Blended families are a common and positive feature of modern society, but they also pose unique legal challenges that require careful navigation.

What is a blended family?

A blended family is created when you and a partner form a new family unit and you have children from a previous relationship. This can create a range of legal and practical issues, such as:

  • A child’s name and identity
  • A new partner’s parental responsibility for a step-child
  • Managing relationships with ex-partners
  • An ex-partner’s time, care and upbringing of your child
  • Legal status of a step-parent and the blended family unit

Creating a blended family requires time, effort and understanding to successfully navigate legal, emotional and practical issues such as: parental anxiety of a step-parent (particularly if they are an inexperienced parent), hostility from an ex-partner towards a new partner, reluctance from children to adjust or bond with a new partner and their children from a previous relationship.

How to acquire legal status as a step-parent?

In England, a step-parent does not automatically acquire parental responsibility for a step-child, even if they marry or enter into a civil partnership with the child’s biological parent. Parental responsibility includes making decisions about the child’s education, health and welfare.

A step-parent can acquire parental responsibility by:

  • A parental responsibility agreement with the child’s biological parents.
  • Adopting the child
  • A child arrangements order from the court that states that the child lives with the step-parent.
  • Becoming the child’s guardian in the event of the death of the child’s biological parents.

Each of these options has its own legal implications and consequences, and so it is important to seek expert legal advice before pursuing any of them.

How to plan inheritance in a blended family?

In blended families, inheritance requires careful thought and legal expertise. The default rules of intestacy, which apply when someone dies without a valid will, may not reflect your wishes or the needs of your blended family.

For example, if you die without a will and are married or in a civil partnership, your spouse or civil partner will inherit the first £270,000 of your estate, and half of the remaining estate. The other half will be divided equally between your children, including any step-children who you legally adopted. This may not be what you intended.

It is essential to make a will that clearly sets out how you want your estate to be distributed. You may also want to consider creating a trust, which can provide more flexibility and control over how your assets are managed and distributed, and can help to minimise inheritance tax and potential disputes.

Local Family Law Experts

Local solicitor Jasmine Wright, Partner at Alderson Law LLP, specialises in family law and explains ‘Family law is a broad area of practice that focuses on issues involving family relationships. In England, family law services are available to help with child arrangements, disputes in parental responsibility, and children’s services involvement. They can also provide assistance with adoption, advocacy, child abuse, domestic abuse, family mediation, financial settlements, and special guardianship.’.

Alderson Law LLP works across the North East from their offices in Morpeth, Blyth and Whitley Bay. Their family law specialists are Jasmine Wright, Mary Dargue and Julie Nicholson. They are a friendly professional team. Email them via the firm’s website or call Jasmine on 01670 519714.

How  much do legal services cost?

A solicitor will be able to tell you either their hourly rate or give you a fixed price for a set piece of work. For example Alderson Law LLP’s fees are:

  • A straightforward will usually costs around £220 + vat
  • Their hourly rate for family law work is from £233 – £272 + vat per hour
  • Legal Aid
  • is available to help to cover your legal costs depending on the type of case and your personal circumstances

Protecting Your Blended Family

By seeking professional legal advice and planning ahead, you can ensure that your blended family is legally recognised and protected, and that your children’s best interests are safeguarded.

Disclaimer: This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice.

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Mary was born and has lived all her life in the North East of England. Her first interest was science and she originally studied Biomedical Science at Northumbria and worked in the scientific research field and the NHS, before studying part time, again at Northumbria University, to obtain her degree in Law. Since then she has enjoyed a varied career covering many different areas of law, before specialising in Children Law, which she has done almost exclusively for the past 5 years.

Mary loves reading and history and at a weekend can often be found at one of the many historical sites the North East has to offer and has even been known to play video games when she can find the time.

Chris was originally a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives from 1997 and qualified as a Solicitor in 2001.

He has over 25 years experience in private client work comprising Wills, Trusts, Probate, Powers of Attorney and other Court of Protection Work such as Deputyship applications. Chris has been a Partner in several firms in the North East, being Head of Wills, Trusts and Probate.

