Each month, our advisers answer your questions. See what questions were asked in November, and what advice we gave.

Find out how to submit your questions for the next month’s Ask an Adviser session.

Rhian – contact and child maintenance

My ex (father to my child who lives with my full time) is an alcoholic. For 6 years he has proved to be almost impossible to communicate with, using passive aggressive messaging etc. He rarely pays minimal maintenance which always comes with a sob story. He is disastrously inconsistent and unreliable.

After an intervention from his family earlier this year he went to rehab. I believe he manipulated his family and the system and continues to drink. My concern is that he is essentially in control of my life in terms of when and how much we get paid, and when and for how long he sees his daughter. It’s sporadic, inconsistent, unsettling and I feel as though I just have to put up with this for the rest of my life. (My daughter adores/hero worships him so I cannot stop access.) Help! Is there any way I can put something in place whereby consistency for my daughter is a MUST that he HAS TO comply to??

Our advice

Hi Rhian,

This situation sounds very difficult for you but there are things you can put in place to arrange regular payments of child maintenance and contact between your daughter and her father.

All parents have a responsibility to support their children financially. If your ex doesn’t pay maintenance regularly you can use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to arrange this. There’s usually a £20 application fee. If you’ve experienced domestic violence you don’t need to pay this fee. The CMS will calculate the amount of maintenance your ex needs to pay using a set formula and can take action if this amount is not paid. You can find more information about using the CMS on our factsheet.

You could try and reach an agreement with your ex about contact arrangements for your daughter through mediation. Mediation is a voluntary process which can help resolve disputes with the help of a trained professional. Depending on your income, you may be entitled to legal aid to help with the cost of mediation. Mediation isn’t suitable for everyone. If you’ve been in a violent or abusive relationship it may not be appropriate for you. Our factsheet on help when you can’t agree has more information about mediation.

If you can’t reach an agreement either together or through mediation you can apply to the court for a child arrangements order. This is an order which sets out when a child sees the other parent and how that contact should happen. A child arrangements order is binding on both parents. You can find more about child arrangements orders on the Rights of Women website. If you’re considering applying for a child arrangements order you should get some legal advice. The Family Law Panel is a free directory service where you can find solicitors who offer a free initial advice session. There are other free legal resources listed on our getting legal help factsheet.

Bryony – financial help when on adoption leave

Hello, I am on currently on adoption leave and hope to take 12 months. I wondered if you could give me any advice about what I might be entitled to?

Our advice

Hi Bryony,

Our factsheet Money during maternity, paternity and adoption provides information about the financial help that you may be entitled to during your adoption leave. If you would like to talk to an adviser about your situation and do a benefits check you can call our free helpline on 0808 802 0925.

Linda – supporting children emotionally

Hello, I am a single mum with three children and recently I have been struggling to cope with my 15 year old’s mental health problems. She has been experiencing bullying for not wearing branded clothes and shoes at school and many other reasons. Both her and her brother find it hard to make friends. All of this stems from the relationship they have with their dad, who has been horrible to them and as a consequence they don’t want to see him. My son is unruly at school but really good at home. When he does something bad he becomes very emotional. I work full time and I find it hard to cope sometimes with everything. I am not sure where to turn for help or what to do for them.

Our advice

Hi Linda,

Changes in children’s emotional and mental health can be very worrying for parents.  You may want to contact their GP and speak to their school to see what support is available.

Young Minds has a telephone helpline service for parents concerned about their child’s emotional and mental health. Their website has a range of useful information and resources for both parents and young people. The organisation Family Lives can give information, advice and support to parents on a range of parenting issues like relationships, school and bullying. The website includes informational articles, blogs, live chat, and confidential email support.    Bullying UK, which is a part of Family Lives have  information on their website for parents and children, including advice on dealing with bullies and information for parents on addressing these issues with schools.

Our factsheets looking after your emotional health and  support for children and young people focus on wellbeing and have information about organisations that can help, including some that have counselling services.

