Family violence Family law Single parenting Talking about breaking up Visitations Changing a child’s name Getting a passport for your child Connect with single mothers Your wellbeing Your children’s wellbeing
Single mother families can be as healthy and as functional as two parent ones – we know this, and increasingly research is proving it. Children in our families are often more resilient and thoughtful and while we have many challenges, we also have strong relationships with our children and wonderful times of joy and satisfaction.
Single mother families are as varied as couple families – from Indigenous families to Muslim families, from financial secure to doing it hard, from grandmothers parenting again, to young mums. The issue we encounter are just as varied, so in this area there’s information on parenting solo, family violence, family law, changing your child’s name or getting a passport, breaking up, visitation, connecting with other single mothers and the wellbeing of both single mums and kids.
One significant difference between single mother families and couple families in Australia is the concentration of financial hardship, with ACOSS research showing that 33% of single parent households were living in poverty in 2014, compared with 10% of couple families.
Another difference is the experience of family violence, as many single mother families are created when women leave and start rebuilding their lives.
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What is family violence?
Family violence or domestic violence is any violent, threatening, coercive or controlling behaviour perpetrated within a current or past family, domestic or intimate relationship.
Family violence is determined not only by physical injury but also through:
⦁ direct or indirect threats of harm
⦁ sexual assault
⦁ emotional and psychological torment
⦁ economic control
⦁ damage to property or belongings
⦁ social isolation
⦁ any behaviour which causes another person to live in fear
⦁ behaviour that causes a child to hear, witness, or otherwise be exposed to the effects of any of the above.
While it is true anyone can experience or perpetrate family violence, family violence is a crime predominantly perpetrated by men against women.
Signs of abuse
Abuse can be difficult to identify because the violent person doesn’t always act this way or you may not recognise what you are experiencing as violence.
It’s quite normal for couples to argue and so long as each partner feels respected and confident to voice their opinions, arguing can be a sign of a healthy relationship. If you often feel afraid of upsetting the other person however, you feel you can’t say no, or you change your behaviour to avoid their anger, then this can be a sign that you are being abused.
Does your partner, your ex, or any other family member:
⦁ Control, limit or prevent you from seeing family or friends?
⦁ Threaten to hurt you, your kids, family members or a pet?
⦁ Make you feel scared to say no to them?
⦁ Smash things or threaten to damage or withhold your belongings?
⦁ Limit your freedom in any way – i.e. lock you in your house or car?
⦁ Force or trick you into having sex or do sexual things you don’t want to?
⦁ Constantly check where you are and what you’re doing?
⦁ Call you names or belittle you?
⦁ Try to damage your relationship with your kids?
⦁ Control, limit or withhold access to money?
If you said ‘yes’ to any of these, if you don’t feel safe, respected and cared for, then something isn’t right and chances are high you are experiencing family violence.
Family Violence and your Kids
While most mums try hard to protect their kids from violence in the home, kids are very sensitive.
Exposure to family violence can have serious impacts on a child’s current and future physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing.
Children exposed to family violence may:
⦁ Feel frightened, helpless or unsafe
⦁ Try to protect their mum
⦁ Feel angry and blame her
⦁ Think it’s their fault
⦁ Feel unwell with stomach cramps or headaches
⦁ Have trouble concentrating or difficulty at school
⦁ Have difficulty with friendships
⦁ ‘Act out’ or withdraw
⦁ Learn that violence can give them control over others.
Some partners will try to deliberately damage the relationship between a mother and her children. They may:
⦁ Tell your kids you are a ‘bad’ mother
⦁ Encourage them to ignore what you say
⦁ Override/undermine your authority
⦁ Stop you from attending to your child
⦁ Express jealousy of your pregnancy or when you are breastfeeding your baby.
What you can do for your kids:
Remember, while you do have a responsibility to protect your kids as best you can, you are not to blame for your partner’s behaviour. A warm and supportive relationship with you or another family member can make a positive difference for children.
You can help your kids by:
⦁ Giving lots of cuddles
⦁ Reminding them often how much you love them
⦁ Asking how they feel, listening and giving them opportunities to talk about the violence
⦁ Reassuring them the abuse is not their fault
⦁ Letting them know that other kids have similar experiences and assuring them any feelings they are experiencing are normal
⦁ Showing them respect and helping them show respect for others
⦁ Letting them know it’s not their role to protect you
⦁ Showing your kids you are interested in them – play games with them, support their achievements and involve them in sport and community activities
⦁ Getting help and support for you and your kids.
