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Jul 282014
 

centrelinkThere is a not so well known option available for many people who are welfare recipients and have hit a rough patch financially.

Centrelink offers an  “advance payment” to help you get by.

To receive an advance payment, you must be receiving one of the following payments:

  • ABSTUDY
  • Age Pension
  • Austudy
  • Carer Payment
  • Disability Support Pension
  • Family Tax Benefit Part A
  • Newstart Allowance
  • Parenting Payment (partnered)
  • Parenting Payment (single)
  • Widow Allowance
  • Widow B Pension
  • Wife Pension
  • Youth Allowance

There are however conditions on whether you can access the advance payment or not, including how long you have been a welfare recipient.

Generally you have to be receiving some form of income support for three months before you’re eligible but for Abstudy, Austudy, youth allowance (students) and family tax benefit there is no minimum time.

For Parents on the Family Tax Benefit

You can choose to receive the Family Tax Benefit advance as a one-off payment and/or as a regular advance.

A one-off advance is an advance payment you can receive on any day of the year. You can choose how much you receive, as long as the amount is within the minimum and maximum amount you are eligible for.

A regular advance is automatically paid to you every 26 weeks as long as you remain eligible, or until you ask us to stop paying a regular advance. The amount you receive as a regular advance will be the minimum advance amount. You can have only one regular advance in place at any given time.

You can have one or more one-off advances at any time, however the combined total of any regular and/or one-off advances is capped at $1,046.05.

You will need to pay this back and repayments are taken out by reducing the amount of your other payment.

See humanservices.gov.au to find out more.

Jun 272014
 

child-support-agency-mistakes-to-avoid-themWhile Tony Abbott was on the hustings during the last election campaign, one of the lesser known commitments he made was to hold a Parliamentary Inquiry into Australia’s Child Support system, if he won office.

Well win he did, but the exact nature of his election commitment was never really made clear. Why was another child support inquiry required? Who exactly was the existing system unfair against? Was it the dads, the mums, the kids, or was it everyone?

Speak to most dads and they will tell you that the Child Support system in this country is seriously flawed, with unrealistically high child support sums being demanded, in many cases in a punitive fashion, from over-stretched fathers who have already lost the house and a significant amount of their assets in divorce proceedings.

These same fathers are then hit by a calculated child support sum that over-inflates the cost of raising children in one household, while completely ignoring the cost of raising children in another.

And for most dads, this is the real issue with child support in this country. Its not about not paying your part of your children’s expenses. It’s not about wanting to see their kids only to reduce the child support you pay. It’s not about denying your ex any child support as a form of revenge or financial abuse. It has nothing to do with these sordid and fanciful notions that seem to exist only in the minds of apparent expert academics, or the always quotable spokespersons for one or another single-mothers group.

However if you attend the current Parliamentary Inquiry into Child Support or read through its daily transcripts, you will see that like all family law inquiries, this has been flooded by the same-old self-proclaimed experts, with the same old claims and demands.

For instance, Relationships Australia has told the inquiry that some parents are insisting on shared custody just so they can avoid paying child support, as if having a child living with you on a shared custody basis is somehow free or void of expenses.

Further to these claims, the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children has told the inquiry that some fathers seek custody of children one day a week, or every second weekend, just to get a 24 per cent “discount’’ on maintenance payments. It is a sad reflection on this advocacy group that that don’t realise that fathers too want to see their children…because they are their children, just like mothers.

“We remain completely unconvinced that 24 per cent discount in child-support payments in exchange for as little as 13 per cent care is fair or equitable,’’ the council’s submission says. “We are concerned that the significant and disproportional outcome is an economic driver, which is contradictory to the ‘best interest of the child’.’’

According to this group, maintaining a child’s bedroom, or a wardrobe of clothes, or a computer, or paying for your child’s weekend activities, and in most cases all of the above, is completely free and without cost, if you happen to be a father.

Listening to the shrill of commentary from the same old voices, this Inquiry, just like Tony Abbott’s commitment prior to the last election, is an exercise in futility, not meant to fix any specific problem. As it tries to be all things to all people, this Inquiry will end up with a eclectic mix of policy suggestions, to the anger of many and dissatisfaction of all, but at the end of the day it would do little to address the genuine concerns of many men, women and children forced to deal with this lumbering government instrument that like most things with government, was a good idea to begin with, but has gone and cannot be fixed by wishy-washy promises from politicians who don’t understand the problem to begin with.

Ash Patil

 

Jun 062014
 

single-mother-centrelink-benefitsJoe Hockey has condemned a “crippling” welfare culture that weighs down the federal budget, and warned that government benefits will not be treated as a right when the nation faces a $50 billion deficit.

The Treasurer told The Australian some benefits had soared to the point where it required tax revenue from three average workers to keep payments flowing to a single welfare recipient.

Predicting new burdens on taxpayers unless the payments were curbed, he urged Australians to accept there was no longer an “endless supply of money” to support government benefits. “The suggestion somehow that payments from government are a right is not correct — and governments themselves have been guilty of creating that culture over many years,” he said.

