes, without hesitation. “Our friends said they knew before we did that we’d marry,” she says. “We just always, from the start, held hands.”

Like a storybook, Al picked out Jane’s lavender wedding dress and she chose his new suit for the big day. They exchanged vows in the magnificent chapel Our Lady of the Angels on the 110-acre retirement community’s grounds. More than 80 guests celebrated with the couple, including most of their families: Jane has three children, five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren; Al, who lost a son several years ago, has a surviving daughter, two grandchildren, and a great-grandchild. Jane and her sister made the six wedding cakes offered up at the reception.

Without a backward glance, Jane moved to Al’s apartment in the 2,000-member community. “It was larger,” he says. Jane’s family antiques and other furniture went to her children. “They would have gotten it someday, anyway,” Jane adds.

When it came to family members, encouragement from both sides was strong. “I called my children to say I’d met someone. They said, ‘Mom, you don’t have to tell us what you’re doing.’ Then I called to say I was going to Italy and got the same response. Finally, I said, ‘I want you to meet Al,’ and the response was ‘It’s about time.’ ”

Reluctant to give advice to others, both do agree that being able to talk easily to each other is a major consideration in choosing a partner. “Oh, yes,” Jane adds, “and holding hands.”

Former family court associate judge, reMarriage’s legal columnist Patricia J. Lasher, shuttles back and forth between homes in Houston, Texas, and Baltimore, Maryland.

Found at

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How To Tell Your Ex About Your Remarriage

Unless There's Abuse, Let Former Spouse Know about Your Engagement


A second marriage is the chance to redo everything again: the wedding of your dreams, celebrating a new life and not making the same mistakes as you did in your first marriage. But when someone gets remarried, is the hardest part planning your second wedding or telling your ex-spouse? The event is an awkward one - imagine having to tell someone you thought you'd spend a lifetime with that you've chosen someone else.

According to Dr. L. Martin Johnson in Honolulu, Hawaii, the first step is determining where your relationship with your ex-spouse stands. "That's gonna really vary with each individual. For instance, it'll be a very different situation if the former spouses are on good terms," Johnson says. "It'll be different if they parted by mutual agreement, or if the party now remarrying was the one who left versus the one who got left. All of those things come into play. What's important is the current kind of relationship between the two of them," he says.

"The other relevant variable is: are there kids? Have they been divorced for 10 years, or are they not in contact? If they're both parenting young kids and have only been divorced for 18 months? Generally, the closer the relationship is, not necessarily emotionally, but how involved you are in each others lives is what determines whether you should tell someone." Johnson says it is best that you tell your ex-spouse the news unless your first marriage has been extremely problematic or abusive. "The one exception to that would be if it was an abusive relationship,and you were the victim, in which case, hopefully, there's little or no contact anyway," he says.

Keep reading here on d360

Friday, January 22, 2010

Are You A Good Step Parent?

Being A Good Step-Parent, Hard But Not Impossible

- When marrying into an already-established family, how can you get your new spouse's kids to like you, without being a pushover?

Sometimes we forget that there are other people involved when a couple gets divorced, especially if that couple has kids. When one member of that couple remarries, there gets introduced into everyone's life something completely different than what existed before, which can't be easy on anyone.

I have a friend who just recently became a stepmother. It can be a hard job - you don't want to encroach on boundaries; you want to get close but not invade privacies. The do's and dont's of step-parenting are hard to pin down: how do you know what to do? Should you discipline them? Spoil them? Neither? Both?

I asked around. According to the step-parents I know, it's important - at the very beginning - to be neither the child's best friend, nor their worst enemy. You are not that child's parent. Assuming you dated your spouse for awhile, and the child has gotten to know you, there's nothing wrong with kind trivialties, but know that a marriage to someone does not create a magical step-child/step-parent relationship overnight.

The most difficult thing is that you constantly feel like you are not the most important thing in your spouse's life, their child is. That can put a damper on things. What happens if you get into a disagreement? What happens if THEY get into a disagreement? The possible problems are endless, but so are the possible solutions.