Jamie Lee – property, child maintenance and separation

Me and my husband have just separated. We have our own property and if sold there would be some equity – but not enough for me to get another property as I only work part time and have been told I will only get a mortgage for 40,000 – nowhere near enough for me to buy. Everyone is telling me that I am entitled to stay in the house until the children are 18. My husband is on a good wage and so far it is fairly amicable – but he is saying that I have no right to stay in the house and that we should put it up for sale. I have two young children and am worried about where we will live. Can you clarify this for me please? I have looked on internet for information but it is very confusing. I have gone to citizens advice and unfortunately there is always a queue and time has run out and I have not yet been seen. I will keep trying – but I do work part time and this is proving very difficult. I would be so grateful for some help.

Our advice

Hi Jamie Lee,

There are no set rules about what should happen to the family home after separation. If you and your husband are unable to agree on who stays in the home or whether it is sold you could try mediation,  If you are still unable to agree either of you could apply to court for a decision. You can find more information about your options if you can’t agree in our factsheet Help when you can’t agree and on Resolution’s website here.

There are different orders that a court could make. A court could order that you can stay in the property until your children reach a certain age or leave education. Or the court could order that the property should be sold and decide how much of the equity each of you should receive. In deciding what order to make, the court would need to take into account all the circumstances of your case. This would include taking into account your children’s needs and you and your husband’s resources, needs and housing options. You can find further information about how a court makes a decision on Resolution’s website here, in Rights of Women’s Guide to financial arrangements after marriage breakdown and in Advicenow’s Survival guide to sorting out your finances when you get divorced.

You may also wish to seek legal advice from a family law solicitor on what a court might be likely to decide, taking into account the details of your circumstances. Please see our factsheet Getting legal help for further information.

Lisa – housing

Hello. I have been privately renting for many years as a couple. for the last 4 years I have been in the same privately rented property (with my 2 children) as a single occupant after splitting with my partner. I have been advised by my Estate Agent that the Landlord intends to put the house on the market in the New Year. I am on the Council list but am advised that until my family are officially made homeless i.e. I have had to hand the keys in to the estate agent & vacated the property, no action, if any will be taken. As a single occupant with 1 salary, I am told the estate agent will not be except me as a tenant as there is an affordability criteria – although I have been a single occupant for 4 years now. I am desperately trying to prevent my family being homeless for any amount of time so looking for as much advise as possible and was given your contact details by Child Maintenance Options. Thank you in advance

Our advice

Hi Lisa,

If you have a private tenancy, then your landlord will need to follow the correct procedure to evict you legally. Shelter is a registered charity that provides advice on housing law and you can call their free helpline on 0808 800 4444 for further advice on this.

If you’re homeless or threatened with homeless within 28 days, you can make a homeless application to your local council. You can find out where to make your application by using the postcode search on shelters website here.

When you make a homeless application the council will make enquiries to determine if you are homeless or threatened with homelessness within 28 days in priority need and eligible for assistance. If you meet all 3 conditions the council have a duty to provide short term emergency accommodation.  You can find more information on this and the process of making an application on Shelter’s website.

Another option would be to look for private rented accommodation in the area you’d like to move to. You may qualify for help with rent through Universal Credit or Housing Benefit, you can call our helpline on 0808 802 0925 for a benefit check.

Tamsin – preparing for court

I am in court next week to keep my children what do I need to take? How to I speak to the judge?

Our advice

Hi Tamsin,

There’s a lot of free information to help you if you’re going to court.

If your court case involves social services,  specialist information and advice is available from a charity called Family Rights Group.

If you haven’t had any legal advice you can contact a solicitor for a free initial consultation using the Family Law Panel website.

If your court case is about a Child Arrangements Order, you may find our factsheet Getting legal help helpful.  The section on representing yourself provides links to resources to help people who are going to court without a solicitor or barrister.