The warnings are based on government analysis that reveals some single parents are receiving $55,000 a year in tax-free benefits, including a pension, family tax benefits and study assistance. The calculations show that three workers on average salaries would pay about $17,000 in tax each to cover the sole parent’s benefits. Hitting back at claims his budget was unfair, the Treasurer countered the idea that taxes should be raised to match more than $7bn in welfare cuts so that every group carried the same share of the budget burden.

Mr Hockey said he “totally” rejected the parallel between taxes and benefits in some of the criticism of the budget, given that one took money away from workers while the other did not.

“When I increase revenue I’m taking money out of people’s pockets — and they’ve earned that money,” he said. “Whereas when you freeze the increase in the amount the government is paying, we’re saying ‘we’re just not giving you more than what you’re getting’. That is exactly what I’m trying to do.”

The remarks, in an interview yesterday, are another sign of the government’s hard line in the political fight over the federal budget when it is being urged to compromise to get controversial reforms through the Senate.

A day after Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull dined with Clive Palmer in an attempt to smooth relations, Mr Hockey ­appeared to mock the Palmer United Party leader by calling him “Professor Palmer” during question time.

Labor escalated its attacks on the budget, including a change in 2017 to slow the growth of the age pension, although the payments to 2.4 million age pensioners will continue to rise in line with the consumer price index.

Labor finance spokesman Tony Burke yesterday rejected changes to the pension, welfare, Medicare and university fees.

“The fight is very simple — it’s not like they’ve wedged Labor with this budget,” he told ABC TV.

“They’ve drawn the line ex­actly against our core values and, in terms of issues to fight on, we are on the strongest ground and on the issues that define us.”

Behind Mr Hockey’s warning on welfare is the government’s analysis of the benefits paid to sole parents such as a single mother who complained to the Treasurer about the budget. The exchange with the woman, who said she was voting Labor as a result of the spending cuts, prompted advisers to examine the benefits going to those in her situation. The Treasurer’s office estimated she would receive $54,417 in government payments including the Parenting Payment, both forms of Family Tax Benefit, several supplements, rent assistance and education supplements.

The calculations include the Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance, which would be $15,120 a year assuming she was using the help to put her children in care for 40 weeks each year when she worked about 27 hours a week.

Only two of the payments would be reduced as a result of the budget, the government said: the Pensioner Education Supplement, worth $1622, and the Income Support Bonus, worth $214.

According to the government’s analysis, the sole parent would receive $53,581 a year tax-free after the budget, compared with $54,417 before the budget.

The government’s calculations do not include looming changes to family tax benefits, where rates will be frozen and families will lose payments once their children pass the age of six, as well as a freeze on increases in parenting payments.

Mr Hockey said Australians had to accept that family tax ­benefits were not meant to be income but were a “supplement” for workers.

“That is why the culture of entitlement is crippling, because people assume it is income,” he said. “But family tax benefits are not an income — they are a supplement to income, whereas a pension is an income replacement. And that’s why pensions will continue to increase with inflation. Pensions will always increase because they’re an income replacement.”

Central to the attacks on the budget is the argument that it takes $7.4bn in family tax benefits away from those on low incomes while extracting only $3.1bn from wealthier Australians with the deficit tax on earnings above $180,000 a year.

The Australian Council of Social Service estimates that more than half the budget savings come from low and middle-income earners, including cuts to family payments and higher costs to visit the doctor or get subsidised ­medicines.

National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling principal research fellow Ben Phillips has warned that those on lower incomes are doing the “heavy lifting” in reducing the deficit.

Mr Hockey argued that Australians had to give up their expectations fostered by previous governments, including the Howard government, when it designed the family tax benefits.

The Treasurer countered the idea that people “deserved” payments but he backed the role of the state in helping those in need.

Feb 062014
 

child-support-agency-mistakes-to-avoid-themMistake #1 – You expect the CSA to be Fair and Unbiased (you’re joking right?)

Of the approximate 3600 staff at the Child Support Agency approximately three quarters are women. Of the number of parents paying child support nearly 90% are men. There is a perception of an endemic anti male culture in the Child Support Agency.

The following are extracts from the recent valedictory speech by retiring Federal Parliamentarian, Alby Schultz, on the rate of suicide amongst men as a result of the biased decisions of the Child Support Agency.

“Not surprisingly, that is the one constant I have been confronted with in many ways in this and another place in the past 25 years. Marginal seat politics, party-political point scoring, failure to act on serious social issues and irresponsible waste of taxpayers’ resources are both frustrating and morally wrong. As an example, in 2005 I produced a booklet based on three years of hard research about the Child Support Agency and its relentless, unjustifiable anti-male culture, which culminated in the suicide of a number of my young constituents. Confronting the very serious issue of male suicide caused by the gender biased CSA was treated as a politically sensitive no-go area by many politicians, which I embraced as a challenge on behalf of 4,000 families and individuals across the country.

That culture, despite some cosmetic changes, is still endemic in the CSA today. The increase in male suicides is due in no small part to the unrelenting anti-male culture of the CSA. The Lone Fathers Association, led by Barry Williams—the man is a saint—is taking 70,000 calls per annum from depressed males, many of whom are desperately trying to deal with CSA pressure. Were it not for him, the suicide rate would be even higher.