He brings a wealth of experience to his role and works closely with clients, providing them with a service tailored to their needs

Susan was born and bred in the North East, spending all of her working life in Blyth. She qualified in 1981 and, after some years at Alderson Law, began to specialise in family law, covering both private and legal aid. Susan was a member of the Law Society Family Panel and an accredited Resolution specialist, specialising particularly in private children law and domestic violence.

Susan took part-retirement in December 2018 but still works as a Solicitor here at Alderson Law. Outside of work she enjoys cooking, walking, reading, and spending time with her family. She has also been a Brownie leader for over 40 years.

Originally from East Yorkshire, Jasmine moved to the North East in 2012 to study at Northumbria University undertaking the M Law Exempting (BPTC) course (the only undergraduate course in England and Wales which incorporates the Bar Professional Training Course), graduating in 2016 with a First Class Honours and a Very Competent in the Bar Professional Training Course. Prior to joining Alderson Law Jasmine specialised in RTA Fraud in a Personal Injury firm, before moving to another firm to work as a Family Law Paralegal.

In 2018 she joined our team as a Family Law Paralegal and before qualifying as a Solicitor within the Family Law Department based at our Morpeth office. Jasmine represents clients in a wide range of matters including; divorce and matrimonial finance, disputes regarding the arrangements for children as well as parents who are subject to Local Authority involvement both before and during Court proceedings.

In her spare time Jasmine likes visiting the beach, going to the gym, watching live music and looking after her pet rabbit.

Julie is a highly experienced property solicitor. She studied Law at Northumbria University and, after qualifying in 2000, went on to work at national and international firms prior to joining the team at Alderson Law in 2017. She works alongside her clients, advising on residential and commercial property development, property investment, portfolio management, property finance, landlord and tenant, easements and restrictive covenants.

Fiona is a specialist private client lawyer providing advice and assistance with wills, trusts, tax planning, probate & estate administration, lasting powers of attorney, court of protection and elderly client work. Having previously worked with a number of Newcastle-based firms listed in The Legal 500, Fiona brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the role. She is a full member of STEP (Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners), the association for specialists in family inheritance and succession planning.

Fiona grew up in Northern Ireland and studied law at Durham University, and has remained in the North East ever since. She enjoys spending time with her family at their cottage in Northumberland.

Mark Hipkin, partner at Alderson Law LLP, has been advising businesses and claimants since he qualified as a solicitor in 1982.

Mark’s passion is for representing claimants on two wheels in complex, serious and catastrophic motorcycle, scooter and cycle injuries, but he also has extensive experience of acting for claimants in many other personal injury areas including occupiers and public liability work and accidents at work. He specialises in challenging and complex cases. Mark always puts the client first, looking from the first day of instruction to obtain the best and fairest outcome for a claimant, no matter how long a case may take. He is a fan of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and early neutral valuation as alternatives to litigation. Sometimes, however, litigation is the best option, together with the necessary drive to see every matter through to a fair conclusion.

Mark also, having started his own business, advises business clients, often with motorcycle-, scooter- or cycle-related businesses and also deals with complex commercial disputes, professional negligence cases, and general civil litigation.

Mark likes to spend what free time he has with his family and practising Tai Chi and Tang Soo Do (Korean Karate – in which he is a second Dan).

Having worked in family law for over 25 years, Julie is a highly accomplished specialist in her field. She has a vast body of experience in dealing with family law, from divorce and related financial issues to complex child-related cases. Julie was the first person in North Tyneside to achieve the status of an accredited advanced family law specialist, and is a member of the Law Society Advanced Family Panel, which demonstrates her experience in complex contested family cases and other subject-specific matters.

Though multi-talented and highly experienced, Julie’s particular speciality is in complex ancillary relief (financial settlement) claims and complex residence and contact disputes.

In her spare time Julie enjoys relaxing and spending time with her family and three grandchildren. She attends clients at our Whitley Bay and Blyth offices.

Tracey is one of our Partners and qualified as a solicitor in 1997. Throughout her career she has had a varied caseload undertaking matters in most areas of civil and private client law. Tracey can assist clients in a wide range of matters including: Wills, Probate, Powers of Attorney, Debt Recovery, Residential and Commercial Conveyancing as well as Licensing and Landlord and Tenant matters.

Tracey is one of our most senior practitioners with over 20 years of local experience, having graduated from both Newcastle University and Northumbria University. When not in the office she enjoys walking, cycling, and cooking with her family.