Advicenow has a video guide to how to represent yourself in court . This includes tips on how to prepare and how best to put across your case.  They also  have a guide called How to apply for a court order about arrangements for your children without the help of a lawyer. You can read the standard version of the guide online for free. It includes information about the process that will be helpful whether you or someone else has made the application for a Child Arrangements Order.

The Ministry of Justice has also produced some short videos for parents representing themselves in court available here.

You may also find it useful to read the Rights of Women guide to preparing for court hearings and safety in the Family Court. You could also call their Family law advice line to speak to an adviser about your case.

The Child Law Advice Service has information on their website about attending court, which includes information for ‘litigants in person’ which means those who are going through the court process without a solicitor or barrister. If you need further advice  they also have a Telephone support service.

Laura – financial help when returning to work

Hi, I’m due to go back to work in March after having my baby, I’m a single parent and so confused on what I would be entitled to. My little one will have to go into nursery as I have no close family to help. Do you know what help I can get towards child care? I will be entitled to working tax and child tax credits. I would like to only work 3 days a week (21hrs) but not sure what’s best. I’ve tried doing the tax credit calculator and again very confusing. My child care will be £152 a week and earning £968 per month before tax. (On 21hrs) Any help would be much appreciated, I am also dyslexic so it’s all so confusing for me. I’m looking to figure out when it’s financially better for me to do, not work, work 2/3/4 days etc.

Our advice

Hi Laura,

It can be confusing working out your benefit entitlement after maternity leave. The benefits you receive depend on factors such as the area you live in, the hours you work, your income in both the current and previous tax years, and the cost of any registered childcare. You can find more information about how tax credits are calculated on our factsheet about benefits and tax credits if you work 16 hours a week or more.

We would need more information to work out the benefits you’d be entitled to. You can contact our free helpline on 0808 802 0925 where one of our advisers will be able to do a benefit calculation for you.

Charlotte – contact and child maintenance

Son’s father hasn’t seen him for 16 months, I took him to child maintenance and he denied parentage. DNA test came back that he was the father and now he wants access. My son is only 2 so wouldn’t remember who he is. Having him alone isn’t an option, he won’t see him with my mom and there is no one else (I don’t want to see him). And I’d like contact centre to be the very very last option. Are you able to advise any further on this? Just an opinion really as I really don’t know where I stand. Thanks!

Our advice

Hi Charlotte,

It can be difficult to make contact arrangements when your child is so young. There are no rules about exactly how contact should happen as each family is different. Your son’s needs are the most important thing to consider when you make any decisions. If you want your sons contact with his dad to be supervised  but you don’t have anyone suitable to do this, your next step would be to look at using a contact centre as, like you say, there are no other options. This is a place where parents can see their children with staff present to supervise contact visits. You can find information about child contact centres from the National Association of Child Contact Centres: http://www.naccc.org.uk/ .

If you find it difficult to talk about this together you might find it useful to use a family mediation service to help you reach an agreement. You can find information here about making arrangements for your children and getting help when you can’t agree.

Alex – deciding where a child lives

Me and my ex partner spilt over 18 months ago. He is forcing me to sell the family home which if he takes me to court he will win, which I have come to terms with. My question is I’m am seriously considering moving away, starting a whole new life for me and our two children. I would be totally going it alone and thinking about moving two hours away for a nicer home and a nicer area for the children. I wouldn’t ever stop contact but obviously the current contact would have to change. Could he stop me

Our advice

Hi Alex

In the first instance, it’s always advisable for parents to reach an agreement before any move happens. If you can’t reach an agreement about the move you may find it helpful to read our factsheet Help When You Can’t Agree which explains the different options available to help you negotiate and resolve any disputes.   You may also find our factsheet Making Arrangements for your Children helpful.

