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How do step families work?

(23 Posts)
Gangle Sun 07-Apr-13 23:52:04

Really just looking for some general advice on how to make a blended family, or whatever they are called, work. I have 2 DSs who have just turned 5 and 3. DH and I separated in June 2011 after I found out he was having an affair. He then told me he wanted to be with the other woman rather than me so I filed for divorce a few months later then met my new partner in November 2011. I was with DH for 11 years in what can only be described as an extremely difficult and abusive relationship. Whilst the affair was no surprise the breakdown of the marriage and the callousness with which he left me was still a massive shock. I then met my new partner who has been nothing but amazing to me and is fantastic with DSs. However, he is also divorced with 2 DCs aged 10 and 7. The reason for the split was that he had a 2 year affair although according to him there were other difficulties in the marriage. It took me a long time to accept that he had basically done to his ex what my ex had done to me, albeit it under very different circumstances, but I think I am now ok with it although it has taken a lot of convincing. Anyhow, DP then proposed back in November and we are looking at getting married in a year or so. Whilst I know I love him and he is a great match for me in pretty much every way and makes me really happy, I still have some big fears and concerns about how we would make the blended family work. There are the emotional issues such as my fear that he could have an affair and leave us, however irrational, and also practical/logistical difficulties. He has his children 50% of the time so it would basically mean his children living with us half the time. His children are great and he is a great dad but is just seems like a massive change/risk if we all move in together as there is some much potential for things to go wrong. I earn significantly more than DP and have enough room for his DCs so it would be them moving in with us. Would they ever feel at home and would I ever feel like it wasn't just my house? Then there is money - if I earn 3 times as much as DP then who pays for what? It sounds mean but I do want what I earn to go to my kids rather than DSCs. Can anyone offer and general advice about how to address these issues in a fair way?

Celticcat Mon 08-Apr-13 06:14:38

Hi OP, have been a blended family for a few years with own ds, dss is now living 50:50, dsd only eow.
Since moving in together (we bought house as a new start for all, although mostly my money so in my name), we have kept own account and opened joint account for bills. Go half on just about every extra expenditure, each pays for own and dcs holidays.
Money has now become an issue in our house: i didn't have a problem with dh having practically no spending money when we met (literally all went to ex, mostly based on his guilt), now that fairer arrangements with exw have left him better off than me, his earnings are kept secret!
Deal with money issues first, its not romantic but it could become a dealbreaker, xx

Celticcat Mon 08-Apr-13 06:16:08

... And yes, his affair with ow (not me) ended an already bad marriage too! We met 2 years later, after their divorce.

Fairylea Mon 08-Apr-13 06:31:32

Hmm. I'm worried you see things so separately. If my dh had thought like you do then I wouldn't have married him. Sorry to be blunt but if you're.going to get.married etc then surely the dc and money and everything should be equal and treated equally ?? That's the point to me anyway.

Dh is my second husband.... I have dd aged 10 and we have ds together. Dh earns a.lot more than me.. although I owned the house with no mortgage when we met. We had to remortgage to buy my mum out of her share (long story) so when we did we.put dh on the deeds so we now own half each effectively.

Dh and I have a joint account and share all money equally. I am a sahm. We have equal spending money and the children are treated the same with the same money spent as needed.

We are.a totally blended family.

I don't think you can half in my opinion... it's all.or nothing.

Sounds like you also have a lot of issues about the affair etc. Are you sure he's ???

StillSlightlyCrumpled Mon 08-Apr-13 07:02:58

Agree with fairy, we are a step/ blended family and the finances have always been 'family' finances. We pay his child maintenance from our joint bank account regardless as to has earned the most. Tbh I just think about it the same as the mortgage etc, its just a bill that needs to be paid.
Saying that DH does earn more than me right now although I entered the marriage with more. None of that matters now 12 years on.

I would probably feel the way you do about the affair though. Hope you get sorted.

VBisme Mon 08-Apr-13 07:09:02

I don't think you should be getting married until these issues have been worked through.

Particularly the money one. How would you feel if someone was saying similar about your DCs. I have 2 stepchildren and I pay for most things at the moment. (Because of finances being the way they are).

