Marrying a Partner with Kids

Remarriages: Second Time Around Can Be Expensive for Spouse without Kids

In 1770, Samuel Johnson, an English writer, called second marriage, “the triumph of hope over experience.” He was right, says Denise Singleton of Pearland, Texas. “I did not know she (my husband’s ex-wife) was so difficult or I might have had second thoughts about marrying him,” says Singleton who has spend the last five years of her life helping her husband, James Singleton, battle his former wife in court.

Their struggle for custody of his children from his first marriage, ages 12 and 8, has caused enormous marital strife for the Singletons. This woman has tested my every being the pastfive years. “I can find something good in everyone, but not her, dealing with her is like playing a chess game,” she says.

The emotional toll has been severe, says Singleton. And so has the financial. “We are in the midst of financial ruin, even contemplating bankruptcy,” Singleton says. She, on the other hand, plays the sympathy card and always manages to get a lawyer to work for her pro-bono. “We would never qualify for that. We make too much money, but no one takes into consideration legal bills.”

The legal bills are plentiful. As of now, the Singletons owe more than $10,000 from their custody fight. And it is far from over. In fact this past January, the Singletons filed for custody of the children. “We are still going at it,” Singleton says. “The kids’ attorney at mediation told her that her recommendation would be for the kids to come live with us. We spent five hours in mediation after getting up at 2 a.m. in order to be there at 8 a.m.”.

She (his ex-wife) has caused hard times in my usually happy marriage, “I believe he is my soul mate and love him to death, but I constantly wonder how such a wonderful man could marry such a woman,” says Singleton who is going back to work now after staying home with her own children because of the financial difficulties. “My kids have seen me cry, they have cried, we have had financial problems because of her, which has caused resentment between my kids, my husband and his kids,” she says.

Singleton is not alone. For many who enter into a second marriage with a spouse who has children, the prospect of a second marriage can be a major risk, both financial and emotional. Roughly 60 percent of second marriages will end, compared to 50 percent of first time marriages.

Of those 15 percent will end in three years, while 25 percent will end in five, according to the National Survey of Family Growth, Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control.The reasons for these problems can be varied, Dr. Scott Haltzman, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at Brown University who specializes in relationships and men’s issues and is the author of “The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife’s Heart Forever.”

Haltzman encourages marriages to stay together the first time because second marriages with children bring a host of complicating factors that sometimes cannot be worked through. “It is impossible to entirely break off ties with an ex-spouse when there are children involved,” says Haltzman. “The ex wife’s involvement will likely be the source of some marital tension in the new marriage.”

This is certainly the case for the Singletons. “She uses the kids to play her games,” Singleton says. “They (both kids) both signed the preference forms last summer stating they wanted to live here, but the girl changed her mind as soon as she went home and mommy found out. The boy did not, he is miserable up there and wants to live here.”

Singleton says she would not have a problem with either child moving into their house. “The key to a good second marriage is to put one another first”, says Haltzman. “In a second marriage people are more likely to say they care more about the children than their spouse,” says Haltzman who believes that is a mistake. “Even in a second marriage, the priority has to be the marriage.”

Making that clear can be a very tall order, says Kyle Ramsey of Illinois, board member of the Children’s Rights Council of Illinois (CRC-IL) a non-custodial parents and children’s rights organization in Illinois that advocates for equal parenting time.Ramsey’s first marriage broke up in 1997, but he has remained active in the lives of his first two children, even while going on to have a third son with his second wife whom he married shortly after the divorce.

“I kind of feel guilty because I think I do neglect my wife and son a bit when they come over,” Ramsey says. “But it feels like such a struggle to get everyone together.” Ramsey says he is lucky because his wife has always understood. Still, he says, it cannot be easy for her. “It has been a big adjustment for her,” he says. “When they come over, she becomes a single mom for our son.”

Ramsey also says the financial ramifications of his divorce have also put a bit of a burden on his new wife. “She probably does pick up more of the expenses for our son together,” Ramsey says. “But she has never really voiced a lot of complaints.”

For Ramsey, making sure the children still feel loved and important in his life has been a top priority. To that end, he takes special trips with his older son. He stays very active in the lives of all three of his children. As a result, the three children are close with one another, something that pleases Ramsey. “Sometimes, I feel like we are forging new territory with our family,” Ramsey says.

“He, his wife and his ex-wife all came from more traditional families, so there was no blue print, no manual for us to follow,” says Ramsey who admits, there are definitely some challenges. “But for his family, the challenges have been workable. I am a marriage kind of guy,” he says. “We really are very happy.”

“For men entering into a second marriage with a woman who has children from a previous marriage, the challenges can also be significant”, says Marilyn Coleman, a human development and family studies professor at the University of Missouri, specializing in remarriage and stepfamilies as well as a member of the expert council of the National Stepfamily Resource Center, a division of Auburn University’s Center for Children, Youth, and Families.

“Women who divorce and become single parents tend to get quite possessive of their children,” Coleman says. “They often feel like it is them and their children against the world. The children tend to like having their mother to themselves and are not eager to share her with her new partner.”

This can lead to all sorts of problems, according to Coleman. “In my studies, biological mothers tend to guard and protect their children against their new husband — not against serious things like child abuse, but against perceived slights or the fact that he does not care about them as much as she does,” Coleman says. “And there is no reason why he should, he may barely know them.”

Roughly 54 percent of divorced women will remarry within five years, according to the National Survey of Family Growth, Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control. Coleman says a large majority of them are marrying for financial reasons. “Women often remarry for financial stability for themselves and their children,” she says. “They typically will say they marry for love, but when you probe, financial issues come out.”

This is not always a bad thing, says Coleman who cites financial stability for the woman as one of the benefits of remarriage.”Still, she admits second marriage is often a risky proposition and stepparents who want to take control of their stepchildren often fare the worst.”

Singleton says she has no interest in taking control of her stepchildren. She just wants to help them. “We have to call the school all the time, to keep up with pictures, report cards, grades, absences all of it,” Singleton says. “The kids miss school all the time. Before mediation, the boy had seven unexcused absences, and the girl had five.”

The Singletons want that to change. But the custody fight they started last year is going to be a long one. Just the other day, the Singletons found out that the court date they had hoped would be soon has been postponed again until at least March. “I am crushed,” Singleton says. I thought this would be over by now.”

Still, she is hopeful that at some point they will have the children and all of this will end. Even her lawyer has told her to give up, that she will not win.

About the authorSasha Brown-Worsham is a freelance writer in Boston, Mass. who has written for the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Technology Review, and many other publications.

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