If you can’t agree about this issue, you can apply to the court for a specific issue order to allow you to make the move. Alternatively, your ex-partner could apply to the courts for a prohibited steps order to try and stop the move going ahead. When making a decision about any aspect of a child’s upbringing, the child’s welfare is the most important factor the court will consider. For further information about these issues see Rights of Women guide Children and the law: when parents separate

With regards to the family home, housing law can be very complicated and you may want to get some legal advice about your situation. You could read our factsheet Getting legal help which has information about getting legal advice and representation. You may find it useful to talk though your situation with an adviser on our free helpline on 0808 802 0925.

Rebecca – arranging child maintenance

Just wondering if u can help me. As my son’s dad has 3 kids n my one too. He only brought him in a year school uniform n trainers to show at mine. We have been separated for 5 years now n all he says is I get my son’s money he shouldn’t pay nothing as he buys him bits. I think its wrong. it’s hard being a single mum

Our advice

Hi Rebecca,

All parents have a responsibility to support their children financially. When parents are separated, the parent who doesn’t live with their child most of the time should pay child maintenance.

Parents can agree child maintenance payments through a family based arrangement. This is where parents deal directly with one another to agree the amount of child maintenance to be paid and the frequency of the payments. Sometimes, this can be paid in other ways such as buying clothes and shoes and other items a child needs.

If you and dad aren’t in agreement over the frequency and how child maintenance is paid, either of you can make  an application to the Child Maintenance Service, who will calculate the child maintenance payments, and take action if the correct payments aren’t made.  You can find more information on this in our factsheets on ‘Making arrangements for child maintenance’ and ‘Using the Child Maintenance Service’.

Rachel – supporting children emotionally

I have recently relocated to be closer to my family and because I could afford a nicer family home for us to live. Since moving my son loves it here and has settled in well. My daughter is the opposite. She is lonely and unhappy and I worry if I have the right decision. Should I have been stronger and kept my children in the schools and area they knew?

Our advice

Hi Rachel,

It can be very unsettling moving home and area and it sounds like your daughter is having a challenging time with the change.  Our factsheets  looking after your emotional health and  support for children and young people focus on wellbeing and have information about organisations that can help, including some that have counselling services.

If you would like to talk things through, and get some guidance and support to help your daughter you can contact Family Lives  confidential free helpline on 0808 800 2222.

You might find it useful to get some support and chat with other single parents. You can join Gingerbread free here and can use our forums. We have also have friendship groups where you can meet up with other single parents.

Carryanne – supporting a child emotionally

I am full time mum to my 2 year old girl and 5 year old boy, their dad comes to visit them once a year from his job/home outside the UK, my question is, I can see my little boy is struggling to understand ‘why are mummy and daddy not together anymore? Why do I always see daddy with is girlfriend and not with mummy like I use to?’ The relationship ended 18 months ago. I have just tried to focus on positives for  my son’s emotional well being, telling him  ‘daddy loves him and his sister very much, but recently I had to do the school run with daddy, his new partner  and the kids and I could see my son was very confused, unsure, and quietly trying to mull over thing difference in things, please help, most days I cope, but issues like this make me just want to cry…..thank you in advance.

Our advice

Hi Carryanne,

It can be difficult for children if they only see Dad very occasionally. It’s also not always easy to know how to talk to them and support them with the situation.  Family Lives have a helpline that can help you with advice, support and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. Their number is 0808 800 2222. Our factsheet support for children and young people also has information and other organisations you may find useful.

You could consider talking things through with dad to come to an agreement about more regular contact.  If you find it hard to reach an agreement between yourselves you could use mediation to help you. The Family Mediation Council has some information about what’s involved and you can search for a local mediator on their website . However, due to Dad’s location being outside the UK, this may not be possible. You can read our factsheet making arrangements for your children which has some practical advice and information on the options available to help make effective arrangements in the best interests of your child.

Zoe – finances when moving in with a partner

I have recently had to give up my self employed childminding business due to being pregnant with a heart condition. I have lost my baby due to a medical problem. myself and my daughter want to move in with my partner and his daughter. He is self employed so i do not know what i could claim as i do not want to lose my independence. My partner claims working tax and child tax credits. Could i claim sick pay or claim benefits?