Have an honest chat with DP and double check you feel the same way about this.

olibeansmummy Mon 08-Apr-13 09:09:59

Hmmmm, I think you really need to discuss finances before going any further. Remember your income should never be taken into account of maintainence purposes, so never disclose your income to the CSA. That said, when the dsc are with you, things really have to be equal. You need to think about what would happen if you want to go for a day out but your dh can't afford to pay for his children to go. Would you go without them? Not go at all? That would be really unfair and would not create a good atmosphere in your home. Also, what if your dcs want to take part in a hobby during contact time with the dsc and the dsc want to too. Would you let your children take part and not the dsc if your dh couldn't afford it?

If you have a very high income, you also need to think about schools. Are you going to send your dcs to private school while the dsc have to make do with the local comprehensive?

I can understand why you want to keep your money for your dcs, especially if you're worried about it not working out, but it's really hard to be fair to everyone in this situation.

Also, you need to think about where your dsc will sleep when your dh moves in to your house. Have you got enough spare rooms for them to at least have a bedroom to share?

As for the affair, I'd feel the same sad maybe gave some couples counselling?

Gangle Mon 08-Apr-13 13:33:14

Thanks all. I am as sure as I can be that he is right for me. I understand why the affair took place and he has done and said everything he can to convince me it wouldn't happen again. I would prefer not to go to counselling about it though as I don't think there is anything else to say on the matter. I find going over and over it and the detail very painful. Either I take a leap of faith or I don't.

The position on finances is very complex though. I am very happy to split the day to day costs 50/50 so would of course include his DCs in all outings, holiday, hobbies etc. It's more about the big issues like the mortgage and schools. I am about to remortgage in my sole name (divorce is almost through) but my ex will keep a share in the house for a further 2 years. At that point we had discussed DP taking over that share which would mean he had a 20% interest in the house and I had 80%. There is also a significant amount of equity in the property that I would want to keep in my name as I want it to pass to my DSs. My ex and I bought the house together but my ex put a lot more money in that I did although I ended up with a far greater share in the divorce than my ex because I have the kids. I feel it's only right for that share to go to my DCs. I would envisage paying 80% of the mortgage and DP would pay 20%. We discussed it though and DP is not particularly happy with that split and, I think, was assuming that we would go 50/50. He does do a lot with my DSs including taking them to school/nursery etc. I may be being unfair but I just don't see why I would go into it on that basis. I have just been through a difficult divorce where I have had to fight tooth and nail to stay in the house - there is no way I would want to risk being in that position again.

In addition, there are some differences in parenting style that don't help. I have always worked full time. DP is a lecturer so has loads of time off and flexibility which means he can look after his DCs without using any childcare whereas I pay a significant amount in childcare costs. DP has always made a point about saying how only he looks after his kids and noone else. His ex works part time and looks after them when they are with her. I would love to reduce my hours but can't. I just feel that if I can't be at home with DSs then at least they can get some financial benefit. I don't see why DSs should have to split that benefit with DP's DCs when they have had their parents at home with them. I would also like to be able to send them to private school if necessary. We have a good state school near us but DS1 has had some problems and it may be that we need to consisder a school with smaller class sizes - I could see that being a big issue. I suppose my preference would be that he and his ex pay for their kids and my and my ex pay for mine. But is that fair/workable?

Fairylea Mon 08-Apr-13 13:51:30

I'm not sure you're ready for the leap of faith you think you're making!

You sound to me like someone who's gone through a difficult divorce, feels quite wounded and upset by everything (understandably so) and is just getting on their feet. It doesn't sound to me like you're ready either emotionally or financially to make the leap from regular partner staying with you to proper blended family. But I accept I may be wrong, that's just my opinion.

It might be worth as a long term plan, looking to sell and move to a different property either downsizing and putting some of your dc's share in a secure savings account or moving somewhere larger so there is more equity for everyone (depends on your budget and income).

I can understand your dp being unhappy about only being 20% in the house as a long term plan if he is sharing paying bills etc. What about inheritance for his dc as well? Also you might find he doesn't treat the house as much as his as if he had a larger share - could he buy a larger share and you put this into savings?? I have been in the position of my ex husband not being on the deeds and the house only being mine and it felt like everything fell as he never saw the house as his responsibility.

I also think the childcare thing is a bit odd... if your dp is available to do the childcare for ALL the dc (not just his own) then you don't need to use childcare at all do you? This is another example where I think.the blended family idea isn't really happening or being discussed properly. Or is he not as available as he / you think?

