How I coped with childcare emergencies as a working parent

Hi – it’s Joanna from DWP Child Maintenance. One of my three children was off school today because she wasn’t well. I had to juggle looking after her with doing my job, and it reminded me about how tricky it can be to manage work and responsibility for children when you are on your own.

Childcare can be difficult to find and expensive too. Once children finish primary school they are still too young to be left alone but too old for the play schemes which might be in the local area. One of my children has a disability too which can make finding care even harder.

What always surprised me though was the way I managed to work things out with my employers over the years. I was lucky that they gave me the flexibility to do some work from home or change my hours to cope with school holidays and children’s absence from school when they were unwell. It meant that I was able to balance work with family life even though I was on my own and that meant we had a little more money to go around.

You might not know this but there are also laws in place to help, such as the right to take a little unpaid leave to take care of dependants in emergencies. Have a look at this information on the website which gives you all the details. You could contact your local Citizens’ Advice Bureau if you would like to know more or speak to someone. Have a chat with your employer too. You might get more help than you expect.

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Charlie Sheen tries mediation

Looks like life is imitating art for Anger Management star Charlie Sheen, who is trying mediation to sort out his Child Maintenance issues.

Charlie and his ex Denise Richards have been fighting for years over how much money his ex should get and that she should vacate one of his many houses, but it seems that mediation is the only option for the feuding pair.

Mediation doesn’t have to be the last resort when you split from a partner and is not just for divorcing couples.

It’s a way of sorting out a range of any family problems including with other family members.

Using a family mediator can also be faster and cheaper than going to court.

Don’t wait for things to get worse like Charlie, – check out the sorting out separation web app for information on mediation and for help and support on all other aspects of separation.

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Gwyneth and Chris commit to co-parent

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced today that they are to separate.

It is encouraging to see that even though the romantic relationship has come to an end, the couple are still committed to working together for the sake of their children.

In their blog, Gwyneth and Chris wrote:

“We are…and always will be a family, and in many ways we are closer than we have ever been. We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children.”

Gwyneth and Chris describe their split as “conscious uncoupling” – which is all about the ending of one romantic relationship and the beginning of a co-parenting relationship.

There are lots of tools and information out there about co-parenting to help other separated couples going through similar experiences learn to work together.

Check out the sorting out separation web app which provides help and support about parenting after separation and useful links to where you can get further information if you need it.

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Maintenance payments too JLo?

It just goes to show that issues around child maintenance affect everyone, including celebrities.

With JLo’s ex Marc Anthony refusing to increase his maintenance payments and Beyonce’s dad claiming he’s paid more maintenance than he should have, it raises a question for all separated parents – how much do children really cost?

How much do children cost?

On average the cost has increased by 4% over the past year alone.

If you find yourself getting into a wrangle over how much to pay why not download the cost of raising your child fact sheets from Child Maintenance Options.

The factsheets will help both parents think about what a child needs, what they will cost and who will pay for them. This can be a useful starting point if you are thinking of making a family based arrangement with your ex.

Keep Track!

If you do make an arrangement which everyone is happy with make sure you keep a record of all the payments you have made.

Don’t end up in a similar situation to Beyonce’s father who is being challenged in court on how much maintenance he has been paying to his ex-partner.

Why not visit the Child Maintenance Options Website for more information about the costs of raising children and support about making arrangements between you and your ex that make sure your child gets the financial support they need.

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Do you know how you can save money on your child maintenance arrangement?

When you have children and separate from their other parent, having enough money to support them is probably one of your main concerns. Child maintenance can make a big difference. A Q&A from was posted last week, which tells you how you can save money AND still support your child financially.

Child maintenance is changing

In the past, parents could apply to the CSA, who worked out and collected child maintenance from the paying parent and passed it on to the receiving parent.   Times are changing though – the CSA no longer accepts new applications and the government has introduced the Child Maintenance Service as its replacement.

The Child Maintenance Service works differently to the CSA.  For a start, later this year there will be a fee of £20 for making an application. Both parents will also pay a fee if they choose to use the Collect & Pay service. have worked with DWP to answer questions posted by real parents.  This Q&A tells you how fees and charges will work, but more importantly how you can avoid them by making a family-based arrangement or choosing Direct Pay if you do apply to the Child Maintenance Service.

Talk to your ex now to avoid the charges

Family-based arrangements are where both parents work together and agree what should be included in the child maintenance arrangement between themselves – avoiding both the application fee and any collection charges.

Direct Pay is where the Child Maintenance Service works out how much child maintenance a paying parent must pay.  Both parents then agree between themselves how and when payments are made – avoiding the collection fees.

Read’s Q&A today and save yourself time and money in the future.

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From one parent to another – getting through separation together

Hi – my name is Joanna. I work for the Department for Work and Pensions on Child Maintenance.  I am also a parent, just like many of you reading this blog.  For many years I was also a single parent, raising my 3 children alone after splitting from my ex almost 8 years ago.  That’s a big part of the reason I chose to get involved with the work that I do. It’s also the reason my co-workers thought it would be a good idea if I shared my experiences with other separated parents.

It wasn’t easy when we split. The kids and I had to move around a lot at first and were even homeless for a while. I remember that I often felt like I didn’t know where to turn.  It’s been quite a journey but you don’t need me to tell you that as if you’re reading this blog the chances are that you’re going through it too.

Things are a lot better for us these days I’m glad to say, but if I’d known then what I know now (as they say) I wonder if things might have been easier.

I’ll be looking out for information to share with you that would have helped me deal with separation and what comes next. I’m hoping it will help many others, who are in a similar situation, so things can get better sooner. I’ll post details and links on this blog as I come across them – so do come back.

You could even subscribe to the blog using the follow button at the top of the page so you don’t miss anything.

In the meantime, do have a look around the Child Maintenance Options website as there’s a lot of useful stuff on there and it’s a good place to start.

Feel free to leave a comment to let us know what you think or what sort of information or advice you would find helpful on here. And of course if you have any questions, I’ll do my best to help.

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Keeping on top of your child maintenance payments

People can fall behind in paying child maintenance for different reasons – household bills may have rocketed; working hours been reduced or sometimes you’re just not sure how to manage the money you have coming in with the bills you need to pay.

Paying child maintenance isn’t like paying a bill though – it’s paid to help children get what they need.

If you’re struggling to make your child maintenance payments, it’s important you act straight away to bring your payments up to date and continue paying on time.

If you have a family-based arrangement 

Speak to your ex-partner.  Explain your situation and try to renegotiate a new agreement. Our discussion guide can help you.

If child maintenance is paid through the CSA or Child Maintenance Service

Contact them as soon as possible if you’re having problems paying, or if you’re going to miss a payment.

If you don’t pay all the maintenance you should pay, and on time, the  CSA  or Child Maintenance Service may take enforcement action. This may include taking payments straight from your earnings or bank account.

If you continue not to pay, they could also get an order through the courts to force you to sell your home or other assets; take your driving license or send you to prison.

If you need help to manage your budget or bills

It can be difficult to know where to turn, but If you’re struggling to manage your finances there is expert help and support out there:

The Money Advice Service is an independent service set up to help you manage your finances better and show you how to budget.

If you’re in debt, StepChange Debt Charity are there to help you if your debts have got out of control.  They have a number of different solutions which can help you get your life, and finances, back on track.

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