The day of the stereotypical family consisting of a mother and father married to one another and the biological offspring of those parents are long gone. Today, families come in a wide variety of configurations and have been formed in a wide variety of ways, not all of which are legally defined or formalized. The purpose of this client manual is to assist people in dealing with their particular family configuration to maximize the chances that the result will be harmonious relationships among the adults and happy, healthy children. As the editors were working to put together this issue it quickly became apparent that the size limits of this magazine did not allow us to cover every kind of family configuration or formation method that may exist. We have attempted to address several of the most commonly encountered situations. No value judgment is intended with respect to circumstances not addressed.
While you may not have heard of the term “polyparenting” yet, Dr. Robert A. Simon, in his article, “Polyparenting: When Children Have More Than Two Parents,” explains that the concept of more than two adults raising a child is nothing new. He cites cultures where grandparents and other adults in the family are essential caregivers, parents of adopted children, parents of a child born as a result of assisted reproductive technologies, and more. He explains the legal definition of a parent and a trend in U.S. states recognizing polyparenting and the rights of three parents.
In her article “Rights and Responsibilities of a Stepparent or Significant Other” Holly W. Kimmel quips that The Brady Bunch famously depicted a happy blended family on TV but conveniently left out the complications of former spouses and the fact that stepparents in most states have almost no legally recognized parental rights regarding their stepchildren. She provides an overview of legal landscape for stepparent involvement in their stepchildren’s lives during their marriage to the children’s parent and in the event of divorce, from making medical decisions, travel, petitioning the court for visitation, and more.
In “Family Therapy with Separated and ‘Recombined’ Families,” Dr. Lyn R. Greenberg outlines how children experiencing a parental separation or remarriage can benefit from family therapy during the stressful transition. She covers the essential questions of when is family therapy needed, what is the best approach, how to find a good therapist, and whether you need to keep the other parent and the court in the loop lest you run afoul of court orders.
When the relationship between a child’s parents ends, each parent may move on to one or more new relationships. Teresa Harlow has written “Introducing Your Children to Your Significant Other and Learning to Deal with an Ex’s New Partner.” She touches on dos and don’ts for such situations. She examines how to know when it’s the right time to make introductions and when it’s wiser to hold off, with an eye to respecting the children’s feelings, age, and ability to handle the transition. The author points out that treating an ex and their new partner the way you would want to be treated—not how you feel the ex and new partner may deserve to be treated—may maximize the ability to remain effective co-parents. Such an approach also sets the stage for your ex to accept your new partner if you find love again.
Paula M. Lipsey confesses “What I Wish I Had Known” when she married a spouse with two adult children. As a trained social worker, she regrets not being better prepared and falsely assuming that their two families would blend together naturally and seamlessly. She shares lessons learned, including how the challenges and rewards of her blended family still continue into grandparenthood.
In “How to Support Your Non-Binary or Transgender Child” by Jodi Argentino, the author shares a startling statistic from a 2022 Trevor Project Survey estimating that 53 percent of transgender and non-binary youth have seriously contemplated death by suicide over the last 12 months. She explains how genuine, rather than affected, acceptance of your child for who they are can literally mean the difference between life and death and how simple gestures such as calling a child by their preferred pronoun and respecting their friends and partners can preserve the parent-child relationship.
Elizabeth Vaysman discusses the work that adoptive parents must put in to supporting their stepchild or adopted child in her article, “Respecting a Child’s Background in Adopted or Blended Families.” Proactive steps include providing the child with access to their racial and cultural identity, recognizing the child’s lifelong journey of wanting to belong, exploring any potential connection to the biological family, understanding open records laws and how to access adoption records, and seeking specialized and ongoing support for adoptees, including adoption-competent medical and mental health providers.
Valerie L. Moore covers how “Non-Biological Parenting Rights” have evolved since the rulings in Obergefell v. Hodges and Obergerfell and Pavan v. Smith and the 2017 revisions to the Uniform Parentage Act. Family law attorneys should familiarize themselves with the layers of protection they can use to assist their same-sex clients, including marriage and co-parenting agreements.
In “Cohabitation and Premarital Agreements” by Ronald W. Nelson, we learn about marriage trends in the United States, including decades’ long declines in the number of Americans choosing to marry, increasing age at the time of marriage, and steep increases in couples living together outside of marriage. We hear about the benefits of formalizing a couple’s expectations about finances and daily responsibilities in premarital agreements and cohabitation agreements instead of combining households under the assumption that you’ll remain in the honeymoon phase forever.