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Stepfamilies: Bonding, divorces, maintaining ties into the future

Here's a typical hypothetical, although researchers note that, given the sheer diversity in America's demographics, the following is often close to the truth of what spells reality in family groups in the United States.

Picture two separate families coming together for the first time through a divorce on each side and subsequent remarriage. One component of the new grouping brings the male spouse and two younger children from his former marriage. The other component features the female spouse, along with three children from a previous marriage. In some instances, there might also be parents of one or both spouses living in the new home.

That creates an obviously new and complex dynamic that takes shape over time. In many families, it allows for bonding and new associations along many fronts.

What, then, happens to all that if a second or subsequent marriage disintegrates? In such a case, the compelling considerations that are often defined by matters surrounding child support, child custody, visitation and other mainstream divorce matters are supplanted or added to by issues concerning separation, splintered relationships, questions surrounding future -- if any -- continuing contacts and whether bonds will remain strong or break in a dissolution.

Given the millions of extended families that exist in the United States, the focus on such a topic is indeed occupying a number of research groups throughout the country.

Their central inquiry: What must often be actively at work to help step-relationships survive and even thrive following a family's breakup?

Bonding during the marriage is obviously key, although that works in different ways in different families. Study authors of one research effort conclude that an important factor in whether ties endure is whether the children in a second or subsequent marriage continue to view their ex-stepparent as a family member following the divorce.

Source: New York Times, "When branches tangle in a stepfamily tree," Elissa Gootman, Oct. 3, 2012

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