In The Words of Helen Reddy...
Since 1908 International Women’s Day has strived for gender parity and evolved into the celebration of social, cultural, political and economic achievements of women.
A few years after my youngest son was born in 2002 I realised how far we still have to go in gaining equality, when my husband at the time said ‘but the wife is supposed to do the husband’s washing.’ This was in response to my confession that I was finding it hard to cope with two young children, managing the house, garden and pool on my own, whilst returning to work as a project manager, with no family support and a husband who worked away from home for about six months per year for periods up to four weeks at a time and whose first priority on returning home each time was to play tennis with his mate. That’s a long sentence. At the time it felt like a long life sentence.
With my husband away so much I made the decision that in order to properly care for my children and to parent them in the fashion that was important to me, I needed to leave my job and become a full-time parent until my youngest child commenced school. In 2012 when the youngest was nine his father ended the marriage – apparently I still wasn’t doing enough of his washing or ‘wifely duties.’
Life as a single parent wasn’t that different to what I’d been used to. What was new was being exposed to my now ex-husband’s previously unseen energy and interest in the family, seemingly motivated by his determination make our lives difficult and to manipulate the child support system in order to hurt us financially.
Australia’s Child Support Agency (CSA) allows paying parents, more often the fathers than the mothers because we still haven’t reached the point of parity in salaries, to phone in and provide year to date earnings and estimates of income verbally, without the provision of evidence. If the receiving parent (more often the mother) wants to object to the accuracy of the information provided, she must do so in writing, providing evidence and valid reasons as to why the CSA should not accept the verbal, non-verified information from the paying parent.
I was advised by the CSA that if I had no evidence to support my objections I would be better to wait for the reconciliation process at tax time to sort out and rectify any inaccuracies in the information provided. I waited. At tax time there was no outcome in their reconciliation process that revealed his devious deceptions. I then had to submit written requests for extensions of time to have my objections considered. More time and energy I just didn’t think I had! But I discovered that when a marriage ends you come out with more strength, more resilience and more determination than you realise and when you need them most those qualities come back in droves.
Fuelled by coffee I googled and rang all the free resources available to me for legal advice and advice specific to child support matters including the Child Support Agency. I asked every question I could think of until I had all the information I needed. With tears of frustration and tiredness I wrote my extension of time applications – one for the reconciliation process that hadn’t occurred in my opinion and one for their acceptance of his ridiculously low estimates of income. Whilst my shoulders ached from working at the un-ergonomic dining room table, I typed my objections in a factual, non-emotive, concise manner. My extensions of time were allowed and therefore my objections were considered and investigated.
This week the Child Support Agency found in my favour on both accounts, the outcome of which is that he now owes a considerable amount of unpaid child support.
I won! I am celebrating that win for two reasons: one because my child gets what he is entitled to by law and two because I summonsed the strength, the time, the emotional energy and the determination to fight that battle and win it.
My next battle continues this week. My son’s father has applied to court for increased custody of our son. He can afford a lawyer. I can’t. I was denied legal aid because I own my house, so I am forced to represent myself. Gaining access to the right advice and information to represent myself in court is taking a lot of time, energy and emotional strength. But that’s okay, because I know that armed with determination and the right information I can fight for what my son wants and what is the best outcome for him.
For the past year I’ve had a wonderful, supportive boyfriend who says I am amazing and special because I do so much as a single parent. I say, ‘no honey, I’m just normal, I’m ordinary - I do what every other single mother does.’
But today, on International Women’s Day, I am going to agree with him. On this day I allow myself to acknowledge that I am amazing and special and strong, along with all the other single mothers doing incredible jobs keeping their lives and those of their children together.
Today I am going to celebrate my achievements as a woman, a mother, an employee and as a gutsy battler against systems that force us to put yet another thing on our already overloaded ‘to do’ lists – that is to fight for what is right. How? I don’t know yet. I might get the hairbrush out and sing a few bars of Helen Reddy's 'I Am Woman.' Or maybe I’ll get a takeaway coffee and treat myself to a pedicure at the place down the road with those automatic massaging chairs...
©Kate Willson 2016
Author, Freelance Writer, Single Mother (not in that order)