Family LawReconstituted families: The art of building new bonds

October 17, 2023by Sara Garde0

The traditional family structure has evolved significantly over the years. Today, it is increasingly common to find families that do not conform to the conventional model of biological parents and their children. Instead, so-called “stepfamilies” emerge, which are formed when two people who have children from previous relationships decide to share their lives and raise their children together. This article explores the concept of stepfamilies, their legal relationship challenges and strategies for building strong and harmonious relationships in this context.

What are reconstituted or stepfamilies?

Reconstituted families, also known as blended families, are families in which at least one of the spouses has children from a previous relationship. These relationships may arise through marriage, cohabitation or any other form of partnership. In this context, biological parents may have children together as well as children from previous relationships.

At the legal level, the concept of “family” is not defined as such in the Civil Code, so the term “reconstituted family” lacks a legal concept. Article 39.1 of the Constitution does not distinguish between families, so that all families enjoy equal constitutional protection, whether they are the result of a marriage, of a stable heterosexual union, or of a common law partnership. However, the Catalan Civil Code is no stranger to this new concept of family, as it recognises as family the children of each of the parents who live in the same family nucleus, as it establishes in Article 23.1.2 that “The children of each of the parents who live in the same family nucleus, as a consequence of the formation of reconstituted families, are recognised as members of the family, with the effects that are legally determined».

Challenges of reconstituted families.

One of the main challenges arising from the creation of a reconstituted family concerns the legal relationships that bind the members of this new family, as well as the difficulties that may arise in the exercise of parenthood.

  • Relations between the children of each partner: when two people bring children from their previous marriages into the new family, these children are commonly referred to as “step-children”. However, these children are not linked either by consanguinity or affinity as they do not share the same father or the same mother, so that the recognition of the children of each parent as members of the family does not imply that they are siblings, even if they live together as such.

Familias reconstituidas: El arte de construir nuevos vínculos

  • Relations between the children of one party and the other party: with regard to the relationship of the “other parent” with regard to the children of his or her current partner, problems may arise in relation to the authority that the latter may exercise with their “new children”. Article 154 of the Civil Code states that unemancipated children are under parental authority, but it must be borne in mind that these new children are not natural children, so that the “other” legally lacks the authority not only to educate them, but also to correct them.
  • Rights of one parent with the children of the other parent in the event of death, divorce or separation: it may happen that the parent of the children dies or, after some years, decides to put an end to the cohabitation or marriage, in which case the other parent may have some rights with respect to these children. In this regard, it is interesting to note the Supreme Court Judgement of 12 May 2011 (320/2011) in which it states that “…With regard to the right to have relations with relatives and close friends, it must be borne in mind that the child cannot see the relationship and communication with people who are close to him/her humanely and affectively cut back, because of the differences between these people. For this reason, the interest of the child obliges the courts to decide that the child has the right to relate to the members of his or her family, regardless of whether or not there are biological ties between them“.
  • Obligation to provide maintenance for the children of the other parent: legally, the other parent has no obligation to provide maintenance for the children of his or her new partner even if they live together in the same house, although this is not usually the case as long as they live together, there is usually a common economy.

In addition to these legal challenges, there is a process of emotional adjustment for all partners in order to build a good partnership. Children on both sides may feel confused or resentful about the introduction of a new parent into their lives with, for example, different parenting styles, while adults may face challenges in balancing parental and emotional responsibilities with children from previous relationships. In these cases, maintaining open and effective communication between all family members is essential. Learning to talk about each other’s feelings, expectations and concerns is necessary to resolve conflicts constructively, fostering empathy and cooperation among all family members.

Strategies for building successful stepfamilies.
  • Open communication: Fostering an environment in which all family members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions is essential. Establishing regular times to talk as a family can help resolve problems and strengthen bonds.
  • Set clear boundaries and rules: Defining clear expectations and rules is critical to maintaining a harmonious family environment. Parents should work together to establish rules that are fair and appropriate for all children.
  • Encourage empathy: Helping children understand and empathise with their step-siblings’ circumstances can promote solidarity and mutual respect. This can be achieved through open conversations and activities in which everyone participates.
  • Seek professional support: In some cases, it may be beneficial to seek the help of a family therapist or marriage counsellor to address complex issues and improve family dynamics. The key to building strong relationships in these families lies in communication, empathy and working together.

Familias reconstituidas: El arte de construir nuevos vínculos

By addressing challenges openly and constructively, stepfamilies can create happy and healthy homes where all members feel valued and loved.

Reconstituted families are a growing reality in today’s society, which is why it would be desirable for legislation, and more specifically Family Law, to adapt to this new social reality in order to accommodate this new form of socio-affective bonding, and for the public authorities to take measures to support this new family typology, providing it with rights and recognition at the administrative and institutional levels.

Sara Garde

More than twenty years of legal activity in the area of International Law, specializing in Family Law, Inheritance and Private International Law.

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