When the television series Modern Family premiered in 2009, it was one of the first times blended families were depicted realistically—albeit humorously –in all their messy glory.
There is no strict legal definition of a blended family, but it's generally described as a marriage when two parties come together with children of their own to make a unique family unit.
Much More Common
According to the U.S. Bureau of Census, 40 percent of families in the country are blended, with at least one partner having a child from a previous relationship.
On a personal level, blending a family can be a wonderful and fulfilling experience: There are more people who care about your children. However, it does raise legal considerations, including those around custody of minor children.
For couples with more than three children at various stages of school and development, the situation grows considerably more complex.
Playing Well in the Sandbox
Step-parents do not have any right to make decisions about a child's health, education, or religious upbringing. That's in legal terms, but on a practical level, more parental figures, legal or not, bring more opinions that can complicate matters. While a new spouse may have ideas and can provide support, it's essential for legal co-parents to make ultimate decisions on their own.
The courts take custody arrangements seriously, and step-parents may be responsible for some transportation on hand-off trips and, in those situations, will interact with former spouses. Even if a step-parent has an issue with how things are handled, his or her opinion is of no consequence to a judge, so adhering closely to the court order is demanded.
It's in everyone's best interests if the adults involved develop cordial relationships, especially as they will see one another at the children's sporting events and other extracurricular activities. After a legal divorce, there will be a formal custody agreement—which may be revised due to a recent marriage—so everyone is crystal clear on their roles in the arrangement.
Custody orders typically lay out very specific residency requirements for co-parents. Sometimes they will specify a school or school district, agreed upon by the parents; in other cases, it might be within the country where the divorce is granted.
Step-parents, then, must consider these legal demands in light of potential job opportunities. Say you decide to marry, and your youngest child between you is a two-year-old. That means you will be living in the same county for the next 16 years unless the other parent agrees to a move and the court gives you permission.
Either way, a change of residency—and therefore the custody order— requires going back to court. The more children, and the greater variance in their ages, make things even more complicated.
If it Doesn't Work Out
Raising children is never a straightforward endeavor, but this is especially true in a large, blended family should there be a divorce. Visitation and custody for step-children are not guaranteed should the marriage dissolve.
The main considerations for the courts are if a step-parent has legally adopted the children (in this case, child support may become a factor) and if visitation would be in the child's best interests. On the second point, the step-parent would need to demonstrate evidence that there is a true parent/child relationship and prove he or she would not interfere in the child's relationship with biological parents.
How Attorney Joseph D. Lento Can Help Large Blended Families
Sorting through the many complex issues for large, blended families can be confusing and frustrating. A skilled lawyer with a strong understanding of Pennsylvania family law and the way the courts approach it is essential to your case.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento advocates for their custody clients day in and day out throughout Pennsylvania. To make sure your rights as a parent or step-parent are addressed in a PA family court, give the Lento Law Firm a call today on 888-535-3686, or contact us online.