A friend of mine whose blog I read every day often writes about how her family consisted of one mother and one father and some siblings, and now she has two mothers, two fathers, and even more siblings. Her parents got divorced and each remarried - each to someone with kids. The idea of "one big happy family" doesn't have to be a myth. It can happen, if you know your place.

My advice? Use your spouse as a guide. See how he/she feels your place in their child's life should progress. That way, you'll know that you're never stepping on toes.

(Is anyone here a step-parent? Share your story with us, and give hope to other would-be or soon-to-be step-parents that happiness isn't impossible!)

Found this at

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Divorce & Biology?

Cinderella is thirteen... and all that that implies people!
That should be enough to explain the current challenges and changes to the dynamics of our relationship.
(Oh and what changes there are! Someone should have warned me that the aliens would snatch her up in the middle of the night and replace her with a snarky, lazy drone with horrible B.O. matched only by her sense of fashion. GAH!)
Our relationship has turned a corner. A blind corner that I am sure any BIOLOGICAL parent would have recognized but one that took me weeks to realize and stop second-guessing my parenting of her. (Yes, after 10+ years of being a Stepmom, I still do this. *sigh*)
I am not Cindy's BioMom and the sad truth of that fact was recently (and quite cleverly) exploited by my darling as she turned weeks of her own idleness and disrespectfulness into a shitstorm nightmare that involved her law guardian, school counselor and threats of CPS being called.
Weeks of asking her to "please do your chores" and "please don't speak to me that way" led to that straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back moment that every parent experiences at least once a MILLION times in their lifetime.
(You know the one where you head spins around 360 degrees and your brain explodes and you say things like "wipe that smirk off your face or I will wipe it off for you" but in my case it was equating her sour-puss to a plate I knocked off the table and that subsequently broke?) (Oh YES. I. DID.)
I'm not proud. I stumbled as we all do. And, as we all must do, I admitted my mistake, apologized and moved on.

Did you know that Cinderella has a law guardian?
Uh-huh. Yep. She does.
This law guardian was put in place to protect her from visitation/custody issues between her mother and Dad. We've encouraged her frequently to call the LG if she felt she needed to and could not speak to any of us about it.
Guess what? SHE DID.
Uh-huh. Yep.
From her MOTHER'S the NEXT DAY during her scheduled 3 hour mid-week visitation. And she related the story of our exchange as only a thirteen year old drama queen can.
"I'm afraid to go home, can I sleep over at Mom's?"

Keep reading at Wicked Stepmom

Divorce & Biolgy?

Cinderella is thirteen... and all that that implies people!
That should be enough to explain the current challenges and changes to the dynamics of our relationship.
(Oh and what changes there are! Someone should have warned me that the aliens would snatch her up in the middle of the night and replace her with a snarky, lazy drone with horrible B.O. matched only by her sense of fashion. GAH!)
Our relationship has turned a corner. A blind corner that I am sure any BIOLOGICAL parent would have recognized but one that took me weeks to realize and stop second-guessing my parenting of her. (Yes, after 10+ years of being a Stepmom, I still do this. *sigh*)
I am not Cindy's BioMom and the sad truth of that fact was recently (and quite cleverly) exploited by my darling as she turned weeks of her own idleness and disrespectfulness into a shitstorm nightmare that involved her law guardian, school counselor and threats of CPS being called.
Weeks of asking her to "please do your chores" and "please don't speak to me that way" led to that straw-that-broke-the-camel's-back moment that every parent experiences at least once a MILLION times in their lifetime.
(You know the one where you head spins around 360 degrees and your brain explodes and you say things like "wipe that smirk off your face or I will wipe it off for you" but in my case it was equating her sour-puss to a plate I knocked off the table and that subsequently broke?) (Oh YES. I. DID.)
I'm not proud. I stumbled as we all do. And, as we all must do, I admitted my mistake, apologized and moved on.

Did you know that Cinderella has a law guardian?
Uh-huh. Yep. She does.
This law guardian was put in place to protect her from visitation/custody issues between her mother and Dad. We've encouraged her frequently to call the LG if she felt she needed to and could not speak to any of us about it.
Guess what? SHE DID.
Uh-huh. Yep.
From her MOTHER'S the NEXT DAY during her scheduled 3 hour mid-week visitation. And she related the story of our exchange as only a thirteen year old drama queen can.
"I'm afraid to go home, can I sleep over at Mom's?"

