Sole Parent: Meaning, Comprehensive Guide, Foresight
As of 2021, nearly half of Australia’s 959,000 sole parent families were due to divorce or separation.
This equates to about 460,000 families navigating single parenthood post-divorce, predominantly led by women (83%).
With over a third having children under 10, these families face unique challenges, necessitating robust emotional and financial support systems for their well-being.
What Does a Sole Parent Mean According to the Australian Legislation?
In Australian legislation, specifically within the Family Law Act 1975 context, a sole parent is typically referred to as a parent who has ‘sole parental responsibility.’
This legal term refers to all the duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority that, by law, parents have in relation to their children.
Under this Act, parental responsibility encompasses all aspects of the child’s welfare and development, including decisions about their care, education, health, and religion.
In some cases, following a separation or divorce, one parent may be granted sole parental responsibility.
This means they alone are responsible for making these critical decisions about the child’s upbringing.
However, it’s important to note that this differs from custody or living arrangements.
Even if one parent has sole parental responsibility, the other parent may still have the right to spend time with or communicate with the child, depending on the situation’s specifics and court orders in place.
In most cases under the Family Law Act, the presumption is for ‘equal shared parental responsibility’, meaning that both parents are expected to make major long-term decisions about the child jointly.
The move to sole parental responsibility usually comes about due to court orders and is not the default arrangement.
In Australian family law, the Family Court decides whether Sole Parental Responsibility or Equal Shared Parental Responsibility is appropriate, based primarily on the child’s best interests.
Equal Shared Parental Responsibility: This is generally the starting point in family law matters.
The Family Law Act 1975 presumes that it is in the child’s best interests for their parents to have equal shared parental responsibility.
This means both parents share decision-making about major long-term issues like the child’s education, health, and religion.
However, this presumption does not apply when there are reasonable grounds to believe that a parent or a person living with a parent has engaged in abuse of the child or family violence.
Also, the presumption does not necessarily require that the child spends equal time with each parent.
Sole Parental Responsibility: The court can award sole parental responsibility to one parent if it is in the child’s best interests.
This may occur when one parent is deemed unfit due to domestic violence, drug abuse, neglect, or other circumstances that may endanger the child’s well-being.
In such cases, the court might decide that one parent should have the sole authority to decide major long-term issues regarding the child.
List of Australian Government’s Aid for Sole Parents
The Australian Government provides various financial support and services to assist sole parents.
Here are some of the critical forms of assistance:
Parenting Payment: This is the principal income support payment for parents or guardians to help with the cost of raising children.
The amount you get depends on your income, assets, and other circumstances.
Family Tax Benefit: This two-part payment assists eligible families with raising children.
Family Tax Benefit Part A is paid per child, and the amount paid is based on the family’s circumstances.
Family Tax Benefit Part B gives extra help to single parents and families with one primary income.
Child Care Subsidy: This helps offset childcare costs for families who meet the eligibility criteria.
The level of subsidy depends on family income, the type of child care service, and the level of activity (work, study, volunteering) of the parents.
Rent Assistance: This is a non-taxable income supplement payable to eligible people renting in the private or community housing market.
Health Care Card: Low-income earners, including many sole parents, can qualify for a Health Care Card for cheaper prescriptions and possibly additional concessions.
Child Support: If the other parent is alive but not living with you and your child, you may be able to apply for child support payments from them.
Newstart Allowance: If your youngest child is aged eight years or over, you may be eligible for the Newstart Allowance (now known as JobSeeker Payment), which provides financial help while you’re looking for work.
Carer Payment and Carer Allowance: These payments assist people who provide daily care at home for someone with a severe disability or medical condition.
It’s crucial to note that each of these aids has specific eligibility criteria that need to be met.
It’s recommended to visit the Department of Human Services or Services Australia website or to contact Centrelink directly for the most accurate and up-to-date information.
Please also consider seeking advice from a financial advisor or counsellor.
Need Guidance as a Sole Parent?
At Justice Family Lawyers, we specialise in addressing the unique legal needs of sole parents.
From child custody to financial settlements, we’re here to support and guide you, ensuring your rights and those of your children are well-protected.
Reach out to Justice Family Lawyers today. Let’s journey through your sole parenting experience together, securing a better future for you and your child.
Principal of Justice Family Lawyers, Hayder specialises in complex parenting and property family law matters. He is based in Sydney and holds a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Communications from UTS.