What mixed or blended families need to know
First, what is a ‘blended family’? Another description is a ‘multi-family’ where two or more families from different relationships live in the same household.
This growing trend includes when one family has children from previous relationships, which is increasingly common due to our evolving lifestyles and because we are living longer.
If this describes your family, the flexibility and coming together of two families as one has many advantages. Below are points you need to know so you are aware of how the law sees your family, and what you can do to protect them, and avoid a family dispute.
When children are involved in blended families
From experience, we can say that in this situation clients frequently wish to provide for both their new partner and their own children but are unsure about how best to do so. It is often the case that people can fail to consider who would be provided for in a blended family situation by clearly expressing their wishes.
Would you prefer for your more recent family to be considered, or your previous family, or elements of both? These are the kind of decisions which can be overlooked, especially if a significant amount of time has passed between relationships or having children.
Unfortunately, lack of provision can create problems when one person passes away. It can result in some people leaving either their partner or children out of the picture all together. Understandably, different family members can be left feeling as though they were not considered which might actually be an oversight rather than the fact that they were not cared for. This situation would leave your assets to be passed on according to intestacy rules (when someone dies without having a valid Will), which often fails to be in line with peoples’ eventual wishes. This can lead to family disputes and unnecessary additional stress.
If you are in a blended family where there are children involved, prepare a Will considering the whole family and clearly detailing your wishes and what you would like to happen.
What do you do if you separate?
Problems can also arise during separation. Married couples or those in a civil partnership are highly likely to own many joint assets which hold significant monetary and sentimental value. This could include family property, heirlooms and other prized possessions.
As an example, one client was getting a divorce with her husband with whom she had been separated for some time. She owned the family home jointly with him and before the divorce was finalised, he unfortunately passed away. This meant that she received his share of the family home and a large proportion of his other assets as, although separated, they were still married.
This of course was not in line with his wishes and is not what he would have chosen to happen. Had he made a Will when he separated from his wife, he could have specified what he wanted to happen, guaranteeing that his estranged wife did not inherit his considerable assets.
When a marriage starts to break down, we suggest seeing professional help from an experienced divorce lawyer to agree how assets will be divided between the two parties. It is important to do this early as the process it can take time and needs to be thoroughly considered. For example, financial settlements at this stage can also avoid problems later, even years after a divorce!
Protecting your family now and in the future
In short, blended families are becoming a more common choice people are making and so it is also important that families protect themselves now to give them peace of mind for the future. If you would like legal advice from our family law experts, contact us for a free conversation by email or by phone.
Thank you to the author Sophie Prescott.