Keep reading at Wicked Stepmom

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stepmoms & Moms

Found this great piece over at Stepmothers Milk:

Guest Blogger: Laura Allard of Stepmoms Rock

And now for a perspective shift… Moms dealing with the Step Mom of their children…

Important Note: There are a lot of things at play here, not the least of which is going to be the dispositions of the Mom and Step Mom in question. This post is written with the hope of reaching the hearts of both women while encouraging the idea of working from a place of love and compassion for all involved.

For Moms out there looking for ideas on how to manage a decent and respectful relationship with the Step Mom of your children, the new wife of your ex husband, please do keep this in mind…however you choose to behave and whatever course of action you decide to embark upon, the people who are going to be affected the most are the little ones with small voices…your own precious and adoring children.

This is truly where separation of relationships is key. And of course, there are many different scenarios and reasons for why you are all in the situation you’re in, however, at the end of the day, the adults in this mess should be able to practice a high level of self management and understand that they have to make the best of things while the children still do play an integral role in all your lives.

Marriages end. And new ones begin. Each situation offers the opportunity for new beginnings.

Step Moms…it is incumbent upon us to understand the perspective of the Mom of your new Step Kids (insert gasp), however, make no mistake, just because her bad behavior might be understandable does not mean it is acceptable. At the end of the day, she gets why her marriage failed, she just may not be ready to face the realities of her husband’s new marriage because, well, it stings, and reminds her of what she perceives to be a huge failure in her life. Give her the benefit of the doubt, acting from a place of compassion and keeping the best interest of your new family in mind. You aren’t going to have to contend with her for a lifetime as the distance between you progressively gets larger as the kids grow and wander. Cut her a little slack.

Remember…. she is a woman with a bit of a broken heart who needs time to mend and find her own way…this can go on for years, but it is her own life she is making miserable by not taking the opportunity she has been granted for a little reinvention. It’s a sad state really, for women who remain bitter and cannot move past their divorces, but their choice just the same, so don’t bear their burden, OK?

Moms… you are and forever more will remain the core of your children’s lives. Don’t play with their tender little hearts by waging war on a situation they are going to have challenges navigating through themselves. Your ex-husband’s new wife came along far after the problems in your marriage began. If you need to take someone to task for the situation at hand, dole out the blame equally between your husband, and yourself…just do it out of ear shot of your children. Don’t forget, they have been witness to the demise of your marriage, offer them a little peace and quiet by keeping them out of the line of fire. AND, and this is a big AND, as tough as it might seem, each and every day offers you the opportunity for a new start.

Remember the line from Mama Mia, “Time for a little repair and renovation…”

Make this your new mantra and spend some time doing what’s right for YOU now. Your kids will be so proud to see Mom in a new light, Happy Mom, Surviving Mom….all you have to do is make the choice to make it so. This choice will make it so much easier for you to manage this new level of relationships in your life. You’ll have greater confidence in yourself and it will show in all you do! Take advantage of this time to heal, to reclaim YOU and have a blast doing it…that’s the best possible way to figure out how to handle the new Step Mom of your kids…by being the best YOU you can be!

To both Women…. Just Be Nice. Seriously. Your behavior sets a standard the kids you now share will aspire to…good or bad…consider what you want them to take away from all this, and act accordingly. Be good to one another.

Laura Allard, creator of the Blog Step Moms Rock and the soon to be released line of cards for Step Families “StepSpeak” . Laura is in her 8th year as a Step Mom of 3 and 12th year as a Step Daughter… aka DOFM (Daughter of the First Marriage). Laura’s perspective in this big old mess comes from a place of love, compassion, and empowerment, hoping to reach the heart and soul of the Single Girl turned New Step Mom before she loses her mind.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What Do Teens Think Of Step Families?