Also private school etc - I don't think you can only send half the children from a family to private school, which is what you seem to be suggesting. If your dc's dc live with you half the time I dont can spend more on your dc like that... it will probably cause resentment long term.

It's all or nothing.

Fairylea Mon 08-Apr-13 13:57:21

Also if you're remortgaging in your sole name why is your ex p keeping a share for the next two years? I would want him completely off the house.

Gangle Mon 08-Apr-13 14:13:51

Thanks Fairylea. I agree that there could be a timing issue and have thought that one option would be to wait and see how things go. That said, we love each other, my children love each other and the 4 children all get on very well. It seems we all want to be together. I would like to try to at least think there is a way through it, if possible. it may be that we do defer for a bit though.

To answer your questions, my DSs live with me full time. They have only ever spent 2 nights with their dad although see him regularly. We will hopefully start to stay over once a week or fortnight but will be living with me. Between us DP and I have 4 children so would ideally have a 5 bedroom house. I have a 5 bedroom house so he and his DCs could easily move in without too much disruption. One room is smaller than the others but this shouldn't be too much of an issue. Moving would cost a fortune and we would just be looking for the same size house. I would also not want to move my children from their school and away from friends, support network etc. He is happy for his children to move for the 3 days of the week they are with him which I am a bit worried about as it will mean them commuting across London to school on 2 days but DP seems to think it is doable. Yes, we could downsize but, again, I question why I would do that. I don't want to feel that my relationship and desire to me with this person is the reason that DSs have to move to a new, smaller house and to have to share rooms when they never have before.

As for DP only having a 20% share in the house, this fits in with his current salary and earing potential. He could not afford to pay for more than a 20th share of the mortgage - it's not that I am forcing him to only pay 20%. I understand though about him not feeling that the house is properly his and so not investing in it and don't really know how to address this. Perhaps he should get a greater share to reflect his other input, e.g. help with childcare etc, although I am still not sure 50% is fair.

As for childcare, we haven't discussed it but I don't think DP would be in a position to look after the DCs every day. He currently looks after his on 3.5 days per week after school so I suppose could look after DSs on those days too but I think this could overcomplicate things and it may be easier to keep things separate. At the moment he looks after his DCs at his place on those days.

flurp Mon 08-Apr-13 15:01:55

I don't think you are ready. Don't rush things as if it all goes wrong it will hurt all 4 dc as well as you and DP.
Your finances sound very complicated and you seem very concerned that your dc don't lose out, but the very nature of a blended family means that there has to be compromise on both sides. If you don't want to compromise then don't do it.
Regarding finances - DP earns twice what I do but we pay all bills 50/50 from a joint account. We both have our own accounts and the child benefit and maintenance from the kids dad goes into mine so we each pay for our kids stuff ourselves and he usually pays for all meals out, holidays etc. A few years ago he was out of work for a while and I paid more but he picked up the slack when he was back on his feet.
DP had to sell his house and move in with me and he still says it feels like my house even though he has lived here for nearly 3 years!!!

SoWhatIfImWorkingClass Mon 08-Apr-13 15:09:27

I can understand why you want to pass the money from your house to your DCs- keep it for them. Make sure they benefit from it.

As for general family finances, assets aside, when the DSCs are with you and their dad that is when you provide for them. When they are with their mum though, the maintenance their mum receives should only reflect their fathers income and it has nothing to do with what you earn, whether you earn a good wage or not.

dietstartsmonday Mon 08-Apr-13 15:21:57

i am currently moving my DP of three years in and it has taken a long time to get to this point.

He has sold his house and will be moving into my rented house for now. Towards the end of the year we will be buying together.

I have 3 DC he has 1 DS. When we are all together ( his son spends every weekend and one / two evenings a week with us) we are a family. My DC (sometimes) spend every other weekend at their dad house

When he moves in we will have a joint account, all bills will be 50/50 and both have same amount of spending money.

I earn more than him, but it doesn't bother me at all. they are my family and we will spend what we have to. I bought DSS shoes this weekend as i had the cash and DP didn't. I'm not his mum but i count him as my own really.

When we buy we will put the same amount of deopsit down each ( and this will be doocumented in a deed of trust) and split the mortgage 50/50 as well.