Make a safety plan
It’s important to think carefully about your safety and prepare yourself with a safety plan in case you or your children are in physical danger.
Whether you decide to stay or leave the relationship:
⦁ Plan where you can go and who to call in an emergency
⦁ Keep important items together in a safe place in case you need to leave suddenly —such as copies of birth certificates, bank cards, Centrelink details, money, medication, clothes, keys
⦁ Teach your kids what to do and who to call if they don’t feel safe
⦁ Talk to someone
⦁ Take ‘time out’
⦁ Call a family violence service. They will support you and provide you with information and advice to help you keep you and your child safe
⦁ Find out how the law can protect you.
Violence after separation
Many people and often even the Family Court assume that violence ceases at separation. For many single mother families however, this is not so. Continuing violence can take the form of:
⦁ Economic and financial abuse (e.g. where your partner has put all the debts in your name, fails to pay child support and/or hides their income so the child support assessment is low)
⦁ Cyber stalking (e.g. Impersonating you or spreading rumours about you, posting embarrassing, fake or intimate videos, photos or comments about you on social media, constantly messaging or texting you in a way that makes you feel intimidated or scared etc.)
⦁ Continuing physical harassment (e.g. damaging your house or car, sitting outside the school etc.)
CSMC knows violence has ongoing impacts across every stage of leaving the relationship and re-building your life. The good news is that increasingly other key agencies also understand.
Where to get help
If you are in immediate danger call 000 and ask for police assistance.
If you are in need assistance and are not in immediate danger contact safe steps Family Violence Response Centre on 1800 015 188. safe steps is a state-wide service for Victorian women and their children who are experiencing family violence. http://www.safesteps.org.au/
For counselling and advice contact 1800 RESPECT https://www.1800respect.org.au/
Alternatively, you can contact us at the Council of Single Mothers and their Children on 03 9654 0622 or 1300 552 511 if you are outside the Melbourne metropolitan area.
For other resources go to Domestic Violence Resource Centre: http://www.dvrcv.org.au/
For women outside Victoria seeking advice or assistance please go to: http://www.dvrcv.org.au/talk-someone/services-other-states
Relationships Australia provides relationship support services for individuals, families and communities to help build positive and respectful relationships. They have also developed this useful guide for women on how to stay safe during and after separation.
What is ‘family law’?
Family law deals with most legal matters relating to separation and divorce. It deals with the best interests of the children and their care, of children including where they will live. The Family Law Act is relevant in every state in Australia and applies whether you are married or in a de facto relationship.
Some key things to know
The best interests of the children
The Family Law Act says that the best interests of children are the most important consideration when making decisions about them.
Here are two critical things that are considered when working out what is in a child’s best interests.
- Children have a right to a meaningful relationship with each parent; and
- Children are protected from physical or psychological harm, abuse, neglect or family violence.
If the safety of the children is an issue, then number 2, the safety of the children, will be given a higher priority.
There are other things that can be taken into account in working out children’s best interests. Some of these are:
- What children think about arrangements, their personality and background.
- Children’s relationship with each parent and other people in their lives (like grandparents and step-parents).
- Each parent’s attitude to their children and to their responsibilities as a parent.
- The effects that any changes parents are proposing will have on their children’s lives.
- Any difficulty or expense associated with the children spending time with each parent and how that affects their relationship with each parent.
- Each parent’s capacity to provide for the children’s needs.
It may be useful to know that in the Family Court, children have rights and parents have responsibilities to make good decisions about them, care for them, and protect their children from harm.
If you and your ex-partner do not want to go to court and can negotiate an agreement between you about parenting your children, you can do so. This might be a verbal or written agreement or a signed parenting plan. You can have help from a lawyer or do it yourselves. These work well for many families but it is important to know that an informal agreement is not binding and neither parent can force the other to keep to it.
Parents who cannot agree on care arrangements for their children are required to engage in family dispute resolution before going to court. The court requires a certificate from a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner saying you have attempted dispute resolution before a case concerning your children can be heard in court.
You may be granted an exception to the requirement for family dispute resolution if:
⦁ your matter is urgent, or there is a history, or current risk of family violence or child abuse;
⦁ you are applying for consent orders or responding to an application;
⦁ one of the parents is unable to participate effectively (e.g. due to incapacity or geographic location); or
⦁ a party has shown a serious disregard for a court order made in the last 12 months.
Anyone who applies to the court for an exception you will have to provide information showing how that exception applies (e.g. violence orders will show some evidence if the reason is family violence).
If your exception relates to a family violence or child abuse matter you need to be able to satisfy the court there is a genuine risk to you or your children. It is important to get advice on this as many women have found the Family Court less than understanding. In worst cases, mothers have been seen as blocking a relationship between the child and second parent and in extreme cases even lost custody of their children. The good news however is that the Family Law Act is being reviewed now to make sure any issue of violence raised by either parent or the children is dealt with properly.
It is important to see a lawyer you feel confident with and who is straight with you about requirements and the potential risks. If you don’t have a lot of money, it makes it hard to shop around. Do you know someone who has been in a similar situation? Do they know a good lawyer?
Where to get help
The Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321 is a free government service. It provides information and advice on options and services available to you.
⦁ Are you concerned about your safety at court? Contact the court via Live Chat www.familycourt.gov.au /www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au Phone: 1300 352 000 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
⦁ Check if you are eligible to apply for Legal Aid for yourself and/ or your children at the Victorian Legal Aid website. This website also has useful tip sheets and quick reference guides on things to do with family law. If you can’t afford a lawyer, they have advice on how to represent yourself. These resources are available in multiple languages and are all free to download.
⦁ For information about Family Dispute Resolution click here.
⦁ For information on the Family Law Court click here.
⦁ For information on family violence click here.
Being the parent you want to be
⦁ Parenting alone has its ups-and-downs. CSMC members wrote Single Mothers – a resource for parenting solo a few years ago as a useful guide for single mothers and it remains very helpful.
Download Single Mothers – a resource for parenting solo.
Download in Arabic here.
Download in Chinese here.
Download in Vietnamese here.
⦁ There are good resources and tip sheets on the Parentline website
⦁ Alternatively, call our professionally trained telephone workers, who are or have been single mothers and will listen and provide support, information and referrals
What to tell the kids about the break-up
The Better Health Channel provides a few pointers on what to tell children when their family is separating. This doesn’t cover violence but the suggestion to not criticise the other parent is a good one, no matter how hard it may be.
Because it’s for the Kids is a useful booklet that describes how babies, children and teenagers respond to conflict and separation. Importantly, it makes the distinction that research shows it is not just separation that harms children but on-going and unresolved conflict between parents. There is a poem in the booklet by 11-year-old Rachael that makes this clear.
In addition, there are suggestions about how you can help minimise the conflict that may be happening after separation such as:
⦁ Keeping children out of the middle of arguments
⦁ Not asking children to carry messages to the other parent
⦁ Not asking the child personal questions about the other parent
⦁ Giving permission for the child to enjoy being with their other parent.
Parenting doesn’t come with a manual and every circumstance of separation is different. On top of this, sometimes there are changes to the Family Law Act that you might need to take into account.
Reading is useful, talking to other parents can be helpful, and CSMC workers are available to talk on the telephone or respond to emails.
Visitations – do I have to make my kids go if they don’t want to?
Do you have a Court Order? Our blog by Melbourne lawyer Dara Isaacson, posted on July 23, 2015 deals with the compliance issues involved.
Her key messages are:
⦁ If there is a Court order in place, you must have a reasonable excuse if you fail to comply. Generally, kids throwing a tantrum is not a reasonable excuse. It’s a bit like children not wanting to go to school. Are they just tired and will have a good time when they are there? Are they worried you will be lonely when they go, or is something nasty happening; maybe they are feeling intimidated? The Court expects you to sort out the real reasons and encourage the children to go ahead with the visit.
⦁ Factors the Court will take into account if your child does not regularly go on visits are things like their age and maturity level, history of the court proceedings and history of any family violence, as well as your attitude and actions.
⦁ This is a rule of thumb for what you need to do:
You do have to take the child to the place of handover as ordered by the Court.
⦁ If the child says they do not want to go, you have a positive obligation to encourage the child to spend time with the other parent, for example:
⦁ Saying to the child that they will have fun with the other parent before they go
⦁ Showing by your body language and words that you support your child spending time with the other parent
⦁ After the visit, talking with the child about what they did with the other parent and being positive about it. (e.g. ‘you went to the zoo with Dad? That’s great! What animals did you see?’).
⦁ Do these on a regular basis and hope the child feels better about the visit.
⦁ Dara also says that if you believe your child’s safety and well-being are at risk by spending time with the other parent, even when there are Court Orders in place, then seek legal advice about what your options are.
⦁ This is a useful checklist for both the custodial and non-custodial parents.
⦁ Beyond the ordinary challenges of encouraging children to see their other parent and possibly your own resentment about things like unpaid child support, there is the heartbreaking reality that there is far too much family violence in Australia and children may be genuinely afraid to go to their second parent. Community organisations are working to improve the decisions of the family court to ensure no child is ever in this position, but we know courts can get it wrong. If this is your situation, these resources might be helpful:
- Women’s Legal Service Victoria have a free legal aid phone line
- Victorian Legal Aid also have free phone and walk in appointments with lawyers
- Your friends and other single mothers who have found a great lawyer or a strategy that works
- CSMC workers can discuss other options and strategies with you.
Changing a child’s name or birth certificate
It is possible to change a child’s name if the circumstances are right. If you want to do this, it may be important to get legal advice, as there are a lot of variables and things that can go wrong if you are not sure about the process.
If both parents are involved and agreed, it is likely to be more straightforward. If both parents agree about a change to their child’s name, it is a good idea to formalise this legally to avoid future problems. You can do this through Births, Deaths & Marriages Victoria or the relevant government department in other States.
A trickier situation occurs where the biological father has no contact with the child and for reasons such as violence, the mother does not wish to make any contact with him over the issue. If one parent feels they have good reasons for seeking to change a child’s name, they can make an application to the same Births, Deaths & Marriages Victoria or the relevant government department in other States.
The bar is much higher when one parent makes the application, with the change likely to be granted if:
⦁ Only the requesting parent is named on the child’s birth certificate;
⦁ The other parent named on the birth certificate has died (a copy of the Death Certificate will be required as proof); or
⦁ The Family Court or Federal Circuit Court has made an order, for example in the case of the violence or other factors.
There are forms to fill out and evidence to provide and even then, it is not a simple transaction. If it goes to court, a Magistrate or Judge will consider the criteria below and decide if it is in the child’s interests to allow the name change:
⦁ The child’s age and any wishes expressed by them
⦁ Ways the change might affect the child in the short and long term
⦁ Any advantages or disadvantages both short and long term to the child if there is no change
⦁ The relationship between the child, each parent, any siblings and likely future relationships
⦁ Any embarrassment to the child if they have a different name or keep the same name
⦁ Any identity confusion the child may experience if his or her name is changed or is not changed.
A parent wanting to stop a change of name will need to make a Court application for an Order. These applications are made similarly to other parenting orders.
Obtaining a child’s passport
Much the same as changing your child’s names, there are different processes for different circumstances when applying for a passport.
If the other parent agrees to the passport and the travel, the application process is straightforward.
If you are in Family Court proceedings or have orders that mean the other parent has regular contact with the child, you will need to make the application. This will be either with full parental consent, or through an Australian Court Order where the Court can take into account any exceptional circumstances and both views.
There is another way that suits some very particular circumstances, which is trickier to manage and relates to the complex Passport Act.
⦁ It may be possible to obtain a child’s passport without the other parent’s consent or an Australian court order permitting issue of a passport.
⦁ While it is harder to obtain and longer waiting periods apply (generally six to eight weeks) it is possible to do so under the Australian Passports Act 2005.
⦁ Under the Family Law Act (cth) 1975, if both parents have full parental responsibility then it is up to the person making the application to obtain the consent of the other parent however, this is not always possible.
⦁ Section 11(2) of the Passports Act 2005 allows an application to be made under “special circumstances”.
⦁ According to the provisions in the Act “special circumstances” include, and are not limited to, the following:
- inability to contact a non-consenting parent for a reasonable period of time,
- the existence of a family violence order against the non-consenting parent,
- satisfaction that that the child’s welfare (physical or psychological) would be adversely affected if the child was not able to travel internationally, or
- in case of a child who is outside of Australia (and departed more than 12 months ago) and needs to travel back to Australia.
If you think you have circumstances that are close to these, it may be worth getting further advice to see if they are covered.
⦁ If these “special circumstance” fit your situation then you can make an application to have a child issued with a passport using Form B-9 “Application for an Australian travel document”.
- To access this document use this link where you will find the form and evidence needed to make the application.
The bar for making the application is higher but if “special circumstances” exist then the passport office can issue a child with a passport.
If you want to research this issue further, these links may help:
⦁ The Australian Passport Office takes you through various options
⦁ Family Court Fact Sheet covers a range of scenarios, including if you need to stop another parent taking your child out of the country
⦁ Singlemum.com.au has a piece from their lawyer on the topic.
Meeting other single mother families
Two things that have been important to our members over CSMC’s whole history are single mothers wanting their children to meet and know children from other single mother families, and single mothers wanting to share their experiences with others in similar situations.
As our members are all over Victoria and across Australia, social media is a great way to connect both with us and with other single mums. When funding is available, we also organise activities to connect with other single mother families, such as annual events and in the past, camps and local lunch groups.
Here are some links and ideas:
⦁ CSMC Facebook
⦁ Singlemum.com.au has lots of information and links
⦁ Meetup can be used to find other local single mother families and arrange activities like park dates. Meetup is a website that connect ⦁ people with similar interests in the same area, to either form a group or join an existing group and then organise to do things together. You can use this site to explore what is available, and to create or join a group for single mothers and their kids in your local area.
⦁ United Sole Parents of Australia is a closed Facebook advocacy group that is a strong and passionate network of single parents fighting for justice, in particular in relation to government benefits.
⦁ Single Mothers forum is an online site for single mothers to discuss a range of issues
⦁ Parentlink is a single parents group run through the YMCA which some of our members have recommended
⦁ Single Mum Vine Facebook group is a closed group for mums to share parenting challenges and personal experiences. Just search Facebook for the group and ask to join
⦁ Lift is not free but is a great e-magazine resource for mums flying solo and also sponsors amazing events like trekking in Nepal
⦁ West Footscray single mums playgroup meets fortnightly at the West Footscray Neighbourhood House on Saturdays, with facilitators who speak English and Vietnamese. Call the Neighbourhood House to find out more 03 9687 3345.
⦁ Single Mums Support Castlemaine is a closed Facebook group with local information, connects and resource sharing.
⦁ Bendigo Surrounds Single Mums in Need is a closed Facebook group for single mothers in the area.
If you know more links, please email us at email@example.com and we will post them.
Looking after your health & wellbeing
It’s important to look after yourself. Even though most of us tend to focus our energy and attention on our children, research shows that if we, as parents, neglect our own health and well-being too much, our kids can suffer. To be the best parent you can be, some self-care is vital. Here are some starting points:
⦁ You matter – this article is down to earth and written by a single mother
⦁ Healthy parent = healthy kids – turn to page 22 of our resource for single mothers, which you can download for free
⦁ Lust and the single mum – we found this fun and realistic article from Ireland (quite a long read), that might help you laugh and start planning even if sex is not currently on the horizon
⦁ Worried about something? Ring us 03 96540622 or after hours you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Parentline on 13 22 89, 8am to 12pm, 7 days per week
Fostering your children’s wellbeing
Our children matter to us more than anything and we are constantly learning and trying to get it right. These sites have some helpful resources:
⦁ Raising Children Network – lots of information for parents of all kinds
⦁ Single Mothers Resource – this book was written by single mothers, for single mothers and is available to download free from our website in English, Arabic, Chinese and Vietnamese
⦁ Activities plus – it is in the nature of children to play and to relax outdoors. Arranging play dates with friends, going to local and different parks, playing games with them, and encouraging their imaginations are all ingredients for greater happiness and relaxation
⦁ Indoors – it helps if you can make fun of chores and have regular times for reading, board games and so on
⦁ Extra-curricular activities – we all want our children to follow their interests and get to participate in sports or other activities that engage them and teach them new skills, but these can be very hard to afford on a tight budget. We are collating a list of free or discounted extra-curricular
⦁ Dental and mental health are critically important to the well-being and happiness of children. There are a range of services available such as the free dental services for children and teens and Child and adolescent mental health services
Do you have other resources or links that would be useful to other single mums? Email firstname.lastname@example.org