Traditions do not always have to be something that your family lineage has done since the dawn of man. But families DO like to have some sort of base to their traditions because in a way, it makes them feel like they are carrying on their own sort of personal history.

So here I go: “Step Family Tradition.” Starting new traditions can be tough, but think about it, try combining that with meshing families. You have to find something that everyone can relate to, that everyone can enjoy, something that will build a tighter and more complete blend of two groups. Take my family for example, every year, we all go skiiing together. Both of the families (one step family) love this sport, and we all share the same car, condo, etc. so bonding time is essentially non-negotiable. Take Christmas for example, every year we go out and kill a pine tree to celebrate the birth of Jesus (if that’s your forté of course). It might sound silly to put it that way, but the more humorous you can make situations, the smoother they tend to go. All in all, traditions can be started anytime, anywhere, by anyone. Don’t be afraid to be your very own step-family trend-starter.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What Happens When Stepparents Divorce?

Stepparents Challenging Courts so They Can Maintain Contact after Divorce


Smommy. It’s what Patty Burgess’ stepdaughters call her. “They came home one day and said, well, we can’t call you ‘Mommy’ but you are sort of our mommy. So they came up with “S-mommy,” and “Smommy,”” said the 51-year old Realtor and radio talk show host from Bucks County, Penn.

And even though Burgess divorced their father nine years ago, she is still Smommy and a vital part of their lives thanks to what she says was a divorce focused on “making it OK for the kids.”

Keep reading about stepparents divorcing here

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"Actual" Parent?

It’s tough to always be the adults who say, “You have to do your homework” and “School is important”.

It’s tough to always be the adults who say, “Where’s your coat? It’s 30 degrees outside!”

It’s tough to always be the adults who say, “No, you cannot get a facial piercing or a tattoo.”

It’s tough to always be the adults who say, “You have way too much makeup on.” or “Your skirt is way too short.” or “Your shirt is too low cut.”

It’s tough to always be the adults who say, “Do not lie” and try to instill the value of honesty.

It’s tough to always be the adults who always say, “You need to trim your nails – they are very dirty and long”, and “You need to shower daily/brush your teeth/wash your hair/wear clean clothing/wipe yourself better.”

It’s tough to always be the adults who say, “No, you cannot watch R rated movies.”

Their mother is trying very hard to be ”fun”, permissive, and laid-back with the kids.

It’s tough to always be the adults who act like parents.

Keep reading over at LittleWren

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What Would Tolstoy Think About Divorce And Remarriage?

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

That is, of course, the opening to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. He wrote it in 1878, long before the divorce rate soared and family therapy became an industry.

What got me pondering this was an article by Jim Cunningham, reviewing the essay of a prominent family psychologist William Pinsof. Pinsof first points out that, from 1400 to 1800, the average marriage lasted about 20 years, most frequently ending with the death of a spouse. From 1900 to 2000, the average life span increased more than 25 years. But while mortality declined and life spans grew, the average duration of marriages did not increase proportionately. Divorce replaced death as the terminating event.

The author suggests, if half of marriages now end in divorce, isn’t it time to conclude that ‘statistically if not culturally, divorce is normal’?” No longer a failure, divorce is a realistic, frequently positive family option.

It’s time, Pinsof argues, for researchers and therapists to stop comparing children of divorce to children of marriages. ‘Children of divorce, if they are to be compared to anyone, should be compared to children in families with unhappy or deeply troubled marriages.’ Mental health professionals should help couples divorce, as well as help them try to hold on to their marriages. “It is the rare social scientist who would assert that deeply troubled families are better for child rearing than a two-home couple that can co-parent collaboratively and effectively.”

That’s the key: Whether in one home or two, can the parents work together to parent? Tolstoy would probably say the family who can is the happy family.

Note: A Michigan fellow of the AAML, Jim’s complete article, Marriage in the 21st Century, is at .

A former family court associate judge in Houston, Texas, Patricia Lasher has specialized in family law for more than twenty years. She has written for numerous consumer magazines, and published a collection of profiles, Texas Women, Interviews and Images.

