Around 40 to 50 percent of marriages in the US end in divorce. As a result, many parents are then tasked with the difficult undertaking of becoming a single parent. In this guide, we’re going to walk you through some of the resources available to help single parents be as successful as possible.
Whether you’re going through a divorce, looking for a home or transportation, re-evaluating your budget, or trying to make your work schedule operate as best as possible, here are some resources that can help you navigate the world of single parenting — no matter what stage you’re in. We’ve included resources about general financial assistance, how to manage your bills and debt, finding childcare and healthcare, mental health resources, discipline strategies, and educational resources to help you prosper as a single parent.
For those who are going through or might be going through a divorce in the near future, there is much to consider. Of course, divorce is difficult enough itself as is, but you also have to think about the paperwork involved, how much it might cost, and how long it takes to finalize a divorce.
To start, you should think about whether or not you will be living with your spouse during the divorce. While you’re married, your assets still belong to both of you, and until the divorce is final, you’ll both legally be able to use any forms of income available to the both of you. If at all possible, it’s good to sit down with your spouse and talk to them about your assets and who has access to what income and how it should be spent, especially if you plan to separate during the divorce. You may even want to get a legal separation agreement signed with the stipulations of your severance detailed.
From there, you’ll want to actually file a petition for divorce. In this step, you’re clearly dictating the reasons for your divorce as well as how you plan to split. That is to say, how you will split your assets, who takes ownership over certain properties (like cars and houses), and what kind of custody agreement you’d prefer (if you have children).
After you’ve made all of this information clear to the court, they are going to need all of you financial information. Again, if at all possible, now is a good time to sit down with your spouse and make sure that all of your financial documents are accurate and in order. You should be in agreement about all assets in your possession, your income, etc. because you’ll have to disclose everything to the court.
At this point, the two of you may be able to come to a mutual understanding. If that’s the case, you’ll be able to split your assets and agree to all other terms of your divorce.
However, sometimes things aren’t quite that easy. If your spouse doesn’t accept the terms of your divorce, they might respond to the request by sending you an alternate set of terms. They could also simply completely disagree with the terms of the divorce, which means you may have to reevaluate your terms entirely. This could mean some meetings with a mediator to discuss each individual item discussed on your asset disclosure (or perhaps custody terms).
When it comes to money, you could be looking at a total charge of as little as $500 if you plan to represent yourself in court, and if you believe you and your spouse can come to a fair agreement. This also means you likely won’t have to spend a lot of time in court. A clean divorce can be over in as little as a few months.
If you plan to hire a lawyer, you could be looking at as much as $250 per hour. What’s more, if you hire a mediator to discuss individual terms of your divorce, you could be looking at $100 to $300 additional per hour. Documentation costs for a mediator can tack on another $500 to $1500 on average as well. The time it takes to settle a divorce and the money it will cost you in the end will vary depending on your situation.
If you’re a single parent, especially if you’ve just been through a divorce, finding appropriate and affordable housing can be challenging. As a result, single parent households have access to some additional helpful resources. If you’re leaving an abusive situation, you may want to check with some local emergency shelters your area. These temporary housing options can often help you get out of a threatening situation. In addition, these types of shelters can often also help you find safe, affordable housing for you and your children once you’re ready to leave.
Furthermore, you may be able to find subsidized housing that is available in your area if your income meets the requirements. Subsidized housing is housing that is paid partially or in full by the government for those who don’t meet income requirements to be able to afford traditional style housing.
Other great options include housing vouchers, which cover your rent payment if you are unable to, and local housing organizations and nonprofits. Vouchers are a good option to sign up for through your local state office if you may need temporary assistance for a short period of time.
In addition, in most states, there are nonprofit organizations that work with local single parents and low income families to help place them in affordable housing. In some cases, the housing management works with the organization to lower the monthly payment for families and in other cases the organization might help front some or all of the rent cost.
If you currently own a home or would like to own a home, there may also be some options available to you depending on your circumstances. Depending on your state’s regulations, there are usually different loan programs you can sign up for as a single parent including: single parent down payment assistance, loans specifically made for single parents, and low cost mortgages for single parents and families.
