The plight of the single parent...where do I start?!
Your assets are halved, your household income savaged, both made worse by your ability - or lack thereof - to work unless you have free, or highly subsidised childcare. Throw in the stress of separation, the emotional aftermath of a bitter ex, and now the crushingly high cost of living issues, and it is no wonder New Zealand's collective mental health is in the toilet.
Having been a single parent myself, without the benefit of free child care from family living living on another continent, I am familiar with the pain.
My childcare arrangement, as a full-time working mum, consisted of a patchwork of friends, other school mums, cheap after-school programmes and a revolving door of young nannies. This was pre-covid and pre-WFH when your absence at work was noticed. If it was a reoccurring thing, you would likely get the axe. Journalism was merciless. Maybe it still is? Stories don't write themselves.
It was a stress fest of unceasing deadlines, juggling of childcare and a lot of running around to manage a household on my own. Student flatmates to make ends meet, sick kids, parent teacher interviews and the elusive goal of work life balance.
It was several years before I was able to carve out a four-day workweek that included a few days of school pick-ups. On the one hand, it was reassuring the kids were at home and not in the after-school programmes they despised, but it was also a pressure cooker trying to get interviews done with kids banging at the office door demanding sandwiches and snacks, and hard deadlines hanging over my head.
Journalism is a tough gig because you have to deliver. And at the risk of sounding ancient, before the media was savaged to its existing skeletal state, there was a fortress of subs to get through, which meant you couldn't just rewrite a press release and file it with a single quote. Single-source stories were (rightly) thrown back in your face, and typically, you had 2-3 sources so you and your readers could be offered differing perspectives. But this is not a pity party. I'm just glad I'm at the other end of it.
I was reminded just how tough it can be after catching up with a good friend going through the wringer with a terribly messy divorce, made even worse by money problems and custody issues.
I shared some resources with her and thought this week's blog might be helpful for others in the same boat.
Know your rights
In the case of my friend, who was the leaver in the relationship, her ex took revenge in the most cowardly way, via the children. Because she was forced to leave the house, she was left homeless, literally. Her access to the kids was another form of control, and abuse, which he used liberally to punish her. It is widely known that unless one parent is an abuser, you shouldn't prevent your kids from seeing the other parent. For some reason, my friend's lawyer advised her to try to get her relationship property matters sorted first, and for almost two years, they have not had a custody order. The effect of this has been soul-destroying for my friend.
Know your rights. Visit the Ministry of Justice website here for Relationship Break up guidance.
Get your finances sorted ASAP.
As dreadful as it may seem to think about doing a budget, getting a second job or figuring out if you'll be left homeless, you need to be pragmatic. Figure out your financial position and try to get some agreements while formalising your separation and relationship property.
If you're the primary caregiver and work a minimum of 20 years, you will likely be eligible for Working for Families, and the additional support is not insignificant. Apply for what you can as soon as possible, and if its child support, make sure you get that in train ASAP via Inland Revenue. One friend, assumed that lawyers would make things happen faster, and to better effect but was left instead high and dry.
She didn't see a single cent and is still waiting for resolution in the courts. If she had gone to Inland Revenue in the early days, at least she would have had help with child care costs. You can work out what your potential support payments are from WFF here.
Get the support you need
Don't stress, if you can't afford a lawyer. You may qualify for legal aid. You can also consult with the Citizens Advice Bureau to get further support.
Like cancer, the longer you let your problems fester, the worse the outcome will likely be. Surround yourself with loving, helpful and supportive people, and try to minimise the time spent wallowing in anger, sadness or bitterness. Easier said than done, I know but focusing on taking some practical measures will not only be helpful for you, and your kids but also distract you from the pain and grieving you inevitably need to process. "Getting through it all" takes much longer than you may expect. Years in fact.
So, it is best to get on with the things you can change, like bank accounts, mail forwarding, and child care arrangements, so you can rebuild the life you desire, along with your tattered finances.
Procrastinate at your own peril.
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Amanda is a personal finance specialist and published author based in Auckland, New Zealand. She is also a certified meditation and yoga instructor which informs her teachings on financial wellness.
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