Keep reading here on Remarriage Magazine

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

We're Here. We're Step. And We're Here To Stay

Stepfamilies may not see their reality mirrored in the remake of “Yours, Mine & Ours” or the blissfully sappy Brady bunch, but the truth is – stepfamilies are all around us. Let’s take a look at the statistics and how things are changing.

Stepfamilies represent a large chunk of the population. More people today in the United States live in stepfamilies, than in nuclear families. One in three Americans today is part of a stepfamily – we are stepparents, stepchildren, stepsiblings, and more. In one decade, from 1980 to 1990, the number of stepfamilies increased by more than 35%.

We have a positive view of marriage, but our marriages are under stress from the demands of stepfamily life. Although one or both spouses in a stepfamily is previously married (and subsequently widowed or divorced), we continue to believe that marriage is worth emotionally investing in. Seventy-five per cent of the people divorcing today will eventually remarry and 43% of all marriages today are remarriages.

The first four years in a stepfamily can be especially conflict-prone. Researchers point out that among ethnic groups, such as Asian-Americans and whites, where stepfamily life is less institutionalized and less “the norm,” marriages that form stepfamilies experience significant stress.

Keep reading this post at The StepFamily

Monday, January 11, 2010

Telling The Kids You're About To Marry

Remarriage: Tips to Talk to your Kids about Remarriage -- No Matter What Age


After being the “Three Musketeers” for some time, Jennifer Burgoyne was excited to tell her children of her plans to marry her boyfriend, Allen. Not only was she the happiest she had been since her divorce five years earlier, but she was confident that her boys, too, would be happy, too. “...I knew they already loved him and he loved them...,” California-based Burgoyne, 42, said.

But, according to experts, Burgoyne’s experience is rare. “Although you may be happy for your new marriage, your kids may not be” said Dr. Sharon Fried, author of the new book "New Parents Are People Too." “It takes a very unselfish child to welcome this new person just because his or her parent is happy.”

Keep reading about telling the kids here

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2 Homes + Homework = Problems?

Two houses, lost homework, quarreling parents-no wonder Johnny’s failing.

by Dawn Miller

Kristen and Megan had just moved in with Mom’s new husband and his four kids. They went to visit Dad regularly, but they were so happy to play with their brother there and with their rambunctious stepbrothers in the new household that they rarely had time for homework. No surprise their grades took a dive.

At first, both parents were willing to allow some academic slippage in the name of adjustment. But when Megan started acting out, their dad called school officials. He ran head first into a school culture that seemed annoyed by a noncustodial father’s inquiry and uninterested in repeating information already relayed to her mother.

Sadly, this scenario is not unfamiliar to stepfamilies. But it doesn’t stop there.

A Simple Form-Not!

The trouble often begins even before the first day of school with a simple but painful culprit: those pesky contact forms every school requires for ease of communication. In the case of multiple parents and dual houses, it stops everyone dead in their tracks.

“School registration forms don’t allow for proper contact information to be given. There isn’t ‘the other house’ and the ‘stepparent’ spot,” says Shannon, mom of three and stepmom to one, with six adults in her blended parenting mix.

“They don’t notify all parents of events and conferences. Whomever the kid is with the night he brings home the flyer is who gets the information. I know there is a cost in notifying every parent, but in cases where they don’t live together and both want to have an active involvement, they really need to find a way to keep us all in the loop,” she says.

Cary encountered the same ironclad “one household” mentality in the nation’s largest school district–New York City-where a blue form offers space for only one parent’s address. “The school system acted as if we were living in the 1950s and every family was like the Cleavers,” he says. He recounts his struggle (for naught) to get his daughter a Metro farecard so she could get to school easily from both his home and her mother’s. In a school that regularly supplies a set of books for home to avoid the heavy lugging, he was more successful in lobbying the department heads for an additional set of textbooks to keep at his apartment. Fortunately for this noncustodial dad, his ex-wife shares information with him about their daughter’s school activities and academics. But it’s not that way for many other stepfamilies.

After his divorce, Paul cut back on business travel and became more involved with his two sons and their homework. He was horrified to discover his seventh-grader could not write legibly and was failing two classes. Teachers at the private school had given glowing progress reports to both parents, but then it got to the point where they were considering expelling one of the boys for acting out.