The incoming government would be doing a great service to oppressed payers facing criminal activity, such as entrapment and denial of natural justice—which is the modus operandi of the CSA today—and to the nation as a whole, if it introduced a parliamentary inquiry which would allow people to give evidence of the covering up of male suicides caused by the Child Support Agency. More importantly, it will give those living under threat of legal action by the CSA—if they release any part of taped conversations which prove intimidation, false information, abuse of civil rights and denial of natural justice—an opportunity to expose these issues under parliamentary protection.”

Be encouraged. You are not alone and no, you are not going crazy when you think you are being ‘hard done by’. Countless men’s groups, online forums and general discussions around the BBQ, along with damming statements like the above from Alby Schultz cannot be wrong.

CSA workers are not lawyers, they are trained under a system and backed by a litigation team. With the gender imbalance of the workforce, no matter how impartial a worker may be, they are human.
Let’s be fair and honest here, most workers have the best intentions to handle cases to the best of their ability, but keep in mind, with divorce rates soaring every worker has a friend, or a friend of a friend with a hard luck story that biases their decision.

One way to avoid this is to make sure you know all the rules, legalities and loop holes. In this busy world most people don’t, and let’s get real here.

Who has time for it, who understands it, and who wants the emotional turmoil of knowing you are in the right but having to justify your position, after explaining it for the tenth time!, to a faceless person on the end of the phone line who doesn’t even know it all themselves.

Make sure you do it though – educate yourself – or find someone that does know so you don’t have to and instead get on with living your life.

Mistake #2 – You Assume CSA will have your correct information from Centrelink and the Taxation Department in your child support assessment.

A couple of years ago there was a big Hoo Ha in the press about the sharing of records across all government departments – specifically, Centrelink, the Australian Taxation Office and the CSA.

While in ‘principle’ this is supposed to be the case forget it, and don’t assume that the CSA has any of your cross departmental records.

All too often the CSA records are NOT up to date. So if you are assuming, just because the other parent, or yourself, has completed the most recent tax return and lodged it with the ATO that this is reflected in your CSA file – think again.

Unfortunately it gets worse.

Centrelink records, and updated information on changes of levels of the care of your children, re-partnering or new births, or employment (you know, all the important stuff that changes your assessment) are also, more often than not, missing from the Child Support Agency records.

The bad news is, that if you are a paying parent it is likely that you are not only paying an incorrect rate, but will continue to do so while the slow bureaucratic wheels of the Child Support Agency continue to grind.

Meanwhile if you are a receiving parent waiting for funds or arrears, these will continue to accrue and stack up in the background while you continue to be left not only in the dark about what is happening to collect them, but also short on cash.

If you do know what information the CSA requires from you (and most parents unfortunately don’t) make sure you check each and every time you call that your records are up to date in regards to you or your ex-partners changes in circumstances.

Tedious we know – but if you don’t be warned it’s at your own peril – and don’t expect to be paying or receiving the correct amount.

Mistake #3 – You Expect To Be Given All Your Options.

Most parents when told they can apply for a change of assessment are informed of the obvious – That a change of income or earnings can change how much they have to pay. The rule is however, if your income has not reduced by 15% or more a request for re-assessment will be flatly refused.

What is often not said though is that, depending on your circumstances, there are often reasons that under the current legislation the Child Support Agency is obliged to consider a change to your assessment.

We have experienced countless stories of parents on many occasions paying child support at a higher level than is fair or necessary as they did not know of the many other options available to them that meant they were within their client rights to demand a change of assessment.

Do not expect the Child Support Agency staff to inform you of all the options available to you to apply for re-assessment – ask, drill down on them, and be sure to explore ALL your options.

Mistake #4– You Think When the CSA sends you a Penalty Bill for Arrears You HAVE to Pay – Wrong!

Finally some Good News!

You may already be aware (many parents are) that the Child Support Agency has the right to charge late payment penalties on arrears.

Over the years these penalties have been known to not only surprise paying parents, but increase the emotional and financial burden (let’s not even talk stress levels) and stack up to be as much as tens of thousands of dollars.

Not only do paying parents see their financial future slipping away before their very eyes, it also adds to the frustration and aggravation of dealing with the Child Support Agency on existing arrears.
What many child support staff will not tell you (there’s a lot the CSA is not telling you right?) is that there are certain circumstances when the penalties can be wiped from your file. In part or in FULL! Saving you thousands of dollars, your financial future, and countless nights’ sleep in the process.

Be aware though, you will need to present your arguments and grounds in a manner that gives them little room to move. Just recently we represented a parent who had arrears of more than $5,000 – we wiped it clean. So, yes! It’s possible. Be sure you find out exactly what your rights are when it comes to penalties, what deals can be made and how you can wipe this burden from your life.

Mistake #5 – You Expect to have a Case Officer – For Your Issue to Be Dealt With Promptly and for them to maintain accurate notes of your phone discussion.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to call the CSA once, get through quickly, speak to the same person you spoke to earlier, explain your situation and reach a solution. Easy right? Wrong!