Moreover, you may be able to find charitable housing options, similar to Habitat for Humanity, which may raise the money necessary to build you and your family a home. Of course, each of these options require certain, and varying, items of qualification. However, it’s a great idea to explore several different options in order to find the best one for your family.
Working, being a single parent, and trying to create a transportation schedule that fits your family can be quite frustrating. Additionally, having and affording a car is not always an option for all families. As such, scheduling bus pickups for your children and using for public transport options are often a much better idea if you’re trying to save money. Check out your local bus, subway, or tram options. If you live near your work, you may be able to find cheap or free bicycles available for your use through a local program (some even rent out bikes for use). Some city programs may gift bikes to families in low income situations to help them get where they need to go.
If getting around on a bicycle or public transport is simply not an option for you, due to where you live (or if you are suffering from a disability or have a disabled child) there are several charities out there that work to donate vehicles to those in need. It’s usually free to sign up and let the charity know that you are in need of a car. In some cases, you must meet particular requirements to be considered. For example, you might need to work at least part time, or have at least two or more individuals in your family that need use of the car (children included).
As a single parent, money is often tight. However, after you’ve been through a divorce, you may have additional debt that is weighing you down. When you’re working on a plan to get out of debt, it’s crucial that you sit down and put all of your assets, expenses, and debts out on the table.
No cost is too big or small to consider. Full transparency and honesty with yourself is important when you’re creating an effective plan to get out of debt. If you ignore certain expenses simply because they are tiny, or you choose to disregard larger expenses because they feel untouchable, you’re not really getting an accurate representation of your financial portfolio.
Once you have a clear picture of your finances out on the table, you can start to categorize your monthly costs versus bills that will take longer to pay off. Examine where your money is going each month and if there are cuts and shifts that you can make to put funds where you need it most.
Even though it may feel impossible to pay off those large debts, those are often the ones you need to actually think about paying off first. If you use your assets to pay off those looming, big debts first, you’ll be saving more money in the long run. Large loans often come with sky high interest. As such, if you just try and chip away at it bit by bit each month, you probably feel like you’re not getting anywhere and your interest just tacks fees right back on. Before you know it, you’re back where you started or worse, you owe more than you did in the first place. If you can help it, try and get these whittled down as quickly as possible. Paying these off first will not only save you so much money in the long run, but it’ll free you up to pay off smaller debts faster.
Out of control debts can also hurt you in other ways that just financially. Unpaid debts can become a much larger issue and can affect things like your credit score (which is FREE to check and obtain report). If monthly payments aren’t made on time, you may have a grace period, but beyond that debts are often sent to collections. If collection companies are contacted to settle the debts, they may contact you and give you options for repaying the debt without hurting your credit score. However, sometimes, as soon as your debts are sent over to a collection agency, it’s already taken a toll on your credit. Once your credit score has been affected, you may find it increasingly difficult to obtain future loans. For example, getting a car loan, a home loan, or a credit card when you need it most.
In order to avoid issues like this in the future, start saving and paying off your debts as quickly as possible. If you’re a qualifying low income household, you may also have access to grants that could help you pay off some of your debt. To start, there are always options like refinancing your loans or debt consolidation. Refinancing can help you get a lower interest rate and also possibly a lower monthly payment on certain bills. Debt consolidation commonly joins together your loans and debts into a single loan with a lower monthly payment. In some cases of debt consolidation, you may be able to receive some debt forgiveness on some of your loans.
Lastly, low income families can take advantage of wonderful debt relief programs put in place to help your family with various necessities. TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) works specifically with low income families to try and help you become completely self-sufficient. This program can help you with bills and even help you find a job. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) covers the cost of groceries for you and your family. Finally, the WIC program (Women, Infants, and Children Program) can assist you with obtaining food, health care referrals, and nutrition education for pregnant women.
As we discussed earlier in this guide, transportation and scheduling for a single parent can be tedious. However, in recent years, the possibility of working from home has become more accessible. If you’re a single parent that is having difficulties finding proper childcare, or would simply like to save the money and skip your commute, working from home could be a great option for you. It can give you back some extra time with your children, as well as time for other activities, like after school programs. Single parents may also spend their additional time on getting a degree or certificate program, which can potentially help in their career pursuits.
