While the overall divorce rate in America is between 45-50%, the remarriage divorce rate (when at least one partner has been married before) has been reported to be 60% .Some of us who specialize in preventing divorce among couples in stepfamilies (“stepcouples”) have often speculated that the stepcouple divorce rate was higher given the added dilemmas of having children from a previous relationship(s).We may have been right.
In a personal conversation on December 10, 2004, Dr. E. Mavis Hetherington , principal researcher of the Virginia Longitudinal Study of Divorce and Remarriage and author of the book For Better or For Worse, confirmed that the overall divorce rate for stepcouples in her study was between 65-70% .Furthermore, because not all stepfamilies have the same level of complexity, Dr. Hetherington went on to specify that “simple stepfamilies” (where only one partner brought a child or children to the new marriage) divorced at a rate of 65%; when both partners had children from previous relationships (“complex stepfamilies”) the divorce rate was slightly more than 70%.
In sum, nationally representative data indicate that remarriages (whether children are involved or not) end in divorce at a greater rate than first marriages.It appears that individuals entering remarriage with a child divorce at a higher rate than individuals entering remarriage without children .Dr. Hetherington’s broader range researchsample of both clinical and nonclinical remarriages (though not nationally representative) indicates that over time, the incidence of divorce for couples in remarriages, particularly those with children, may be even greater than previously reported.
Perhaps now church leaders, family organizations, and marriage ministries throughout the country will begin to take seriously the need for stepcouple and stepfamily educational programs.To continue ignoring stepfamilies in our communities is to stand by and watch the dissolution of millions of marriages, exposing children to yet another parental divorce.
How Common Are Stepcouple Marriages?
Many church leaders and marriage educators still wonder if remarriage is a family circumstance worthy of our time, energy, and attention.Consider the following stepfamily statistics included in my recent executive report to Focus on the Family:
According to George Barna, 35% of born-again Christians have experienced divorce.Most of these people remarry  (75%) and many have experienced divorce a second time (23%).
46% of all weddings in the US today are remarriages for at least one partner.Most of these marriages include children from previous relationships (see the next statistic).
approximately 30% of all weddings in the US give birth to a stepfamily (i.e., are stepcouple weddings), and now we know that without intervention around 60-70% will end in legal divorce.
By the year 2010 it is predicted that there will be more stepfamilies in America than any other type of family (single parent or traditional first-marriage) .
Is your church or marriage program specifically addressing the complexities of stepcouple relationships such as parent-child-stepparent triangles, ghosts from previous relationships, financial considerations, stepparent roles and authority matters, children’s loss and loyalty issues, co-parenting dilemmas between ex-spouses, and later-life marriages?If not, then you are not really helping to prevent re-divorce because while general marriage education programs are helpful, they don’t address the specific issues mentioned above that lead to divorce in stepcouple marriages.If 60-70% of stepcouples are divorcing, then obviously what we’ve been doing isn’t working.If we are going to help keep families together, then we’ve got to change how we intervene.
So How Do I Help?
Begin first by educating yourself about the complexities of stepfamilies.This will not be an overnight process, but begin now to better understand the unique dynamics of stepfamilies that prohibit marital longevity.Then, apply what you are learning to your educational, ministry, or counseling context.
Smart Stepfamilies (www.SmartStepfamilies.com) is an educational ministry that 1) empowers pre-remarital couples and stepcouples through books, videos, and conferences for successful stepfamily living; and 2) equips teachers, ministry leaders, and therapists to understand stepcouple relationships and intervene effectively.For example, over 70 free online articles on a variety of stepfamily dynamics
and ministry strategies are available.Our Online Smart Store offers Christ-centered, research-informed resources for church and home use, including the book The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family (group study guide included),and Smart Steps/Growing in Wisdom, the most comprehensive stepfamily curriculum available.
A Safe Landing
Imagine climbing aboard an airplane, taking flight, and then discovering that you only have a 30% or less chance of landing safely at the appointed destination.Such is the case for the thousands of stepcouple weddings taking place in the US today.It is my belief, however, that with guidance and a church family standing in support, 80% of stepcouple marriages could survive, even thrive despite the odds.If Christians say we are against divorce, then let’s fight to prevent re-divorce, too.And if we are for families, let’s be for stepfamilies, too.We can train stepcouple pilots to navigate their flight for a successful journey.You can be part of the process.Log on to www.SmartStepfamilies.com today.
Ron L. Deal is Founder and President of Smart Stepfamilies, an organization that empowers remarried couples and stepfamilies and equips churches for ministry. He is author of the book The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family, creator/presenter of the Building A Smart Stepfamily conference, and has appeared on numerous programs such as Focus on the Family and FamilyLife Today to address the needs of stepfamilies. He is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor, a Certified Family Life Educator, and a member of the Stepfamily Association of America's Advisory Council and Institute Faculty. Ron and his wife Nan are also members of the National Advisory Board for The Association of Marriage and Family Ministries.Currently Ron is serving as Stepfamily Educational Consultant to Focus on the Family.
Special thanks go to Francesca Adler-Baeder, Ph.D. for her help in the development of this article.
 E. Mavis Hetherington is professor emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia.
 In her book For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered, Dr. Hetherington specifies the divorce rate for stepcouples to be “50 percent higher in remarriages with stepchildren” (p. 178).Specifically, then, the divorce rate is 65-70%.The Virginia Longitudinal study does not consist of a nationally representative sample, but is a broader representation of stepfamilies in America than other previous research.
 Bramlett, M.D., & Mosher, W.D. (2001).First marriage dissolution, divorce, and remarriage: United States. Advance data from vital and health statistics; no. 323. Hyattsville, MD: NationalCenter for Healthy Statistics.
 Glick, P.C. & Lin, S.L. (1987). Remarriage after divorce: Recent changes and demographic variation. Sociological Perspectives, 30(2), 162-167.
 US. Bureau of Statistics, 1995.
 Larson, J. (1992). Understanding stepfamilies. American Demographics, 14, 360.