“Having a close and caring family is a beautiful dream, but a dream without a plan isn’t worth a nickel. However, a dream with a workable plan may be worth a million bucks.” – Dr. Rich Melheim, ‘Holding Your Family Together’.
The above quote perfectly sums up just how much effort has to be put into running a successful and happy household and this couldn’t be truer than in situations where there is financial planning required in a blended family.
Making financial decisions is a very important aspect of life and this becomes even trickier when you enter a marriage and need to undertake financial planning with your spouse. As if that wasn’t tricky enough as it is, financial planning in blended families is even more so. This is where partners enter into a marriage and there are kids and step-kids involved from previous relationships.
If you’re entering into a blended family situation or already find yourself in one, you may be asking yourself several questions. “What should step-parents and bio-parents pay for?” may be a question you’ve asked yourself over and over again. “Should I pay for my step-children?” is a question that may be on your mind. If you’re entering a blended family situation with kids of your own, you may wonder, “Should my partner pay for things my kids need if they’re not his own children?”
These questions aren’t easy to navigate, but it’s important for you to have clarity on financial matters before committing to such a situation because it can be the cause of trouble later on if not dealt with early in the relationship.
Partners may go into a step-parenting situation with the best of intentions to do justice to the kids, but without a clear plan, things can get complicated. We’ve got some helpful ways that you can navigate finances in a blended family to ensure that you, your partner, and the kids are treated fairly. Read on to find out.
Make sure there’s financial transparency between you and your partner
The first thing you need to do if you’re wondering how to split finances if you have step-children or are in a blended family is to start the conversation about it with your partner. Avoiding this topic is simply not a good idea.
Such a discussion isn’t merely to get an idea of how much each party earns so that you can carefully plan monthly expenses together and set aside an a plan for your future too. The discussion should also for a little deeper than that. You This is really a question of building relational trust with your partner and openly communicating your expectations in the relationship.
When kids and step-kids are involved and there are ex-spouses to consider, it becomes important that you understand what expenses your partner may have in terms of his alimony payments, child support, and other similar expenses. It would probably also be a good idea to discuss your financial philosophies and see if both your values are aligned as far as financial matters and the kids are concerned.
Openly discuss the question of what each party should be paying for as step-parent and/or bio-parent so both of you are on the same page.
Seek out the help of an expert or family lawyer
Once you’ve established relational trust with your partner and there’s financial transparency between you both, you’ll be able to decide whether you both have shared financial goals or not. Despite the best intentions that you may have for each other and the family, it’s a good idea to seek out the advice of a professional as well. While a family counselor or therapist can help with other complexities that may arise when you’re a part of a blended family, a family lawyer can make things clearer for you legally.
You can jointly create a Togetherness Agreement (which may or may not be legally binding based on the decision of partners involved). Such agreements clearly state the assets, debts, dreams, and obligations of both partners involved and outline the roles and responsibilities of each partner when it comes to the financial well-being of their family.
Stay on top of all your documentation
Documentation is key in order to help you monitor the dollars and have access to financial transparency. Divorce and remarriage involve a lot of paperwork, so make sure you know everything you can about your partner’s child support, alimony, and other legal obligations. This will ease your process to achieving and maintaining financial transparency in a relationship, especially more so if that relationship is in a blended family.
The task of creating accounts is a decision that is up to the partners involved. You could continue to maintain individual bank accounts and contribute towards household expenses based on the proportion of income brought in by each partner. You could even create a joint account and pay for expenses from that. The decision is up to you but whatever it is, both partners need to agree – and if needed, come to a middle ground on what to agree on. This would also be a good time to discuss contingency plans together. Bring up tough questions like: Who pays for the step-kids if one partner suffers a sudden job loss? Discussing situations like this can help you stay prepared and make things easier if such an event does arise. You may not get answers to all these questions all in one conversation – but it opens up the avenue to process & come up with a plan for it over time.
Treat children fairly
How to decide on financial planning if you have step-children? If you enter a family situation with kids of your own and become a step-parent, you may feel like you want to carve out a larger chunk of the finances for your own kids. This may not feel fair to the other kids and it’s not likely to result in a happy or successful blended family situation. If you do feel conflicted about the family situation, it’s a good idea to dig deeper into why this is the case. More often than not, the root cause isn’t the kids at all. It’s more to do with control, self-image, power, seeking validation, and other complex feelings. Getting to the root cause can help you overcome such feelings and realize that the kids aren’t the enemy here.
If all other things fail, before making any financial decision relating to your step-kids, ask yourself if you would be pleased with the outcome if your biological kids were at the receiving end of it. If you wouldn’t, it wouldn’t be fair to put your step-kids on the receiving end either. Treating them fairly is necessary if you want to succeed in such family dynamics.
Don’t put off estate planning or a discussion of inheritance
In keeping with the above point, make sure you discuss issues concerning inheritance and estate planning early on in your relationship. This avoids any fights in the future among the kids and step-kids and clearly outlines what will be due to whom when the right time comes.
What the experts and the experienced have to say
“It’s a transition in life for these families…We ask them to really look at the big picture and lay out everything on the table that they can, and to talk through it, trying to identify immediate and specific needs for their kids.” – Jeremy Simpson, Thrivent Financial professional, Alabama
“The biggest challenge is when blended families try to figure it out as they go and they don’t have those financial conversations in advance…They just decide to wing it because they’re in love, but then they later find out that their values clashes are so huge that they are very difficult to overcome.” – Deborah Price, Founder & CEO, The Money Coaching Institute, Petaluma, California
“Ask: what are your financial obligations to your ex? Is there child support? Is there alimony? Are you responsible for paying for housing or their utility bills? Having that conversation, asking those questions immediately. How hard is that?” – Laurie Marchel, co-author of ‘The Stepmoms’ Club: How to be a Stepmom Without Losing Your Money, Your Mind and Your Marriage.’
“There always seems to be a tug-of-war occurring when it comes to estate planning for a blended family, with the want to provide for the financial security of a surviving spouse while at the same time securing an inheritance for children of a previous marriage.” – Gregory Cayne, tax attorney & partner at Grant, Herrmann, Schwartz & Klinger LLP, Midtown Manhattan.
“Couples often say to one another, I’ll take care of your kids and you take care of mine, and they have the best of intentions…But the complexities of being a blended family, the multiple households that are involved and multiple caregivers, adults that are involved and the multiple generations that are involved make it a challenging process.” – Ron Deal, co-author of ‘The Smart Stepfamily Guide to Financial Planning’, marriage and family therapist.
Like several other matters in a relationship that require effort, financial planning is one of them and the task becomes even more difficult when the needs of a blended family have to be taken into consideration. The good news though, is that it’s not impossible. You just have to be committed enough to want it and put in the effort to achieve it.
In the words of John L. Beckley, “Most people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.”