The complexities of life in a stepfamily are prompting a rising number of people to seek advice, say experts. Figures released last week by the
"Money issues often cause conflict, and we are seeing growing numbers of couples struggling over financial contributions towards "my" children, "your" children and "our" children, as well as questions about support to exes," says
Set out a plan at the start of a marriage or partnership. Will you pool resources or keep finances separate? Ensuring a sense of fairness among children is important, stresses
Lucy has two sons from a previous relationship, Sonny, 10, and Charlie, seven, and together they had another, Rufus, three. She says: "The financial and social sacrifices that step-parents make are undervalued - we suggest they must be able to save and pay for all children equally to avoid any problems later. Yes, ex-partners often pay child maintenance - but in this financial climate it hardly touches the sides."
She receives a small sum in maintenance from her ex that is reviewed annually. This is put towards the cost of caring for the two sons from her first marriage.
Consider whether existing maintenance put in place following a previous divorce or separation may change. One in three families with children from past relationships receives financial support from an ex-partner, according to the latest Aviva Family Finance Report.
"The amount may reduce if they have another family to support," says
You must report any significant change in your circumstances to the Child Maintenance Service or you risk a fine or even prosecution. And while a consent order setting out the division of assets and payment of maintenance is legally binding, it cannot guarantee payments will be kept up.
Changes introduced last year to the way in which child benefit is taxed may also have an effect. Households where one partner earns more than pounds 50,000 face a clawback of child benefit.
"Even if you don't marry, but just move in together with your partner's children, you may have to pay a tax charge if they claim child benefit, and you earn more than the threshold," says
Experts say that people are often unaware that stepchildren have no right to inheritance unless written into a will. "Families often fall out about money when someone dies and the arguments can have an extra layer of complexity when there are stepchildren and step-parents involved," says
Trusts are often used to ensure that certain assets are inherited by particular children.
Make sure you review any existing life and health insurance policies. "Also check you have nominated your current partner as beneficiary for all your pensions and any work related death-in-service policies," says
Placing life insurance in trust to pay out a lump sum on death for the benefit of a child may offer a solution.
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