Whether you are a single parent by choice, or circumstances have chosen for you, there is no denying that parenting alone can be tough. Emotional needs aside, the sheer practicalities of finance, employment and day-to-day care take a lot more working out when you’re a single mum or single dad. It’s basic physics – there is only ONE of you!
The important thing to remember is that there is plenty of help available in the community, even if your own family is not supportive. Single parent support groups are active in just about every city in New Zealand, and you can get hold of them through your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
Single or solo parent support groups are there to help you through the challenges of single parenting, whether it’s legal advice, money worries, finding a family-friendly job, childcare options, relationship issues, parenting tips, or simply how to keep sane. The following tips are just some of what a single parent support group may offer you, but with local knowledge and a huge personal network, they will be able to put you in touch with exactly the right people in your area.
Custody Proceedings / Legal Issues
For some people dealing with the court system is a completely foreign experience, and many people who suddenly find themselves as a single parent, don’t even have a lawyer. Don’t panic! The legal system may seem scary, but trying to work things out without it can be even worse.
Ask a trusted friend if they can recommend a family lawyer, or ask your single parent support group for a well respected lawyer in your area. Your family lawyer will help you deal with any issues surrounding your separation including property settlement and custody agreements. Family lawyers specialise in these issues and they appreciate the emotional aspects of the situation. Your story may sound horrific or complicated to you, but it won’t be the first time your lawyer has heard it, and they really are there to help.
If you are not working or are in a low income job, you may be eligible for legal aid which will contribute towards some, if not all, of your legal costs. Mention that you think you might be eligible when you phone to make your lawyers appointment, and the lawyer’s secretary will tell you what you need to do.
The Family Court has an excellent website which provides up-to-date, easy to follow information about how the court system works, current legislation, how to make applications, and what actually happens in a court hearing. Visit www.justice.govt.nz/family and follow the links applicable to you.
The Family Court offers free counselling services for anybody having problems in their relationship, whether married, de facto, or a civil union. This is not designed to necessarily “rescue” the relationship (although that might happen), but more to make the separation process amicable and easier for the children involved.
They also offer free counselling for separated parents when agreements surrounding the children are not working. This may be when one parent applies for a parenting order, parents are disagreeing about visitation or access, or simply when communication breaks down in making decisions about the children. You can apply for free counselling by filling out a ‘Request for Counselling’ form at your family court, or downloading one from their website www.justice.govt.nz/family.
Whether you are working or not, parenting alone can be hard on the wallet, and often some major lifestyle changes are needed to make ends meet. Setting up a budget you can actually stick to is a good first step, and there are plenty of community agencies who can help you do just that. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can put you in touch with budget advisors in your area, or contact your Work and Income case manager.
If you think you can devise a workable budget on your own, check out the budget plan sheets at www.familybudgeting.org.nz. These sheets help you remember all the little things that are often forgotten when making a budget on your own.
As a single parent there are many forms of financial assistance you may be eligible for, even if you are in full time employment. Depending on your income you may be entitled to several supplements from Work and Income, including help with your accommodation and childcare costs. The ‘Working for Families’ initiative may also put some extra dollars in your pocket, and you can check out your eligibility by visiting www.workingforfamilies.govt.nz.
Like it or not, separation affects children in different ways and single parents — both Mum and Dad — often have to deal with issues that just don’t occur in a two parent home. Add to that the fact that a single parent is doing the job of two people, and there’s no denying it is hard work!
The Family Court offers a great programme for parents who have separated or are considering separation. The programme is free and is designed to help parents understand the impact that separation has on their children, plus provides practical ways to support children through the process. The programme is available in most centres, and you can find out more about your local programme by visiting www.justice.govt.nz/family and clicking on the ‘Parenting through Separation’ link.
There are plenty of other agencies which offer parenting courses, and some even have specific workshops for single parents. Contact your local Salvation Army, Plunket, Parents Centre or Citizens Advice Bureau for courses available in your area.
Trying to juggle work with child care is difficult, and there is no single option that is best for everyone. To help make a decision that’s right for you, check out the childcare options detailed on this site, or talk to your single parent support group about recommended options in your area.
Getting time out for yourself outside of work is also important. Get together with a group of friends and set up a babysitting circle where everyone shares the load, and gets some valuable time out. You can operate it on a roster or barter system, or simply find a group of people who are genuinely happy to help out when they can.
Useful Articles and Websites
Birthright – Support Group for Single Parents
This is an excellent national support group that works to support, strengthen and advocate for single parent families. You can read more about their services and contact details in our Birthright article in the Support Groups topic.
Family Court of New Zealand
The official website of the Family Court has a wealth of information, as well as down-loadable forms and publications for your convenience.
Relationship Services is a non-government, not-for-profit agency which provides skilled counselling and education services throughout New Zealand. You can read more about their services and contact details in our article Relationship Services.
WINZ (Work and Income New Zealand)
The WINZ website provides information about their services and benefits, as well as local and national contact details. You can also find some interesting resources there to help you to live within a tight budget.
Working for Families
Working for Families will pay extra money to New Zealand families. This assistance is brought to you by Work and Income and Inland Revenue.