Common work from home opportunities can include:
Additionally, there can also be more opportunities that exist based off of your location, expertise, and experience. An increasing number of job fields are seeing the benefit in allowing their employees to work from home. So, if working from home would be beneficial to you and your family, there are so many jobs out there willing to work with your schedule and family needs.
Finding a proper childcare provider is stressful. However, there are a few things you can do in order to make the search much easier. First and foremost, start searching as early as possible. As you get closer to the school year, many childcare providers will already be spoken for. If your goal is to land a provider that is experienced and affordable, start shopping as early as possible.
There are usually at least a handful of local childcare facilities that are run and operated out of an individual’s home, and are usually much less expensive than larger providers. Of course, it is important to make sure that they have the proper licensing and certifications necessary to give your children exemplary care.
Your state may also have childcare grants and programs that can help you lower the cost of expensive childcare. These programs can help get you find a great childcare program and/or may cover some or all of your childcare cost (depending on the program and your state). What’s more, you may qualify for the childcare tax credit each year if your child was under childcare while you were at work or looking for work. This credit is intended to grant you some relief in obtaining and maintaining proper childcare.
In addition, there are fantastic programs available for your children to receive affordable head start schooling. It’s proven that children who are able to take advantage of head start classes early on end up being more successful throughout their academic career. Those who employ these educational steps as soon as possible have higher chances of finishing high school and college so that they can be headed toward a rewarding career. These programs can help your child receive the essential developmental training that they need to be successful throughout their stay in school.
Separate from acquiring childcare, you should always make sure that you have an emergency childcare plan in place. As a single parent, it’s important that you talk with your loved ones and friends about your situation.
When you’re working and time is precious, all it takes is a single mishap for your plans to be thrown off course. As such, if you aren’t able to get to your child in time to pick them up from childcare or their school, in the case of an emergency, it’s smart to talk with someone who might be able to help you on short notice.
Especially if your work or home isn’t particularly close to your childcare facilities, it’s imperative that you talk with trusted loved ones to come up with a plan of action. It’s even better if you can brainstorm through several back up plans in order to have all of your bases covered. Depending on the age of your children, it’s a great idea to also let them know your emergency plan. They should be familiar with who could pick them up at any time, and what to do in case an emergency happens.
Assistance programs like Medicaid are available for families who may not be able to afford medical assistance. However, Medicaid has very strict requirements for those who can benefit from the program. If your income does not meet the standards, there are still other options available in order to provide your children proper healthcare. For example, programs like CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) will cover the cost of state health care for your child, even if you don’t qualify for Medicaid. However, each state’s requirements are different, so you’ll want to check with your local state healthcare office to make sure that your children qualify for CHIP.
In one study of 154 preadolescents that were sent to receive behavioral health treatment due to a mental illness, 89 percent of patients were from a disrupted family home. That simply means that their family structure, being raised by both of their biological parents, was disrupted. However, that does not mean that abuse or trauma was at play in the child’s life. In fact, only 36% of the children involved in the study had experienced trauma or abuse of some kind.
Of course, this isn’t to say that children develop mental illnesses simply from growing up in a single parent household. This is a small study of individuals who lived with a non-traditional family that happened to experience mental health problems.
However, this does bring to light some essential roles in a child’s life, and the fact that children in single parent households could potentially miss out on some of those interactions. In an attempt to get ahead of mental illnesses, there are an incredible amount of resources available to single parents. Programs for mental health, educational resources to help parents recognize mental illness, after school programs, and more are available in most states to help parents get kids the proper attention and care they require.
Mental illnesses can occur at every age, and it’s important for parents to understand how to handle what you and your child are going through. If you think that your child may have a mental health issue, it’s important that you take the necessary steps to address their health immediately.
Undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses can grow into very difficult to manage illnesses that can spread into many aspects of child, teen, or adult’s life. It can make it incredibly difficult to perform daily tasks and can hinder a child’s ability to finish school, find a job, and keep healthy relationships.
