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Blended Families: Protecting Children the Second Time Around

By Dr. Lynne C. Halem
CMDR Staff, Wellesley, MA

Second marriages are a time for new beginnings, dreams of romance and adventure may abound. Then, too, there are the concerns. Most disturbing of all are the worries that center around entitlements of children. First and foremost, in that vague and elusive basket of free-floating fears, are those that pertain to one's children. If I die, what will happen to my children? With whom will they live? Will they get my money, my property holdings? Will my stepchildren get everything? What to do?

An increasing number of remarrying couples are turning to prenuptial agreements to protect their children in the event of death, even divorce.

Consider for the moment the story of Alex and Ruth.

Alex had been married for fifteen years and was now divorced for about a year. He has two children from his marriage, a daughter who is twelve and a son who is ten. Both children live half the time with him and half the time with their mother. Also, it is important to know that Alex is the CEO of a start-up computer company. He has great faith in the company's future and believes that he will be a very rich man-some day. For the time being, he has about $200,000 in retirement funds and $400,000 in cash from his former wife's buyout of his interest in their home.

Ruth was also married before. She ended an eighteen-year marriage three years ago. Ruth has one child, a daughter who is fifteen and lives with her. The child's father sees her quite frequently although the divorce agreement provides for one weekend a month of visitation. Ruth is a Human Resource Specialist, earns a good living, and has good benefits at work. After the divorce, she retained $250,000 in retirement funds and the marital house with a value of about $600,000.

Now back to our story of the couple, Alex and Ruth. These two individuals met through friends about six months ago. Almost immediately they hit it off, finding that they were not only physically attracted to each other, but that they had much in common. Since their first meeting, they have been seeing each other almost daily and talking on the phone for hours. So a marriage is in the offering. Ruth, however, is worried. Not about marrying Alex; she thinks he is terrific. She is worried about how they will blend their family and their finances. The present isn't her problem. Alex is planning on moving into Ruth's house, buying half its value. So far things seem pretty balanced. Ruth's worries have more to do with the future. What happens to the house if she dies? If Alex dies? What happens to her retirement funds? His retirement funds? What happens to Alex's new business venture? Does Ruth inherit Alex's estate? Do his children get a share? Does his former spouse have any rights to Alex's assets or insurance? Alex, of course, could pose a whole set of similar questions, only he doesn't seem to be as concerned as Ruth.

Ruth made a very strong suggestion to Alex: A "way", she said, "to ease her concerns and to protect her children, and his." The suggestion was to create a prenuptial agreement. And so, they like so many of the remarrying set, decided to list, individually, each of their concerns. Ruth's list was long. Alex's list was short-the guy simply wasn't the worrying kind. Together they first considered what would happen to their children if either one was to die before the children were financially independent. Then, after they were emancipated? They also considered what would happen to each one's present and future estate if they were to divorce-this was much harder than the death scenario for neither Alex nor Ruth could envision another divorce.

Did this happy couple succeed in crafting their own prenuptial agreement? The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes, but not until they sought help. Alex and Ruth decided to mediate the terms of their agreement and then have it reviewed independently by each one's divorce lawyer. The result of this collaborative process was an agreement that answered Ruth's concerns. Alex, too, felt better because they could now talk about subjects other than the unpleasant topics of divorce and death.

Dr. Lynne Halem, the director of Centre for Mediation and Dispute Resolution, Wellesley Hills, MA, has been serving as a mediation strategist for individuals who are reluctant to surrender their case and its direction to respective attorneys. With more than 22 years of mediation experience, Dr. Halem helps clients to view the big picture and design creative settlements that are geared towards a win-win situation.

She can be contacted by phone at (781) 239-1600 or
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