The house will be left to all four kids as inheritence.

I feel we have managed to blend out families quite well, it did worry me at first that as the higher earner i might lose out, but this is the man i am going to marry and i love his son to bits, we will be better off living together so who cares who puts in more.

I agree that i feel you are not ready for this sort of commitment yet, and think an attempt could end badly at this point.

The schooling is an issue that needs addressing to, some private some not would cause resentment.

As i said it has taken me three years to get to this point and i would say hold for now, figure out what suits you all best and take time to ensure it will work before this leap of faith.

NotaDisneyMum Mon 08-Apr-13 15:46:47

I'm another voice urging you to put the brakes on moving in together just yet; not only because the issues you raise have no easy solutions, but because even if you do reach a compromise at the time you all move in together, it could all change overnight, totally out of your control.

In terms of your DC's inheritance, that is easily resolved through various legal documents - my DP owns the house we live in, and it is willed to his DC's with the conditions that I can remain living in it (or downsize to a smaller property) all the while I'm alive and/or wish to. The other financial issues can be sorted out legally - a good family solicitor will be able to put in place whatever you agree between you is what you want to happen.

Any agreement will be dependent on the financial status quo remaining though - if your household income suddenly changes through illness/redundancy etc, then anything you agree has to be renegotiated. If your DP couldn't contribute his share (however much it is agreed to be) due to redundancy for instance; would you be prepared to keep him and his DC's? Is your DP paying maintenance to his ex? If so, what if one of the DC's chose to spend longer with their Mum; could your DP afford to pay her more and continue to contribute to your shared household costs? If he's not paying at the moment because the DC's are 50:50, what if his ex went to the CSA and claimed payments once he moved in with you? How would that affect his ability to contribute to your shared household?

What is not so easily resolved is the practical/emotional issues. What happens when your DCs fall out and no longer "all get on well"? What if one of your DP's DC's refused to spend time with one of your DC's, for instance?

Or, what if one of your DC's wants to go home after school and spend time with their step-siblings and stepdad rather than in childcare?

What if one of his DC's decides that they want to live with you fulltime?

I remember feeling bruised & battered from my divorce, but in love with my DP and wanting to prove to myself (and the rest of the world) that I could have a successful relationship and I was ready to move on. As it happened, other circumstances meant that we delayed by a year or so - and I am certain that made a big difference to the way we have dealt with the major issues that we have faced since - including redundancy (both of us), depression, car crashes, bereavements and any number of other life changes.

Gangle Mon 08-Apr-13 16:08:37

Thanks again everyone, this is really helpful. NotaDisneymum, as you say, most of the financial side can be covered in a deed of trust or pre-nup. Just seems so unromantic though and both DP and I got quite upset talking about it as it feels like you are already planning to break up. I finally feel secure after 2 years of upheaval and cannot risk that by not ensuring that DSs and I would have the house in the event of a break-up. But I do want to be fair to DP, just not sure what fair is. I think it's fair that if I pay for 80% of the house then I keep 80% and he keeps 20% but maybe that is not the general consensus. I can't see how else we would do it though. I think I am also concerned because I already seem to pick up a lot of the costs, mainly because DP and his kids always come to ours and so I pay for food etc and also because we go on outings/meals out etc with DSs (when his DCs are with his ex) so I feel it's fair that I pay. I do think it's important to be clear about it though as I don't want either of us to feel resentful that they are paying more than the other. Maybe it is too soon and these things will get resolved in time. Either way, it feels like an absolute minefield and I wonder how people ever make it work. It would be a lot easier if we earnt about the same and had similar assets but as it is, he has no assets and earns 1/3rd of what I do so has a lot less to lose.

NotaDisneyMum Mon 08-Apr-13 16:27:50

Successful blended families have lots of tough conversations which will be difficult, unromantic and upsetting - you have to continually discuss and assess your own boundaries as you can never assume that you have shared values when it comes to each others children, for example!

If you won't consider counselling, how about a couples course? There are several around, many run by churches but not necessarily religious in content.