It may seem like early childhood is too early to start evaluating the mental health of a child. However, it’s actually a crucial time for kids to start expressing themselves in a healthy way. Early childhood development includes the learning of healthy social and emotional behaviors. Research is concluding that many of these crucial functions required to maintain a healthy life are learned much earlier than originally thought. As such, there are many early childhood development resources and organizations out there to help parents. For example, the Zero to Three initiative complies information and helpful practices that parents can use to get their kids socially active before school ever starts.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness states mental health conditions are common among teens and young adults. One in five individuals in the US has a mental illness. Half of those cases will develop their mental illness by the age of 14.
You may find that your child has become confused, irritable, and/or saddened due to their mental state. It’s important to remember that mental illnesses develop due to a multitude of reasons that researchers are still trying to understand. However, trying to handle this complicated situation as a single parent can be even more challenging. That’s why it’s so important to understand that asking for help is not a weakness, it’s a sign of strength and can help your child get the help they need.
Many of the health related programs mentioned earlier may help you and your child get the mental health assistance that you need. However, there are other mental healthcare providers and assistance programs available that are willing to work with you directly if you are on a low income. There are federally funded healthcare centers that offer therapy and other mental health treatments. You can also check your local area for therapists that charge based on your income. You may be able to find a more affordable option that way.
If you find that you or your child requires medication for your mental health, organizations like the Partnership for Prescription Assistance can help you pay for it. In other cases, there are distributors and pharmaceutical companies themselves that do what they can to offer low income solutions for getting proper medication. Some of the costs associated with mental health checkups and treatment may be covered under your medical care plan as well.
Childcare resources for single parents
Although the mental health of your children is incredibly important, you should remember that your mental health is vital to your wellbeing and quality of life too. There are plenty of aspects of being a single parent that can become ongoing difficulties in your life. Being a single income family, potentially negotiating childcare services & custody regularly, obtaining the right healthcare for your children, and so much more can cause constant stress for any parent. Dealing with sleep deprivation, the stigma attached to being a single parent, ongoing conflict with an ex (including possible abuse), and an inadequate support network can truly take their toll.
That type of everyday stress is simply not healthy for anyone to have to endure. As a result, you may find that your own mental health or physical health is suffering. Remember to slow down when you can, and to take some time for yourself. Of course, this can be easier said than done, although remembering to care for yourself is just as crucial as being a single parent. If you don’t ask for help when you need it, you may find yourself in a much more dire mental or physical state, which can lead to even more hardships for you and your family down the line. Remember that your mental and physical health should also take priority. If you ever need someone to talk to, reach out to support groups in your area as well as friends and family.
A group of researchers at The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues had this to say about the effect of divorce on children, “Divorce affects primary bonds with parents, presents challenges to conceptions of social reality, and creates stress which interferes with normal development”. In a study done by this group, it was observed that whether or not a child is living with a single parent, it is the solidity of intact relationships in a child’s life that has a positive or negative effect on their development or behavior — not marital status.
This is to say that divorce is hard on the relationships of all parties involved. Both parents are impacted as well as the child. However, this particular study showed that children who continued to have positive role models and relationships with family members were less affected by the divorce overall than those who did not maintain these relationships. Children who feel as if they are missing out on time with a parent (or parental-type figure) in their life may begin to show signs of aggression, social isolation, mood swings, and an overall unwillingness to cooperate with parents.
Feelings like this, particularly at a young age, may be difficult for some children to understand. Sometimes, kids can withdraw and begin to act in an opposite manner than you may be used to. They may not be able to vocalize exactly what they’re feeling and why they are feeling that way, which can lead to unusual and possibly negative behavior.
As a single parent, it’s tough to help your child through a divorce and also ensure that they receive the proper amount of discipline and structure. First, it’s important to remember a key element at play after a divorce — a support system. If you can start building a support system of friends, family members, teachers, and other mentors for your child, it’s much more likely that they will be open to expressing themselves in a healthy way as you go through this transition together.
With that being said, it can be extremely exhausting feeling like you have to be both parents at once, especially when it comes to discipline. When you’re doing the disciplining by yourself, it can become tiring trying to keep everything in place, and also make time to have fun with your child.