The reality is: the Child Support Agency has approximately 3600 staff of which about 2000 handle 1 million incoming calls a year. Simply put – It is not going to happen.

Don’t assume you have a Case Manager. Most customers we’ve spoken to don’t.

Because of this, you must expect the frustration of having to explain your circumstances or your problem over and over again, and having to wait on the line for hours each time.

If you are a paying parent you will inevitably be frustrated. If you are a parent who is supposed to be receiving Child Support you will inevitably be frustrated too. If you are lucky or smart, and have someone representing you, they get to punch #2 when going through the CSA automated telephone system. The waiting cue is not only much shorter, but they also know exactly what to say to make sure action is taken around your case. The CSA workers also know that when talking to representatives they have to be on the ball – accurate and ensure all their dealings are above board and straight down the line.

This leads to the next mistake parents make when dealing with the child support.

Mistake #6 – You Don’t Get a Receipt number for your Call.

If you take one thing away from this report – take this – Get a receipt number for ALL your calls to the CSA.

It’s impossible for all Child Support Agency staff to accurately record all the details of each and every telephone conversations and the advice given on any given day. With hundreds of calls a day CSA staff are pressured to selectively choose, what is important to record, what advice they gave and whether any action should or
shouldn’t be taken.

How many times have you had a conversation with CSA, figured no action was being taken, only to receive a ten page letter in the post a couple of days later. A letter you had no idea was coming and no clue or understanding what prompted it and you can’t work out what it is about anyway.

So being the good parent you are, you set aside a window of time to call the CSA – again!…Only to have the CSA representative you are now talking to give you different and conflicting information or advice from your previous call – Arrrgh!

When you contact the Child Support Agency it is highly likely that the details of your earlier contact will be not be in the records – wasting time and increasing your frustration levels. This is how a 10 min call turns into hours.

Our advice – Get a receipt, ask for discussion points to be added to your record and take serious notes on the things that matter.

Mistake #7 – You Think The Child Support Agency is Actively Chasing Arrears on Your Behalf.

It’s bad enough to be owed substantial amounts of money, especially if you are struggling to pay bills as it is, what’s worse (and we hate to be the bearer of bad news) is that despite having the power to wield, the CSA is an overloaded system and as a result is just unable to put in the effort to actively chase every single arrears case on its books.

Don’t assume if you have extenuating circumstances that 100% effort and expertise is being put towards exploring the numerous options available to them.

# BONUS MISTAKE – You Think You Are Capable, Know all the Ins and Outs of the CSA and Try to Go it Alone

Hopefully by now you would have realised some of your suspicions about the CSA have just been confirmed. If you think you are capable of dealing with this overloaded government system without some kind of help, advice or assistance from someone that knows all the ins and outs of it you are wrong.

Sorry – let me be clear – perhaps if you had a law degree, and 24 hours a day to devote to it you may be OK – but I’m guessing you don’t, right?

Mistake #1 alone, that you expect the CSA to be unbiased, demonstrates the need for someone to hold the CSA accountable to legislation, to be in your corner and stick up for you.

As a parent dealing with the CSA please make sure you protect yourself against the stress, frustration, depression and ultimately in the most tragic of cases suicide by seeking support.

Download the Report

Dec 202013
 

Social-Media in family courtCan SMS Text Messages be used as Evidence in the Family Court? The short answer to this is YES, YES and YES again.

In fact, not only are SMS text messages admissible as evidence in the Family Court (and all other family law jurisdictions), but so are emails, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, skype transcripts, and YES, even comments on our very own Fathers4Equality Blog, and any other electronic messaging that have become ubiquitous in the time of accessible mass communication.

free trialTry Readnotify now – register online for a free no-obligation trial.

For instance, in a recent hearing at the Federal Circuit Court, Judge Warwick Neville ordered a marshal to investigate Facebook postings made by a father involved in an acrimonious child custody dispute. The unnamed father had reportedly made harsh criticisms of the court system on the social networking site. The man had also revealed confidential information about the case, claimed the magistrate and expert witnesses had been duped by the mother and even alleged that the mother abused their children. [citation]

In another case, a mother in the middle of a custody dispute hds been caught boasting on her Facebook page how she thought about ripping her husband off for another $20,000. “Felt like being a smart arse,” she wrote, signing off “Bwahahaha lol.”  Lawyers are now advising their clients locked in Family Court fights to take down their Facebook pages as the networking site has become both the latest weapon and target for warring spouses. [citation]

Did you know that Fathers4Equality are on Twitter? Yes indeed, and we have over 1,300 followers. So why not join the two-way instant communication revolution. http://twitter.com/fathers4equalty

But this ominous warning is one that is simply not being heard by many parents, with emails and SMS text messages now being the single most relied upon form of evidence submitted in family law proceedings in Australia, even carrying significantly more weight because they are often not disputed.

outlook_readnotify trackingHowever, apart from the obvious, electronic messages can play a vital role in your family law circumstances, even if you are not planning on going to Court. Many disputes hinge on whether one parent or the other has received (or read) a particular email, which can be very hard to prove sometimes.