When Paul tried to withdraw his sons and place them in public school, his ex-wife made their continuation at the private school a requirement for a modified separation agreement. After an ugly legal battle, the school admitted it had failed to communicate properly with both parents. The boys moved to public school.

Poor school communication can intensify problems between households and within stepfamilies. “Some teachers and administrators are insensitive to the delicate balance that needs to be maintained between the two households,” said Yaffa Balsam, a marriage and family therapist who has worked with stepfamilies for 25 years in Los Angeles and Newport Beach, California. She has seen situations in which fathers have had to take a court order to school to get copies of a school calendar so they could plan to attend back-to-school night. Other stories abound, from a dad hollering at the coach for not sending basketball schedules to the mom who never got the weekly e-mail and missed a major event.

Further muddying the waters are stepparents. Because they do not have any legal rights related to their stepchildren, they are often cut out of the school communication loop, even though they may be heavily involved in the day-to-day tasks of raising the children. Unfortunately, sometimes a biological parent will go as far as insisting to school officials that they not release academic information to a stepparent.

“This situation causes much heartache and a great deal of agony for the children, since they are exposed to the hostility expressed toward their stepparent, whom they often actually like,” says Balsam. And of course, it also affects the child’s academic performance.

She often sees deeper underlying factors when stepfamilies encounter school problems. “Communication-or the lack of it-over school issues for stepfamilies are symbolic of the power and control issues between the biological parents,” she says. “When one or both parents have not let go emotionally of their marriage, they attempt to stay connected, even if it’s through anger.”

According to Balsam, the remarriage of a parent can reactivate this anger, and it’s expressed through a refusal to cooperate on issues such as school. Newly formed stepfamilies may see an increase in hostility from a former spouse, which, unfortunately, often places the school and children in the cross fire.

The View From the Inside

School administrators frequently are confused and frustrated as well about how to deal with stepfamilies, says Renae Lapin, marriage and family therapist and author of School Daze & the Divorce Maze: A Complete Guide for Joint Custody Parents in Managing Your Child’s Successful School Career. “By the time a school communication problem occurs,” says Lapin, “a child may have suffered unavoidable traumatic school experiences.” All of this contributes to the child’s discomfort with school. She advises parents to remain in constant contact with the school throughout the year, not just when problems arise.

One mother Lapin met was very distraught when she discovered her husband’s new wife was getting information from the school about her child’s behavioral problem. “The school was interested in any and all collaboration with family members to help the student improve,” says Lapin. The family entered counseling to resolve the problem and help all of the adults work together in the best interest of the child.

Special education teacher Mary Ann Lowry in California, who has 20 years of experience in the classroom, says that getting homework completed and medication administered can be even more challenging when a child is shuttling between homes. But Lowry notes it’s not these day-to-day logistics that affect the child’s academic performance the most-it’s the attitude of the parents. Too often those attitudes are simply not focused on doing what is best for the child.

School systems are also scrambling to adjust to the multifaceted communication required to stay in touch with stepfamilies. In Making Parent Communication Effective and Easy, Rich Bagin, executive director of the National School Public Relations Association, advises teachers to have more than one handout per family available at back-to-school night and to prepare enough materials so stepparents can have one too.

Legal restrictions also affect what information school districts can give out. In Fairfax County, Virginia, biological parents, whether they have shared custody or not, have access to their child’s records and can request that information on public school events be provided to them. “As far as stepparents are concerned, we require that the actual parent give written consent for information to be given directly to a stepparent. This requirement complies with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which governs how confidential information on students must be handled,” says Ellie Barnes, director of student services for the Fairfax County Public Schools.

Many school counselors are trying to help children adjust to stepfamilies and remarriage. School counselor Carita Carlyle of West Friendship Elementary School in Maryland holds small group sessions for children going through family changes. The focus is on helping the kids develop coping skills. They practice using “I feel” statements, create a book about their feelings and dreams, and use a board game designed to help them. Children attending the group develop better coping skills and learn that they are not the only ones dealing with these types of changes.

