The traditional definition of a stepfamily presumes that children live full-time within a particular household.
For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) defines stepfamilies as “…those formed when parents re-partner following separation, and where there is at least one step child of either member of the couple present.” (ABS, 2003: 6).
The problem with such a definition is that it fails to recognise the changing pathways that lead to stepfamilies in modern Australia, where stepparent-child relationships often cross household boundaries (Qu & Weston, 2005).
For example, this definition fails to include families in which children reside in the household part-time, or stepfamilies where the non-resident parent has re-partnered (Qu & Weston, 2005).
An additional problem is the use of confusing terminology. For example, ‘blended family’ is often used as a pseudonym for ‘stepfamily’.
On the other hand, the ABS makes a distinction between stepfamily and blended family: a blended family contains a stepchild, but also a child born to both parents (ABS, 2003).
One New Zealand study used refinements of the term – a ‘partial blended family’ comprised children of one parent only and a ‘full blended family’ had children of both parents.
Children born to the couple were not included in the definition (Dharmalingam, Pool, Sceats & Mackay, 2004, p. 72).
Other terms used to describe families are reconstituted, remarried, repartnered, merged, instant or synergistic instead of stepfamily, and ‘social parent’ may be used instead of stepparent.
SAVI considers a useful definition of stepfamily to be inclusive, making no distinction about gender, residence or amount of contact with children, and focusing on its unique structure.
SAVI defines a stepfamily as a family of two adults in a formal or informal marriage where at least one of the adults has children from a previous relationship. There may be children from the current union.
Children may live-in full-time or part-time or may not currently have contact. This definition does not distinguish between dependent and independent children.