Reminding your children of chores, making tough decisions, enforcing rules, disciplining, and creating structure are just a few jobs that a single parent has to perform after a divorce. As such, it can feel like your responsibilities are just too great to slow down. Not to mention, many couples come up with a system for discipline together. So, after you separate, deciding how to effectively do it all by yourself is imperative.
After a divorce, it’s time for you to decide what’s best for your child. Take all of your rules and strategies for disciplining that you had before the divorce and evaluate what works, and what doesn’t work, given your current situation. From there, you can begin to create a new set of household rules and defined consequences. The earlier on you can do this after your divorce, the better. That way, you can sit down with your child and explain to them the things that might be changing and what they can expect if the rules aren’t followed.
After that, you absolutely must be consistent with your disciplining. It’s a new system and, particularly after a divorce, children may have a tendency to want to push their boundaries. They’re in a completely new situation and don’t know what to expect. Follow through with every guideline that you set and create a solid structure in the home. This may be easier said than done. After a divorce, it’s easy to feel as if you must be quite delicate with your child and as a result discipline may go out the window. Now, of course, this isn’t to say that you have to be hard on your child. However, everyday tasks and expectations should be upheld. If your child doesn’t accomplish what is required of them, you should enforce a boundary with real consequences.
Everyone within your support system should also be made aware of the rules and boundaries that you have set so that they can back you up when you need it most. After your system is in place, it’s time to remember that you are allowed to slow down and have fun with your child. Take breaks with your child set time aside to do something that is purely for fun. You should also feel ok about doing things for yourself; don’t be afraid to ask for time alone. Sometimes you need to recharge your battery too, so asking someone in your support system to help you for a night is ok.
When you’re a single parent, you may run into the issue of a child not receiving an adequate amount of role models in their life. As a single parent, you’re doing the best that you can to be their mother and/or father figure, however there’s only so much that one person can do. With all the other stresses of being a single parent, you shouldn’t feel pressured to fill all the role model positions in your child’s life. There are so many wonderful programs out there that can help kids interact socially in healthy way. Programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America can help get your child connected with a role model that fits their personality and interests.
In addition, other programs through communities like your local church, a nearby YMCA, and afterschool programs can help your child find positive role models as well as nourish their education. Through afterschool programs, your child may be able to find and hone new skills that they would have never otherwise explored. They can connect with other children of their same age group and interests and they may find teens and adults that can give them advice and information about things in their life that they are working through. When used in conjunction with your own parenting, these role models can truly make all the difference in your child’s life.
A single parent usually has to fill many roles themselves. In a single day, you might be thinking about your career, how to get things done around the house, what schoolwork your child might need help with, etc. You might feel like a career person, housekeeper, disciplinarian, and educator all in one. With all of this going on, it’s so hard to find the time to schedule in events that your ex-spouse and yourself may have taken turns on. For example, parent teacher conferences, helping your child with homework, field trips, extracurricular activities, and more are now solely your responsibility.
In order to mitigate some of the stress you might feel trying to help your child be successful in school, while also maintaining the rest of your responsibilities, there’s no better time than now to start devising a plan of action for helping your child accomplish their educational goals. First, use your support system to help with educational tasks. For example, as a friend or family member to help your child with schoolwork on a weekly basis. Perhaps a family member can attend some field trips or monitor extracurriculars from time to time when you are unable to. Ask a trusted person to step in for you at parent teacher conferences or other required meetings from time to time. Everyone in your support system wants you and your child to be successful, so use them as often as you can.
In addition, there are plenty of additional resources that you child may be able to use once they are of age. Together you can use tools like Kahn Academy to study materials that they might be struggling with. Once they are old enough, they might even be able to use educational resources like these themselves. The US Department of Education also has a plethora of resources available to help you tutor your child in any school subject. In addition, the National PTA has family guides that can help you, or any other caregiver, assist your child with their learning.
Lastly, paying for your child’s schooling can be difficult. Public school can still be costly when it comes down to it. Paying for sports, extracurriculars, supplies, field trips, and more for your child can be spendy. In order to get ahead of the costs, try contacting your child’s school ahead of time to get information about what costs you might expect in the future. Start putting aside a few dollars here and there as a school fund. That way you’re not surprised by last minute supply needs or other activities that cost money. What’s more, programs like TANF will often offer parents grants to help pay for things like school supplies.