In Fairfax County, Virginia, support services for children facing family changes and other issues are provided at every school. “We have counselors, psychologists, and social workers at every school who are trained to handle situations such as these,” says Barnes. “These professionals can intervene with the child individually or with the parents and family, depending on the circumstances.”

Schools, though, can only go so far. “All children deserve nurturing and structured support from home,” Lowry says. “In situations where parents can’t get along, the child always suffers academically.”

School tests our children in the best of circumstances, with increased pressure for grades and college prep. When we add the layers of stepfamily issues, it can kick the good student off the dean’s list to a path of despair. Communication with the school is the first step toward a child’s success, empowering him or her emotionally and academically.

“I have found that my child’s education is the thing that generates the widest range of emotion and the most passion within me,” says Paul. “It is probably the most tangible aspect of their lives that I can help to guide them into becoming responsible and dependable adults. Now they are thriving, and I take pride in helping them there. It’s a terrific feeling!”

Dawn Miller writes a blog for blended families and maintains an extensive website of stepfamily resources at

Keep reading here

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Wedding Bells And Step Kids And Ex's (oh my!)

Remarriage: Four Tips for Planning a Wedding with Blended, Extended Families


His mom has more ex-husbands than you have wedding guests. Is that a problem? It doesn’t have to be, according to Courtney Hammons a certified Professional Bridal Consultant and owner of A Magical Affair. Today’s families are more blended than ever before with divorce rates hovering near 50 percent for decades. Although that may make wedding etiquette more difficult to stick to, there are ways to make it work.

“The important thing is to include everyone,” explained Courtney, who garnered years of experience executing Disney Corporation events. “Keep everyone in the loop.” If everyone knows what to expect there is less chance for nasty surprises.

Read about second weddings and stepfamilies here

Monday, January 4, 2010

But Cinderella Proved StepMoms Are Evil, Right?

From Cinderella’s conniving stepmother to Ella Enchanted’s wicked s-mom, let’s face it – fairy tales give stepmoms a bad name. The Cinderella stigma has stuck like glue to stepmothers in the popular imagination.

“Ella Enchanted” is the latest Cinderella-wannabe movie to rehash tired stereotypes about stepparents. You’d think that if the director could figure out how to jazz up fairy tales with shopping malls and taxicabs, a script doctor could drop in at least one nice stepmom. But no.

A few have tried to reclaim the “wicked stepmother” moniker and poke fun at the whole “wicked stepmother” aura. You can buy “wicked stepmother” t-shirts and coffee mugs on some stepfamily websites.

But some stepmoms would rather jettison the “S” word altogether. A study by the Stepfamily Association of America in 1997 found that more than one third of stepparents did not identify themselves stepparents. Anything but the dreaded “S” word.

It’s gotten so bad that stepparents are tripping over themselves trying to dream up new titles for their stepfamily roles. “Bonus Mom” and “Bonus Dad” were come up with by an s-mom and her stepdaughter because “step” carried too many negative connotations.

You’d think the American greeting card industry would reap a gold mine in stepfamily combination cards for Mother’s Day. Nope.

Try to find a manufactured mother’s day card that actually uses the term stepmom – it’s not easy. Hallmark typically relegates stepparents to the cards in the “for anyone” or “for friends” sections. That’s where my stepkids will find my card this year.

I’ll open it on Mother’s Day with my husband – just like last year. Unlike their birthdays, graduations and swim meets – Mother’s Day is not a shared event. In our family, that day is sacred – to their mom.

My husband takes me out and fusses over me but Mother’s Day is a weird day that feels hollow – because the people I most want to hear praise from aren’t within earshot.

If greeting card companies were smart – they would create holidays just for stepparents. Until they catch on – we’ll just have to make do.

In 2000, nine-year-old Lizzie Capuzzi declared the Sunday after Mother’s Day to be Stepmother’s Day, and used the day to celebrate the relationship she has with her stepmom. She wrote to her congressman about it and he read her letter aloud and into the Congressional Record. The idea has yet to catch fire – but you never know. We might reclaim that “stepmother” title for good.

Dawn Miller writes a column on life in blended families at
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