You may find yourself parenting alone due to a variety of circumstances; it may occur following the death, desertion or imprisonment of a spouse or partner. A separation, divorce, dissolution or annulment of a marriage or civil partnership can also result in a one-parent family. Parenting alone may be the result of an unplanned pregnancy.
Whatever the reason you are parenting alone, there are a range of benefits and entitlements you may be able to avail of, depending on your circumstances. In addition, there are important legal issues you should be aware of that affect those parenting alone.
Social welfare payments
If you are parenting alone you may be able to avail of certain social welfare payments. Child Benefit is payable for each child under 16 years of age, or under 18 years of age if the child is in full-time education or has a disability. One-Parent Family Payment is a means-tested payment for men and women who are bringing children up without the support of a partner. It is payable to an unmarried person, a widow/widower/surviving civil partner, a prisoner's spouse/civil partner, a separated or divorced person, one whose marriage/civil partnership has been annulled or one whose civil partnership has been dissolved.
You may be entitled to a Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Civil Partner's (Contributory) Pension if either you or your deceased spouse has enough PRSI contributions. Under the Occupational Injuries Benefit Scheme, a Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Civil Partner's Pension may be payable if the death was due to an occupational injury or disease or an accident while travelling directly to or from work.
There is a legal responsibility on both spouses to maintain each other and any dependent children in accordance with their means. Separated or divorced parents are responsible for the maintenance of their children and may have maintenance responsibilities in respect of each other, depending on the terms of the separation or divorce.
Civil partners are also legally obliged to maintain each other and any dependent children in accordance with their means and may have maintenance responsibilities in respect of each other if the civil partnership is dissolved, depending on the terms of the dissolution.
Cohabiting parents do not have a financial responsibility to each other but both parents have a responsibility for the maintenance of their children. A cohabitant who is a guardian of their partner’s child, or the child their partner has the day-to-day care of, has a financial responsibility to the child.
If a cohabiting relationship subsequently breaks down, you may have a right to maintenance under the redress scheme for cohabiting couples.
You can find out about maintenance here. There is also information on how maintenance is assessed for social welfare payments and how maintenance affects your tax.
There are specific rules about taxation in the year of a person's death. For example, a tax refund may be due. There are also extra credits for widowed parents in the years following the death of a spouse. Read here for more information about tax in the year of death and the years following a death. The Revenue Commissioners have information on the tax treatment of widowed people and surviving civil partners here. Surviving civil partners are treated the same as widows/widowers for tax purposes.
Information about the income tax credits and reliefs available to people parenting alone is available here.
Guardianship rights entitle the parent of a child to make important decisions regarding that child's upbringing, for example, decisions on the child's religion, education, medical treatment and where the child lives. All mothers, irrespective of whether they are married or unmarried, have automatic guardianship status in relation to their children, unless they give the child up for adoption.
In addition, fathers married to the mother of their children also have automatic guardianship rights. A father, however, who is not married to the mother of his child does not have automatic guardianship rights in relation to that child. Find out more about guardianship here. Mothers who are sole guardians should make a will appointing guardians of their children in the event of their own death.
Custody and access
Custody is the right to the physical care and control of a child. Access is the right of a child to maintain direct contact with the parent with whom the child does not reside. When the parents of a child separate and they cannot agree on who should have custody of the child, the court decides. An unmarried mother is the sole guardian of a child born outside of marriage. However, it is not necessary for the father to have guardianship before he applies for access or custody.