Now that we’ve covered your child’s education, it’s time to talk about your own. If you’ve thought about continuing your schooling, here are some reasons why it’s a fantastic idea. Earning a degree (or an additional one — perhaps even a certificate) can open you up to so many new career options. Opportunities that simply wouldn’t have been available to you before will be at your fingertips with a degree. Most importantly, you can earn much more throughout the lifetime of your career if you earn a degree. In fact, the median income of someone with a high school diploma versus someone with a bachelor’s degree is a difference of and additional $18,000 annually.
We’ve talked about why it’s a good idea, but here’s how you can do it. You can go at your own pace. There’s no reason that you have to go back to school full time and risk your stress, sleep, and possibly your current job. Instead, you can complete your schooling at whatever pace you feel comfortable with. Everyone of any age can qualify for financial aid to pay for their schooling as well. Individuals who have a lower income and aren’t dependent on other forms of income often receive more financial aid than those with a larger income. There are also tons of grants and scholarships available for those who choose to go back to school later in life as well as for single parents specifically.
If you’re worried about racking up a huge debt due to school, there are many affordable options that won’t carry the weight of traditional college expenses. First, you can always look into online schooling. Often these classes are much less expensive at your local college in the state you live in. Furthermore, there are many strictly online schools that you can look into instead of a local college. These programs are often designed to fast track you to a degree in your spare time. Community colleges are also a great, affordable option as well. Their classes are often much cheaper and often transferable to a local university. There are so many options for affordable colleges out there that you can take advantage of.
With everything that we’ve talked about, you may be wondering how you can realistically fit all of these activities into your daily life. Of course, it’s not always as simple as it sounds. However, it can be done. To start, no matter what your schedule looks like, you can evaluate its effectiveness and create a strategic daily plan that works for you. Sit down and write a daily and/or weekly schedule of everything you constantly need to accomplish. From there, you can break up your tasks and prioritize which ones need to be done when. Rank them according to importance and then begin to fill up your calendar. Write those tasks into a new schedule that is structured appropriately. What I mean by that is, don’t over-schedule yourself of try to get too many big tasks done in one day.
Give yourself one or two important tasks per day and then sprinkle in some medium and low importance tasks as well. In addition, make sure that you allow yourself time to be with your family and to have time to yourself. Sometimes, when you’re a single parent, actually scheduling this time ensures that no surprise events will pop up during family time or time to yourself. Remember that things are going to come up and things will change, but as long as you are organized you can re-evaluate and make sure all the important tasks get accomplished.
Additionally, always remember to ask for help. You don’t have to do everything by yourself. Reach out to your friends, family, and even your child(ren) to help with things you have going on. Sometimes, you might have to say “no” to a task if it doesn’t fit into your schedule. This is ok. Don’t stress about not being able to do everything. We’re only human and can only do so much. So politely saying “no” every once and a while is healthy.
Finally, try and use all of your time effectively. Being a parent is all about multitasking. So, when you’re sitting at the doctor’s office, take some time to plan out your next day or answer an email. Pay your bills while you’re waiting in line. Help your kids with homework questions while you get started on dinner or ask them to get started on homework while you finish up a task. Use time while you’re child is busy to do some housework. If they’re playing outside or taking a bath, use that as time to clean up. As you start to consolidate your time, you’ll find out the best periods of time that you can use to your advantage.
Going through a divorce and becoming a single parent is undoubtedly demanding. It’s difficult learn how to take care of yourself and your child at the same time, especially if you feel as if you have little help. However, you can make it through with all of the resources that we’ve provided. You can create a support system that helps you to accomplish everything you ever wanted to do while you remain a wonderful, engaged, and organized parent. The most important thing to remember is that you are not in this alone. All of the resources presented here represent a mutual understanding that parenting is hard enough as is. Whether you’re in need of financial assistance, you want to go back to school, or you simply want to have better time management skills, realize that nothing is unattainable when you have the right support and resources at your disposal.