Blending families after divorce

Census data collected in 2016 and again in 2021 confirmed that the typical family image of ‘mum, dad and two kids’ is no longer the predominant family type. The face of families has changed in Australia, with families increasingly comprised of a couple without children, single parent families and families including non-biological children and parents, step siblings, half siblings, foster carers, and other non-traditional carers such aunts, uncles and grandparents.

In our series of articles, we identify some important things to consider if you are entering a relationship after a break-up or blending families after a divorce.

Blended families – defined as "a family consisting of a couple, the children they have together, and children from previous relationships or adopted children" – are particularly common in our modern world.

Blending a family or becoming a step-parent can be challenging, especially in this post-pandemic era. Ask anyone who is a step-parent and they’ll tell you that there are a lot of moving parts to manage, and tricky relationship dynamics to navigate, when family life is conducted across multiple households.

There is a lot to consider when embarking on a second relationship after divorce. If you or your new partner have children from previous relationships and you’re recovering from an earlier break up – the stakes are high.

In our work in family law, we frequently see the trials and triumphs of blending families and second relationships – and the impact it can have for children and and finances.

Telling your ex and kids about your new partner

Whilst there is nothing quite like the ‘honeymoon phase’ of a new relationship, reality can bite hard if have kids and co-parent whilst discovering new love. With the excitement of things getting serious with your new squeeze, you’ll also worry about how your kids and your ex will react to them. The last thing you want when you’re head over heels is hostility from your ex or kids over your new relationship – but should that prevent you from moving on with your life?

It is natural for a parent to feel uneasy or threatened about a new parental figure entering their children’s lives, even without the added complexity of residual emotions from a break- up. Family therapy and dispute resolution can be useful to flesh out any lingering issues and disagreements.

Obviously if your relationship is getting serious, you will want your children to meet your partner and hopefully, grow to love them too. Considering your children’s needs and stage of childhood can make a huge difference in establishing a positive relationship between them and your new partner.

Legally, there are no ‘rules’ about when or how you should break the news of a new partner. Relationships evolve organically, and one person’s timing may not be the right timing for you. Some might introduce their new partner early on out of necessity, as their circumstances do not allow for anything else, and others might tread carefully due to difficult exes or fragile children.

Respect that your new partner will have an ongoing relationship with their co-parent. Like it or not, this will have an impact on your own family life, so be realistic before diving into blending a family. You’ll both need to be ready to be flexible, patient and tolerant.

Talking your situation through with an expert lawyer who knows the history of your breakup, the personalities and the relationship dynamics in your situation and who can give balanced and impartial advice, can guide you to a point where you can shout your new relationship from the rooftops.

Read our next article for some key things to know when you’ve decided to start living together.