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The Single Mum Starter-Kit
A guide for newly-separated mothers
SingleMum.com.au Staff | 16 February 2016
Here is some helpful information, tips and tricks…
…to being a single mum in Austraila…
Becoming a single parent, whether it is sudden or not, can be a real shock to the system. Everything changes. Big questions raise their head, along with numerous little ones. Where will we live? How will we afford to live? Who gets custody or access to the children? What if my ex won’t pay Child Support? It can all seem so overwhelming at first, but rest-assured that everything will be sorted out in time.
To help you smooth the way into this new phase of your life, here is some helpful information, tips and tricks to being a single mum in Austraila!
Housing – you’re going to need somewhere to call home for you and your children.
*If domestic violence is a factor, you need to approach leaving very carefully – this has been identified as one of the most dangerous times for domestic violence victims. Before you do anything, seek assistance and advice from Domestic Violence support services such as 1800 RESPECT.* *In some states of Australia you can even stay in the family home with the children and your partner can be made to leave*
When separating from your partner, don’t be compelled to leave the family home if you don’t wish to and if it is safe for you to remain – you and your ex partner can reach an agreement to continue to both live under the same roof yet legally separated, and so still receive Centrelink welfare benefits. If you do leave the family home, there are single parent options such as sharing a house or apartment with another single parent family, moving to cheaper suburbs or country towns (should child access arrangements allow), or you can consider moving back in with family until you find your feet again. Put your name down for government housing as soon as possible, however prepare for a long wait unless you are living in or prepared to move to an isolated or unpopular area. In any case, you may also be entitled to financial rental assistance from Centrelink.
Finances – if you suddenly find yourself without income, you need to get this sorted as soon as possible. See Centrelink – You’re not expected to live on air. There is a group of Centrelink crisis payments that you may be able to access. Even if you have a full-time income you may still be entitled to a low-income partial benefit. Call or visit Centrelink to discuss your options. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time whenever you do call or visit Centrelink, as wait-times can be lengthy. There are two main Centrelink benefits for single parents. Depending on your child’s age you may be entitled to the Parent Payment Single (if your youngest child is under 8 years of age) or Newstart (if your youngest child is over 8 years of age). In addition, you may be eligible for the Family Tax Benefit Part A and B and perhaps other benefits and supplements according to your income, child support and circumstances – you may even be entitled to Spousal Maintenance.
Child Support – You can check how much Child Support you may be entitled to or need to pay by using the Child Support Agency online calculator. Don’t feel guilty about pursuing Child Support – it is money to help improve your child’s quality of life, according to their parent’s income – either mother or father. It’s possible to make a private arrangement, however if you’ve worked out that you’re not receiving the correct amount of Child Support from your ex-partner for whatever reason, you can ask the CSA to collect Child Support from your ex on your behalf. The CSA can even garnish your Ex’s wage if they refuse to pay Child Support. Unfortunately, in Australia many single parents don’t receive enough or any Child Support due to their ex partner being unemployed, or child support avoidance. This is usually achieved by payers not lodging tax-returns for many years, or by not declaring cash-in-hand income. In any case you or the CSA on your behalf will need to pursue Child Support in order to receive full Centrelink benefits, unless you obtain an exemption for reasons such as not knowing who your child’s father is, or Domestic Violence. Don’t delay pursuing Child Support for too long either – the CSA will usually only back date for a limited time.
*It’s also good practice to secure any joint financial holdings or bank accounts by changing them so that funds can only be removed if both account holders sign for it. If one parent helps themselves to joint cash funds, it may be difficult to prove or ever be reimbursed for your fair share*
Property Settlement – Family law can be an expensive and complicated part of separating, but it’s very important to find out where you stand from a professional, independent party. The ideal is to amicably agree with your ex on how to divide any property, money and goods fairly, however things don’t always work out this way. Single parents are often left feeling that they were "ripped off" in their property settlement. With legal advice, you can protect your financial interests. For example, if you are the children’s primary carer, you may be entitled to more than a 50/50 property split. You may also be entitled to a percentage of your ex-partner’s superannuation, or vice-versa. For couples that were married, Property Settlement should be done within 12 months of your divorce – Defacto couples rules are similar, but do differ slightly. Family lawyers in your area can be found in the www.divorceandfamilylawyers.com.au Divorce Directory.
*The legal term 50/50 responsibility should not be confused with 50/50 shared custody, but rather a joint approach to decision making for matters affecting the child, such as school, religion and medical decisions*
*It’s not widely known, but you can Mediate with your Ex at the same Mediation centre without sitting in the same room – using a Mediator to communicate between separate rooms*
Child Custody – Child Custody is often the cause of much expense and angst during a relationship break up. If things are amicable between you and you can reach an agreement between yourselves then you can save a lot of money in lawyer fees. If appropriate, agree on a parenting plan with your ex partner and have it formalised by the Registrar of a Family Court as a Consent Order to protect all parties. If both parents agree to and sign the Consent Order you do not have to attend court, and forms can be downloaded direct from the government website. If you have no official court order such as a Consent Order and your ex partner decides to keep your child longer than agreed to between you during access, there may be significant delays before you can get your child back – possibly even months. Parenting Plans which have not gone through Family Court are not legal documents, but more of an informal agreement which police cannot retrieve your child with.
If you and your ex can’t reach an agreement regarding who your child lives with and spends time with, such as if one parent wants shared parenting and one does not for example, then you can consider using a Mediation (or "Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner") service to help you both reach an agreement. It is compulsory to obtain an official certificate from a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner if you wish to use the Family Court to decide your dispute over child custody access. This is to prove that you have attempted to reach a resolution between yourselves first. There are some exeptions where you don’t have to get a Compulsory Family Dispute Resolution certificate, such as Domestic Violence – read more here at the offical Family Court website.
*The Family Law Act 1975 (the Act) requires you to obtain a certificate from a registered family dispute resolution practitioner before you file an application for a parenting order* *Many single parents complain of feeling bullied into parenting plans that they did not really agree to during mediation. Mediators should be impartial and not attempt to force or coerce your decisions, or take sides – don’t agree to anything you believe is not in the best interests of the child.*
If you are headed to Family Court, you can receive free legal advice and possibly representation through Legal Aid or in some states from a free women’s legal service. Other options are self-representation, or engaging your own family lawyer. Your lawyer can also communicate for you with your Ex or your Ex’s lawyer.
As always with any single mum advice, always check with Legal Aid or engage your own lawyer before taking any legal action.
In this article we are not able to cover absolutely everything, however we have touched on many of the major frequently asked questions of new single parenthood!
Remember that things can always seem overwhelming or at their worst at the start, but as time passes everything will be worked out and you will settle into this new chapter in your life. Many single mums love their new-found independance and revel in their new single way of life. Others go on to repartner and open yet another new chapter in their lives.
Single parenting has its ups and downs, but like so many before you, you can do this and even make it work for you – good luck!
Please comment below if you found this article helpful, or if you have any further tips of your own!
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This article may not be reprinted, reproduced, or retransmitted in whole or in part without the express written consent of SingleMum.com.au. This article contains only general information. For advice regarding your own personal circumstances, always seek individual advice from a qualified professional. Read the full Singlemum.com.au Disclaimer here
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