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Does stepfamily remain family after divorce?

Unlike most other areas of family law, there are very few statistics about stepfamilies, and no real information about how many of them exist and how they interact. As such, there exists no concrete data about the number of stepfamilies that are divided by divorce and whether they maintain their familial relationship after the split.

There is some indication that the number of such families is high. Studies have shown that second marriages are more likely to end in divorce than first marriages, and a 2010 Pew Research Center study found that 42 percent of adults surveyed had at least one step-relative. It follows, then, that a large number of people have ex-step-relatives.

So when people only had the connection of a marriage to tie them together, how do they interact once that marriage ends? Following a recent study, researchers concluded that former step-relatives generally fall into three categories:

  • Never claimed: people who never embraced their stepparent as a family member
  • Unclaimed: people who regarded their stepparent as a family member during the marriage but not after divorce
  • Claimed: people who regarded their stepparent as a family member during the marriage and continue to do so after divorce

But placing family members into categories doesn’t help them determine how to treat one another after divorce. And in family law, there are no real rules or guidelines about how to do so. It appears that, as in most other familial relationships, people should simply follow their hearts and do what is best for themselves and for their families.

Source: NY Times, “When Branches Tangle in a Stepfamily Tree,” Elissa Gootman, Oct. 3, 2012

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