Our advice

Hi Zoe,

I’m very sorry to hear about your recent experiences.

Moving in with your partner will mean changes to your finances, and it can be complicated. When you live with a partner as a couple, you’re classed as a couple for the purposes of many benefits and tax credits, so you’ll need to be reassessed based on both incomes and circumstances.   There are some benefits that aren’t affected by your partner such as certain disability benefits, and some contribution based benefits. You can use the Turn2us online benefit calculator to check what benefits and tax credits you’re entitled to if you’re a couple or call their free helpline on 0808 802 2000.

You may also find it useful to look at our online information on moving in with a new partner.

Rachel – child arrangement orders

hi, i was just wondering how long a child arrangments order takes & if the father can see the address of the mother on the documents anywhere as at the moment i don’t want him to have our details? thanks

Our advice

Hi Rachel,

For advice about family court procedure, including issues like safety and non- disclosure of addresses, you can ring the Rights of Women or Child Law Advice helplines.

If you have safety concerns, you can find a guide produced by Rights of Women on court hearings and safety in the family court here. They also have a booklet called Child Arrangements and Domestic Violence: A Handbook for Women which you can request for free if you ring their helpline, or you can buy it for £10 on their website.

Charlotte – arranging child maintenance

Hi there, I’m a single parent to a 4 month old. My ex partner does not pay towards our child……how can I “make” him pay? He chooses not to see her either. Also what benefits am I entitled to? I live with my parents and currently on maternity pay. Thanks.

Our advice

Hi  Charlotte,

If your ex is refusing to pay child maintenance you can make an application to the Child Maintenance Service, who will calculate the child maintenance payments, and take enforcement action if the correct amount isn’t paid.

Before you can apply to the CMS, you’ll need to ring Child Maintenance Options, who’ll discuss with you the different options, and then give you a reference number to apply to the CMS Please see our factsheet on ‘Using the Child Maintenance Service’.

Child maintenance and contact arrangements are separate issues. Your ex-partner has a responsibility to support his children financially by paying child maintenance, whether he has contact with  them or not. You can get more information on contact arrangements here.

We don’t have enough information to advise on the benefits you’re entitled to.  Our factsheet money during maternity, paternity and adoption has information about the benefits you might be able to claim. However as it can be quite complex you can ring our free helpline  on 0808 802 0925 for advice on your situation.

Oliver – child maintenance when each parent has main care of a child

My ex-wife and mother of our two children recently handed parental responsibility of our son to me as she was not able to cope with his ADHD. He is now living with me on a permanent basis and has notified the relevant authorities to this effect. My daughter still lives with her mother. Now that we are sharing responsibility for both our children do I still need to pay her child maintenance for my daughter or does the fact my son is living with me in effect cancel this out as we are now both responsible for a child? Thank you for assisting me with this question.

Our advice

Hi Oliver,

Under the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) rules, you and your ex-wife could each apply for child maintenance from the other parent for the child living with you. This is the case for a child under 16 or under 20 and still in full-time non-advanced education or where child benefit is still payable for them. However, the amounts would be offset so that only the parent with the higher liability makes payments. The payments would be reduced by the amount that the other parent is assessed as liable to pay. It would only be if both parents are assessed as liable to pay the same amount that neither parent would have to make any payments.

The amount that you and your ex-wife would be assessed as liable to pay each other under the CMS rules depends on your circumstances and hers. You can find out how child maintenance is calculated by the CMS in our factsheet Using the child maintenance service.

If you’re paying child maintenance for your daughter under a Child Support Agency (CSA) case or a court order, the rules are more complicated when one of the children goes to live with the other parent. You may find it useful to talk though your situation with an adviser on our free helpline on 0808 802 0925.

If you have a private agreement about child maintenance, it is up to you and your ex-wife to agree on whether or not you continue to pay child maintenance, and how much, following this change of circumstances. If you are unable to agree you may wish to consider mediation or using the CMS.