I recently attended a hearing in Court in assistance of one of the members of Fathers4Equality. In this case there was an interesting dispute over evidence, being an alleged email.

The father  insisted that he sent an email to the mother on the day that the child was to be returned to her, advising her that the child was ill and that she may be returned late. The child was ultimately returned back to the mother late.

As the parents had a poor relationship, email correspondence was the standard way that they would communicate, so the fact that the father had alleged that he sent an email advising the mother of this event was not out of the ordinary.

The mother however claimed that there was no email. She alleged that this was all part of a pattern by the father of late deliveries, and that the ‘email’ story was a concoction made up as an excuse for Court.

Now this issue, as it so happens, was not further investigated by the Court, but had it been, it could have ended up being a key deciding issue leading to the credibility of both of the parties.

OutlookExpressSampleHad proper measures been taken by the father, for instance, he could have, assuming he was telling the truth, proven that not only did he send the email, but that his ex-wife actually read the email. He could also have also shown what time she read the email, for how long she read it, from what location and internet account, and even from which computer.

As it should be clear in this instance, with a little preparation, the ex-wife could have been conclusively shown to have ‘lied’ or mis-represented the facts in Court on this matter, had she in fact been untruthful.

I raise this story because time and time again I have cautioned separating parents to think carefully about the emails they send during the ‘difficult’ early periods of separation.

I also urge separated parents who correspond primarily via email to safeguard their correspondence by either BCCing a trusted friend, by using a standard Return Receipt facility if available in your email client, or ideally by using a professional email forensics service such as ReadNotify, which not only provides Court admissable proof that an email has been sent, but also when it has been read by the other party. (and provides extra services like self-destructing messages after having been opened once, which makes it difficult to copy or print the email contents.

For a free trial of ReadNotify , simply register via teh below website, or download the email client add-ons, as listed below/

The free trial lasts for two weeks or 25 emails (whichever comes first). 

Try Readnotify now – register online for a free no-obligation trial.

or Download the email client add-ons: Windows (All versions inc Vista and Win7) | v4.0 for Windows XP | Mac OSX

These add-ons work with your existing email client on your computer. When you send an email, you will see a new button that will give you the option to track it if you wish. After you sent the first tracked email, the system will register you for the Free Trial.

What Does ReadNotify Do?

  • ReadNotify provides email tracking and proof of sending as well as reading.
  • Readnotify records when, where and how long an email was read.
  • Location, ISP and computer settings are also recorded, as well as which attachents or links are opened/clicked
  • ReadNotify can also send messages that self-destruct after having been opened once.
  • ReadNotify can make it difficult for the email recipient to copy or print the message contents.
  • A Windows tool plugs into many programs and catches all outgoing mail seamlessly.
  • ReadNotify integrates with Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail in Internet Explorer.
  • You can also send a tracked email simply by adding “.readnotify.com” to the recipient’s address.
  • You decide whether tracking is transparent to the recipient or “invisible”.
  • “Ensured-receipt” messages are kept at ReadNotify servers and thus tracked under all circumstances.
  • ReadNotify uses PGP signatures including time-stamps to prove sending and opening of emails.
  • In addition to the recipient’s location, ReadNotify can track forwarded emails and attachments.

 

Dec 182013
 

The following are some of the questions our counsellors are frequently asked by callers. Please note that the responses to these questions are necessarily general and may not apply to your individual circumstances. Please call the helpline if you need further information.

Where can I get legal advice?


Community Legal Centres and legal help-lines offer free legal advice. Legal Aid in your state may also be able to offer free advice. Law associations can usually refer you to a solicitor in your area. Search our 
services directory for legal services close to where you live. The Family Relationships Advice Line (1800 050 321) also provides legal referrals Australia-wide.

My wife has said she is going to leave me. What do I need to know?


There are three important practical areas you need to consider if you are facing divorce: division of property, maintenance payments and residency of/contact with children. Hopefully you will be able to settle some or all of these matters without recourse to lawyers. This is clearly the preferred option as court proceedings may be lengthy and very expensive. They are also extremely stressful and can involve considerable hostility, which can have a very damaging effect on children caught in the cross-fire. However, even though court should be avoided if at all possible, it is wise to seek legal advice in order to get a clear understanding of your legal rights and responsibilities in the event that matters do have to go to formal proceedings. Note that from July 1st, 2007 it will be a legal requirement for separating couples to go through a mediation process prior to taking their case to court.


After separation, you may be required to pay child maintenance to your ex-wife to contribute to the cost of raising your children. The amount you will need to pay will depend on a range of factors including how many children you have and how old they are, your income, your wife’s income, and the amount of time you spend looking after your children each week. The formula is set by legislation. The Child Support Agency (CSA) is the government body responsible for making assessments and helping separated parents manage their financial responsibilities towards their children. In the event of separation, you will need to make contact with CSA to arrange an assessment. Note that separated parents can also make a private maintenance arrangement without going through CSA, if both parties agree.


