Complex families have taken over as the new normal for families, which includes blended families, same-sex families, and single-parent families. Once upon a time the nuclear family was considered the main type of family unit to function in our society.  As the incidence of complex families rise, so do the associated challenges.

University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen, the author of The Family: Diversity, Inequality, and Social Change, released a study in 2014. The study looks at the past 50 years and identifies some of the biggest changes in family life.  He identifies them as the decline of marriage (in 2010, 45% of households were headed by a married couple, whereas in 1960 it was close to 66%); the rise of the number of women in the paid workforce; and the whole stew of blended, remarried and co-habiting families. Families headed by single mums‚ whether divorced, widowed or never married, are now almost as common as families that have a stay-at-home mom and a breadwinner dad — about 22% and 23%, respectively. There’s also been a marked rise in people living alone and in people living together who are unrelated. Complex families really are the new normal.

[Tweet “In 2010, 45% of households were headed by a married couple, whereas in 1960 it was close to 66%.”]

The New Normal for Complex Families

How the average family looks is very different to 50 years ago. Cohen says, “In 1960 you would have had an 80% chance that two children, selected at random, would share the same situation. complex families, family law, parenting arrangementsBy 2012, that chance had fallen to just a little more than 50-50. It is really impossible to point to a ‘typical’ family. . . The increasing complexity of families means that even people who appear to fit into one category — for example, married parents — are often carrying with them a history of family diversity such as remarriage, or parenting children with more than one partner.”

So the nuclear family is rapidly decreasing in its hold on what constitutes an average family.  A nuclear family is described as a family with a Mum, Dad and child/children.  In the past it’s been used as a distinction from the extended family. The Simpsons are an example of a nuclear family. Homer and Marge are the parents, and they live with their children, Bart, Lisa and Maggie. The TV show Modern Family starts to give us a more accurate representation of complex family situations.  So you don’t get confused about all of the characters and their relationships, basically Modern Family revolves around an extended family which includes a nuclear family, blended family and same-sex family.

Complex Families Can Be Beneficial to Children

Shereen Kiddle is 45 and lives with her sisters, Laura and Tegan, in the city of Melbourne.  Together, the three of them are raising Shereen’s two children as well as Laura’s son. “We realise this is a unique opportunity at this stage of our lives, where shared family living suits us all,” Ms Kiddle said.There were many positive aspects to the arrangement, including “the enjoyable company, having someone else to rely on or share care with, and shared resources”, she said.“Ultimately, the sharing benefits the children, and improves our quality of life,” Ms Kiddle said.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies completed a decade of study on 8000 children around Australia.  An analysis of the results showed that 43 per cent of children under 13 now live in more complex households. This might be that they live with a grandparent, a single parent, a non-biological parent or with step-siblings or half-siblings.

[Tweet “43 per cent of children under 13 now live in more complex households.”]

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 21,840 divorces in 2014 involved more than 40,000 children. Australian Institute of Family Studies director Anne Hollonds said rising divorce rates had led to less stable de facto relationships, child-rearing by separated parents in double-family arrangements, and generations living together. “As long as children’s care is consistent, extra adult help can bring stability to family routines,” Ms Hollonds said. She also added that complex families could be hard on those found in them. “Some children find it difficult to move back and forth between two households while adjusting to parents with new partners and new half- or step-siblings,” she said. “These more complex family dynamics bring with them changes in family routines, relationships and responsibilities that can be confronting for some children.”

complex families, family law, parenting arrangementsBeing in a complex family is not all doom and gloom, though. Ms Hollonds says, “Two in five children will experience some form of family complexity before they reach the age of 13, with the potential for this to impact both positively and negatively”. A lot of how children are affected is correlated to the amount of conflict that exists in complex family situations, but also on the level of stability they are offered.  An environment which offers good, steady emotional and physical support goes a long way into developing resilient kids.

Nuclear Families Seem “Weird” To Some

For Ariel Reyes, she didn’t even know that her family was called ‘complex’.  To her the idea of living in a nuclear family is “weird” because she has never known anything different to her own perception as to what is normal.  Normal for 15 year old Ariel is having a mum, a dad and a step-mum.  “I always thought it was normal, I never realised it was different,” Ariel said. New research shows that one in five Australian children live at some stage during their childhood in households that don’t fit the stereotype of mum, dad and siblings.

Ariel quite likes her family’s arrangements. She says,”I see my dad basically every day, because they come over all the time.”  For her she has ‘extra’ parental help, rather than the ‘normal’ two parent family. “I think it is kinda good, because if I need one of them to pick me up or get me something and if they can’t, I’ll just ask another,” Ariel said.

At Divorce Lawyers Brisbane, we’re used to helping families navigate the new normal – complexity. Whether it’s divorce, financial arrangements, parenting arrangements or adoption, we can help you with any aspect of family law. Our family lawyers are experienced and friendly and can help you through a time that is often stressful.

If you’d like to speak to one of our family lawyers then please contact us today.  We can help with organising parenting arrangements that are child-focused. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation.