You might be parenting on your own, or considering it. Here we explore some of the big questions you might face.
It’s not uncommon for couples to separate, before or after having a child. There are around 1.7 million single parent families in the UK, with one in four children living with one parent (ONS, 2015). In essence, if you're going it alone, you're not alone.
The single parent charity Gingerbread is a great source of advice and information. Our friends there can help you with what you need to think about, and where you can get help and support. Here we look at some of the main things to consider as a single parent:
How can I feel supported?
Splitting up or being faced with bringing up a child alone can be daunting. But, as Gingerbread says, you don't have to face it on your own.
As well as getting the right information and guidance, talking to other people in a similar situation can make all the difference. The Gingerbread website has lots of contacts, stories from single parents, friendship groups and a forum where you can meet other single parents and share experiences.
How will contact with the other parent work?
Many children will continue to have some kind of access to the parent they don't live with once they've separated (Gingerbread, 2017a). It can be quicker to work out arrangements privately although mediation services and legal procedures can help if you can't come to an agreement (Gingerbread, 2017a).
Contact can take many different forms and could take place in various locations. It could range from weekend stays and sleepovers at the other parent's home, to mediated contact in a neutral place for a couple of hours a week. It’s up to you to come to an agreement that works best for your child (Gingerbread, 2017a).
You could try using parenting plans to help you both give your child the right care and support (Gingerbread, 2017a).
If your child is still very young, it can be particularly important to keep arrangements simple and supportive. It's vital to remember to put the needs of your child first. Gingerbread says it might be easier for little ones to have contact in their own home (Gingerbread, 2017a). This makes them feel more comfortable (Gingerbread, 2017a). Plus, keep contact short but frequent (Gingerbread, 2017a).
How about money?
Faced with only one household income, it's natural that money worries might be front of your mind. But just because you don't live with the other parent, it doesn't mean they can avoid contributing. Their responsibilities include contributing to necessities for the child in terms of clothes, toys and so on, and the running of the household for things like bills and food (Gingerbread, 2017c).
According to Gingerbread, your child has a legal right to be supported financially by both their parents, and the government must help parents to uphold that right (Gingerbread, 2017b).
There are three ways to sort out the money situation with your child's other parent. If possible, it can be easiest to agree directly with them, deciding what will be paid, how and how often. This is called a family-based arrangement, which can be flexible and change as circumstances change. It's useful to write down the arrangement in case of disagreement (Gov.uk, 2019).
If you're unable to sort things out directly, the Government's Child Maintenance Service can help make arrangements such as how much the other parent pays, how often, and handle the financial transactions. They can also help find the other parent if you don't know where they live and sort out issues around parentage.
A court order can be used when there are circumstances that the Child Maintenance Service doesn't cover. These could be if the other parent lives abroad, or if there are extra costs to consider or if the other parent's income is very high and you want higher contributions (Citizens’ Advice, 2019).
Benefits and grants
Single parents can also get benefits and grants to help with the costs of bringing up their child. Gingerbread has a great benefits calculator to help you make sure you know what you can get. Gingerbread also has useful information on how to create a budget if you're a single parent.
Grants are available to single parent families who need financial assistance. Turn2us is a national charity that helps people find benefits, charitable grants and other financial help.
What are the legal and parental responsibilities for us both?
The parent who doesn't live with the child has no direct say over day-to-day parenting, although agreement on parenting styles is always useful. But there are certain decisions they legally need to be involved in (Gingerbread, 2017c). Areas such as education, religious upbringing, medical treatment and consent to leave the country need to be joint decisions.
You can get loads more information on parenting responsibilities from the Gingerbread website.
What about childcare?
Chances are you'll have to go back to work and that will mean sorting out childcare. But with different benefits, tax credits, free hours and more and more flexible working options, finding a balance that works for you and your child may be possible.
This page was last reviewed in December 2018.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby. To find out when an NCT nearly new sale is happening near you, search here.
You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Citizens’ Advice (2019) Child maintenance - where to start. Available at: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/family/children-and-young-people/child-maintenance/child-maintenance-where-to-start/ [Accessed 3rd January 2019].
Gingerbread. (2017a) Contact arrangements. Available at: https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/information/contact-arrangements/ [Accessed 3rd January 2019].
Gingerbread. (2017b) Child maintenance. Available at: https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/policy-campaigns/child-maintenance/ [Accessed 3rd January 2019].
Gingerbread. (2017c) Parental responsibility. Available at: https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/information/legal-help-and-responsibilities/parental-responsibility/ [Accessed 3rd January 2019].
Gov.uk. (2019) Arranging child maintenance yourself. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/arranging-child-maintenance-yourself [Accessed 3rd January 2019].
ONS. (2018) Families and households. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarr… [Accessed 3rd January 2019].