Residency and contact arrangements for children are often the area that is most difficult for separated parents. A good idea is to prepare a parenting plan, which is a written, signed and dated agreement outlining care arrangements for your children. The main purpose is to specify who cares for which children and when, but it may also cover such areas as who pays for what expenses, as well as other matters such as choice of school, house rules and so on. A parenting plan is not legally enforceable (unless made before 14th January, 2004), although it can be converted into an enforceable ‘consent order’ if both parties agree. Mediation can help this process if parents are having trouble agreeing or even discussing arrangements.   Contact the Family Relationships Advice Line (1800 050 321), the Family Court of Australia or your local Family Relationships Centre to find out more about how to formalise a parenting plan.
 

Will I ever get over the pain of divorce?

Like any major loss, divorce brings with it a grieving process. How painful this experience is and how long it lasts can vary enormously. Even when a relationship has deteriorated to the point that both people feel quite certain of the need for a divorce, the pain of separation can still be very intense. There are many losses involved in a divorce, including children, identity, and emotional and financial security. Men can also grieve the loss of roles such as husband, partner or full-time dad.


In the throes of grief, it is easy to imagine that the pain will go on forever. However, with time the pain does diminish and eventually it becomes possible to move forward and put it in the past. Unfortunately it is not possible to say how long this will take. Grieving is a natural, human process for dealing with and coming to accept loss. Like the healing of the body, it occurs in its own time and cannot be hurried.


What is important is getting support to allow you to talk about what you are going through and to reduce the loneliness that many men feel during this time. This could be through seeing a face to face counsellor, attending a men’s group, or participating in MensLine’s callback counselling service. There are no short-cuts, but regular support can help you to reach the point sooner where you are able to say that your divorce is a part of your past, rather than your present.


My wife/partner and I have recently been fighting a lot. She has suggested counselling, but I’m not so sure about it. What should I do?


There are a number of common misconceptions that can make people reluctant to seek counselling for relationship difficulties. Some men fear that the counsellor will ‘take sides,’ especially if they feel that their partner is more able to express their feelings or to talk about the problems in the relationship. Counsellors are trained to remain neutral in their dealings with couples. If one partner is finding it more difficult to talk than the other, the counsellor will try to assist them to find ways to communicate better, and will not assume that their point of view is not important, or that they don’t have one.


Good couples counsellors will not have a fixed idea about the goal of counselling. Their goal is to assist you as a couple to clarify your goals and feelings; it is not necessarily to ‘keep you together’ at all costs. If you are clear that you wish to stay together, they will try to help you to improve your relationship. If you decide that you need to separate, they will respect this choice and support you.


Another fear some men express is the perception that counselling services are run ‘by women, for women.’ Couples counselling is not gender-biased. Couples counsellors recognise that men often have different perspectives and priorities than their female partner, and will work even-handedly with both. There are also many male counsellors working in this field, although the gender of the counsellor is less important than their ability to listen to and understand both of your points of view.
 
If you are concerned about couples counselling, individual counselling may be an option, either as a first step or as an alternative to couples counselling. Individual counselling, although focussing on one person, can still help to improve a relationship if it helps you to learn better communication skills or to manage your own emotions better.


Sometimes people are put off counselling by stories they hear about other peoples’ bad experiences. Although the great majority of counsellors are highly skilled, professional and well-trained, there is always the possibility of a particular counsellor not suiting you. It is important that you ‘click’ with your counsellor. If for whatever reason you feel that the counselling process is not working for you, and you have fed that back to the counsellor and nothing has changed, then you are entitled to look for another counsellor. By comparison, if a repairman did a bad job on your house, you would seek another tradesman. You wouldn’t assume that the house can’t be fixed.


Remember that relationship counselling is very unlikely to cause any harm to your relationship, and is far more likely to improve it. Most men who are initially anxious about the idea of counselling find it to be a positive and helpful experience once they give it a go. As an initial step, you may like to consider calling MensLine to get an idea about what counselling is like. For counselling services in your area, see our 
services directory.

My wife and I have recently had a baby. I work full time and I feel overwhelmed when my wife expects me to look after the baby after I get home from work. What should I do?


The key issue here is communication of expectations. When a couple have their first baby, they frequently don’t know what to expect and may underestimate how demanding the care of an infant can be. It is important therefore to negotiate some ground rules that are acceptable to both parties. There are no ‘right answers.’ Each couple must work out their own rules. Looking after a baby is very tiring and it is understandable that your wife would feel the need for a break at the end of the day, just as you may after a long day at work. The fact that both of you are tired at the same time can lead to a conflict between your needs. The solution might involve setting aside some time for both of you to take a break (say, an hour for you and an hour for her), or alternating the days when each of you takes responsibility for caring for the baby after work. You might also discuss how paid, casual child care could help to lighten the burden.


Arguing about who works harder and is more deserving of a break is a ‘blame game’ that usually only leads to both of you feeling under-appreciated and misunderstood. Listen to each other’s needs and try to approach the issue as cooperative partners rather than adversaries.


I suspect I may not be the father of my child. How can I find out?


The answer to this depends on whether or not the mother of your child agrees to provide a sample for DNA-testing. In most cases, the DNA of the mother, the child and the man is taken, although in exceptional circumstances a (less reliable) test can be done without the mother’s DNA. In the event that the mother agrees to provide a sample, and gives permission for a sample to be taken from the child, there are a number of private companies that provide paternity-testing services (see our 
services directory)

You can choose to have a test that will be accepted as evidence of paternity in court, or an ‘informal’ test. Legally admissible tests cost more because the DNA samples must be collected by an independent agent and there are more rigorous procedures.
 
If the mother of your child is not willing to provide a sample, you may be able to obtain a court order through the Family Court. You will need to seek legal advice about the correct procedure to obtain this order. You may have to establish a case for why you believe you may not be the father.


I want to get more time with my children. What can I do?


Any move towards renegotiating the amount of contact you have with your children should begin with an informal approach to your ex-partner to discuss the issue and request the changed arrangements. In the event that she refuses your request, you can seek professional mediation. A mediator is a neutral third party who can sit with you both to try to help you to arrive at a mutually acceptable arrangement. You can find mediation services in your area by looking up our 
services directory. The final option if mediation fails is to seek an amendment of your contact/residency arrangements through the Family Court. Be aware that from July 31st, 2007 it will be a legal requirement that all parties go through a mediation process before bringing their case to the Family Court.

I am concerned that my ex-wife/partner is not looking after my children properly. What can I do?


The first step if you are concerned about the way your ex-wife or partner is looking after your children is to discuss the issue with her and tell her your concerns. Obviously this requires sensitivity. You are much more likely to get a satisfactory result if you approach her in a spirit of concern rather than blame. The following are some tips:

  • State your observations factually rather than emotively. Don’t exaggerate, but just state what you have noticed that concerns you.
  • Avoid blaming language and generalisations (“You never…” “You’re a bad mother/ a slob etc.”)
  • Focus on solutions rather than problems.
  • Rather than looking for your ex-wife’s or partner’s faults, focus on what support she might need to care for the children better. Can you help in any way? Are there any community services that could assist?
  • Try to reach a plan together.
  • Agree to meet again to see how things are going and whether the plan is working.

Obviously, in many situations, such ideal communication will not be possible due to many factors, including all the ‘baggage’ of your past relationship together. If you are unable to make any progress on the issue together, you could suggest seeking the services of a mediator to help you reach an agreement on a way forward. 
If you have serious concerns which you are unable to resolve, you might wish to approach a child abuse prevention organisation. These agencies are in most areas (look up ‘Child Protection’ in our 
services directory), and can look at developing a plan to support your ex-partner to provide better care for your children. 
Finally, if you have grounds to believe that your children are at serious risk or are being harmed or neglected by their mother, you can formally notify Child Protective Services about the situation. This does not always mean that the children will be removed from their mother’s care. This would only occur as a last resort, after other attempts to resolve the issue (through, for example, linking the mother with community support agencies) have failed.


Whenever I see my ex-wife/partner to pick up my kids, we end up having a fight, and I am concerned how this is affecting our children. How can I stop this?


Due to the ongoing anger and bitterness of some separations, picking up and dropping off children can sometimes be the point at which tensions flare up. Research shows that witnessing such disputes between parents can have a harmful effect on children. The first step if you wish to prevent this harm from occurring is to attempt to reach an agreement with your ex-wife/partner not to argue in front of your children. If there are issues that need to be discussed, agree to talk about them at some other time when the children are not present, for example on the telephone when the children are in their beds asleep. If this does not work, you could consider using a drop-off centre in your area. These centres allow parents to drop off their children for collection by the other parent at a safe place, so that the parents do not have to come into direct contact.  These can be found under “Contact Centres” in our
service directory.

My step-children won’t accept discipline from me. What can I do?


Parenting in step-families is complex, far more complex than in non-step families. Step-children frequently resent the fact that a stranger they have not chosen is entering their lives and presuming (in their minds) to assume the role of parent. They may – unfairly – blame the step-father for the loss of their relationship with their biological father. Furthermore there is no particular reason why step-parents and step-children should or will like, let alone love, one another. The absence of an affectionate or at least respectful relationship between step-parents and children can make discipline very difficult.
 
For you as a step-father, there are other issues. Many step-fathers are fearful of permanently losing their relationship with their step-child if they are too strict. This is rarely an issue between parents and their biological or adopted children, where the underlying strength of the bond is usually taken for granted. This anxiety can make them unsure about how strict to be. Children can sometimes pick up on this and exploit it.
 
All these factors can make you uncertain of your role in relation to step-children. Usually a heavy-handed approach backfires. Young children may submit to discipline from an authoritarian step-parent, but they will resent it and the control is likely to break down as they grow older. It is generally a mistake to try to discipline step-children too early. Discipline cannot truly be enforced without some foundation of trust and mutual respect.
 
Here are a few tips for helping to be more effective in disciplining your step-children:
 
1.        
Negotiate rules with your partner in advance so you aren’t sending mixed messages. Different ideas about the step-father’s role in disciplining children are a frequent cause of relationship friction in step-families. 
2.        
Avoid loud, blaming or abusive words (e.g. ‘Are you stupid?’ ‘You are very bad!’ etc.). Talk in a firm, clear manner without using put-downs. 
3.        
Have clear rules and try to get your step-children to agree on thesebefore you try to enforce them. 
4.        
Explain the reason for rules, don’t just say, ‘Because I say so!’ 
5.        
Fit the consequence to the offence. Over-the-top punishments only create resentment. 
6.        
Avoid getting into power struggles. Pick your battles carefully. 
7.        
Explain that you can never replace your step-children’s biological father and will never try to. 
8.        
Accept that you will make mistakes and sometimes be unfair. Just do your best! 
See the step-families links on our 
links page for more information about how to manage the complexities of step-parenting.

My teenage child is out of control. What should I do?


Parenting teenagers is a big challenge. The teenage years are a time in which young people experiment with their identities and challenge parental authority in preparation for establishing themselves as independent adults. Although uncomfortable for parents, the rebellion of adolescence is an absolutely necessary and important developmental stage.
 
However, this does not mean that teenagers do not need limits. Although they may complain about the boundaries placed around their behaviour, adolescents feel more secure if they know what the rules are. It is important to have firm guidelines about what your teenage child is and is not allowed to do, what time they should be home by, and so on.
 
On the other hand, research has shown that an authoritarian approach – the iron fist – usually backfires. If a young person feels that their parent is unreasonably harsh and does not respect their judgement or trust them, then they can react by rejecting the parent’s control altogether.
 
Here are some simple tips for effective parenting of teenage children:

  • Be aware of the fact that your child is growing and changing and adapt rules to suit their level of maturity and judgment. Loosening controls may feel scary at times, and their may be times when your child makes a mistake, but in doing so they will learn.
  • Try ‘active listening’ with your child. Active listening means listening without judgements, reactions or attempts to ‘fix’. Listen and try to understand the world your child lives in, and their experience and perspective.
  • Admit your mistakes and be prepared to compromise.
  • Don’t expect hard and fast rules about things like sex, alcohol and drugs to deal with these complex challenges. Talk honestly about these subjects and help your child to understand the risks so that they can make mature decisions when confronted by situations.
  • Remember what yougot up to when you were an adolescent. It may help you to keep perspective!
  • Admitting to your child that you have never parented a teenager before and therefore may need some help from them could establish a collaborative relationship with your teenager and demonstrate that you trust and value their input.

1300 78 99 78 – Available 24/7 

http://www.menslineaus.org.au


Contact Mens Helpline

Helpline 1300 78 99 78
Mailing Address PO Box 2335
Footscray VIC 3011
Telephone (admin) (03) 8371 2800
Fax (03) 8371 2888
Email talkitover@menslineaus.org.au
Nov 222013
 
mens-helpline

MensLine Australia is a professional telephone and online support, information and referral service, helping men to deal with relationship problems in a practical and effective way.

My wife has said she is going to leave me. What do I need to know?

There are three important practical areas you need to consider if you are facing divorce: division of property, maintenance payments and residency of/contact with children. Hopefully you will be able to settle some or all of these matters without recourse to lawyers. This is clearly the preferred option as court proceedings may be lengthy and very expensive. They are also extremely stressful and can involve considerable hostility, which can have a very damaging effect on children caught in the cross-fire. However, even though court should be avoided if at all possible, it is wise to seek legal advice in order to get a clear understanding of your legal rights and responsibilities in the event that matters do have to go to formal proceedings. Note that from July 1st, 2007 it will be a legal requirement for separating couples to go through a mediation process prior to taking their case to court.


After separation, you may be required to pay child maintenance to your ex-wife to contribute to the cost of raising your children. The amount you will need to pay will depend on a range of factors including how many children you have and how old they are, your income, your wife’s income, and the amount of time you spend looking after your children each week. The formula is set by legislation. The Child Support Agency (CSA) is the government body responsible for making assessments and helping separated parents manage their financial responsibilities towards their children. In the event of separation, you will need to make contact with CSA to arrange an assessment. Note that separated parents can also make a private maintenance arrangement without going through CSA, if both parties agree.


Residency and contact arrangements for children are often the area that is most difficult for separated parents. A good idea is to prepare a parenting plan, which is a written, signed and dated agreement outlining care arrangements for your children. The main purpose is to specify who cares for which children and when, but it may also cover such areas as who pays for what expenses, as well as other matters such as choice of school, house rules and so on. A parenting plan is not legally enforceable (unless made before 14th January, 2004), although it can be converted into an enforceable ‘consent order’ if both parties agree. Mediation can help this process if parents are having trouble agreeing or even discussing arrangements.   Contact the Family Relationships Advice Line (1800 050 321), the Family Court of Australia or your local Family Relationships Centre to find out more about how to formalise a parenting plan.
 

Where can I get legal advice?

Community Legal Centres and legal help-lines offer free legal advice. Legal Aid in your state may also be able to offer free advice. Law associations can usually refer you to a solicitor in your area. Search our services directory for legal services close to where you live. The Family Relationships Advice Line (1800 050 321) also provides legal referrals Australia-wide.

http://www.mensline.org.au/Home.html