If you are struggling to be honest with each other now, then the issues you will undoubtedly face in the future will strain your relationship to breaking point. It can take a minimum of three years to begin to 'blend' a family once they've moved in together - and the majority of 'second relationships' don't survive that period. Those that do are less likely to split than a first marriage though - so getting it right at the beginning forms the foundation for a lifetime of happiness smile

Gangle Mon 08-Apr-13 16:33:51

Do most relationships not survive? I can really see why. I think the only way I would be prepared to get married would be with a pre-nup or trust deed in which it is agreed that I retain an 80% interest in the house. I just don't think I could go into it on any other basis. Is it unfair to ask for a pre-nup?

purpleroses Mon 08-Apr-13 16:53:01

I moved in with DP, into his formal marital home last summer. We each have DCs. He earns a lot more than me so I'm kind of in the same position as your DP is with you. He owns 100% of the house we live in, and pays for any maintenance on it so I don't consider I have any financial stake in it. Bills, we split 50-50 though - just as we would if we were renting. I still own the house I lived in before, and have rented it out. DP is letting me keep all the money from this, which I feel kind of evens things out as he works much longer hours than me so I tend to do most of the housework, and also help out with his DCs quite a lot. If your DP doesn't own a house then presumably he'd be saving quite a lot in rent if he moved in with you? If he has enough money to buy even a small house, why doesn't he do this, and rent it out - then you will each have assets that are easily separable.

So separate finances seem to be working fine for us. And even though the DCs are quite a bit older than yours, they do understand that they have different parents and different lives to some extent. My ex is very hard up so DCs don't do expensive stuff with him, whereas DSC go off to posh places with their mum. Everyday stuff whilst they're all with us does need to be the same (holidays, clubs, etc) though you can retain separate finances and just decide that one of you is going to treat everyone to a holiday, or whatever - rather than pool money. Inheritance doesn't need to involve treating everyone the same though when they have different parents.

Re pre-nups - we're not (yet) married, but I think we'd definitely look to make one as best you can (legally a bit of a grey area still I think). When one or other of you has been badly hurt (financially too) by previous divorce, and has a lot more assets than the other one, and you both have DCS, you'd be silly not to really. Not romantic, but then neither are wills are they? Just a good way of reassuring each other that you're not marrying for money, and taking the stress out of feeling that you're risking everything you've worked for.

Re schooling - DSC are all in private. My DS is already happy and settled at state secondary, so won't be moving. But DD is Y5 and already asking if she can go to the private school that DSC attend. I'm putting off deciding, but at the end of the day don't really feel I can say no on financial grounds when DSC are all there. DP understands this and is willing to help fund it if necessary (plus he thinks it's a good school, and I guess wants the best for my DD too). I think if he wasn't willing to help with that, it would make me question the nature of our relationship.

But don't rush things. We spent about 9 months planning moving in together. And it was a fun time. But also gave us a chance to talk through house rules, parenting, finances and other things before we told the kids and took the plunge.

DontSHOUTTTTTT Mon 08-Apr-13 17:16:38

Can you both go to some sort of financial mediator, solicitor or someone else who could let you sensibly work out all the financial arrangements. If such a person exists confused

I think you have to discuss everything you can. It only gets more expensive as the kids get older.

Gangle Mon 08-Apr-13 17:22:46

Think we might have to. There are so many issues, you really need someone to guide you through it without offending the other. Purpleroses, can I ask how long you were with your DP before you starting planning moving in? DP and I have been together for just over 16 months. He wants to move in this summer whereas I was thinking of autumm or even winter 2013.

purpleroses Mon 08-Apr-13 23:01:07

About 18 months - so v similar to you and your DP. I knew by then that relationship was serious and wanted a "proper" comitted relationship. Like your DP I'd have been up for moving in straight away. But my DP (who, like you, earns more and was more recently recovering from divorce wanted to wait a bit. I was fine about waiting once we'd agreed that that was what we both wanted long term. I think once the commitment's there it's great to take time to think through practicalities before you actually make a move.

Eliza22 Tue 09-Apr-13 16:53:36

I'd say, take your time. Not as long as DH and I did maybe, (4 years!) but TAKE YOUR TIME. I put a chunk (everything I had really) into his house and it is now in joint names and we are married and happy but..... there have been issues with one of his grown up kids (1 of 3) that make me wish I still had my own "bolt hole". I love DH and I'm lucky to have found him but you may get more, or less, than you bargained for, in making that "leap of faith"

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