Blended Families, Separation and Divorce

blended family separation

By Ezra Sarajinsky

· Read time: 6 minutes

Blended families have their own unique issues either in the aftermath of a prior separation, or when the relationship in the blended family comes to an end.

Blended families can be wonderful, nurturing and fun for all involved. And they are on the rise in Australia. Making them work can be very fulfilling, although there can also be complexities involved. 

Let’s take a look at some of the legal issues at hand with blended families.

What is a Blended Family?

A blended family arises when one parent enters into a new relationship with someone who already has children. This situation often entails additional adjustments and restructuring within the family dynamic. 

Both partners must collaborate to establish a new family framework that integrates all of their respective children, as well as the other parents of those children. 

It’s important to recognise that children whose parents form new partnerships still require time and support to nurture relationships with their other parent.

Parenting Arrangements and Agreements

Occasionally, the matters at hand become intricate, leading to the breakdown or necessitating the renegotiation of previously established parenting agreements. Various practical considerations may require reassessment, such as:

  • Facilitating time spent and communication with family members in different households.
  • Adjusting living arrangements to accommodate evolving family dynamics.
  • Reevaluating parenting approaches to ensure consistency and harmony.
  • Addressing arrangements for holiday time, birthdays, special occasions, and school events.

Do children have the right to access Step-Parents?

The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) acknowledges that children have the right to maintain regular contact and communication with both parents and other significant figures in their lives, such as grandparents and relatives. However, what financial responsibilities do step-parents have towards step-children following a separation?

Under certain circumstances, when deemed appropriate by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (“the Court”), a duty may be imposed on a step-parent to provide Child Support for the step-child. In making this determination, the Court takes into account several factors:

  • The duration and circumstances of the marriage to, or relationship with, the relevant parent of the child.
  • The nature of the relationship between the step-parent and the child.
  • The existing arrangements for the financial support of the child.
  • Any unique circumstances that, if disregarded in the specific case, would result in unfairness or undue hardship to any party involved.

These considerations guide the Court in determining whether it is equitable to order a step-parent to contribute financially to the support of their step-child.

Can there be Obligations on a step-parent to pay Child Support?

The primary obligation to provide financial support for a child rests with the parents, irrespective of their relationship status. This duty applies universally, encompassing biological, adoptive, or same-sex parents. However, under specific circumstances, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (“the Court”) possess the authority to mandate a step-parent to contribute to the Child Support obligations for their step-child.

When assessing the appropriateness of imposing such a duty, the Court evaluates various factors:

  • The duration and nature of the marriage to, or relationship with, the relevant parent of the child.
  • The quality and extent of the relationship between the step-parent and the child.
  • The existing arrangements for the financial support of the child.
  • Any unique circumstances pertinent to the case that, if disregarded, could result in injustice or undue hardship to any involved party.

These considerations guide the Court in determining whether it is equitable to compel a step-parent to provide financial assistance for the support of their step-child.

Can the Courts refuse an order for a step-parent to support a child?

Yes this can certainly occur. 

In the case of Henning & Henning it was decided that a step-father, post separation, was not obliged to pay child support, even though he previously had a close relationship with the child. The Court agreed that following separation, the ties he had with the child had effectively come to a close particularly as he only saw the child when the mother brought the child to his house. 

Nevertheless, in general obligations will be considered on a case by case basis.


In some cases, a step parent formally adopts the child in a new relationship. 

Adoption serves to sever the legal connection between a child and their biological parent, typically authorised under specific circumstances. This would have implications on the biological parent with respect to obligations of child support and parenting arrangements. 

Legal guardianship, on the other hand, can be conferred by a parent to another individual or, in certain instances, may be initiated by the court. This legal arrangement assigns responsibility to the guardian for safeguarding the child and making decisions regarding their welfare. Guardianship orders are typically issued when a parent is unable to fulfil the duties of caring for the child.

Wills & Estates for Blended Families

There’s no obligation for you to include your stepchildren in your Will, but you have the option to do so if you wish. 

If you pass away without a Will and haven’t legally adopted your stepchild, they won’t automatically inherit anything under intestacy laws.

When an individual in a blended family passes away and bequeaths their entire estate or a substantial portion of it to certain family members while excluding others, it can potentially expose the estate to the risk of a Family Provision Claim. 

This is a claim that allows excluded family members to challenge the distribution of the deceased person’s assets.

Family Provision Claims typically arise in the following scenarios:

  • The Will primarily benefits a second spouse or partner, leaving out children from a previous relationship.
  • Children from a prior relationship inherit the bulk of the estate, while the surviving spouse or partner feels inadequately provided for.
  • Children from a subsequent relationship are favoured in the Will, while children from a prior relationship are not adequately provided for.

In these instances, family members who believe they have not been sufficiently provided for in the Will have the right to initiate a Family Provision Claim against the deceased person’s estate, regardless of whether they are biologically related.

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