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We provide expert advice, practical support and campaign for single parents

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Becoming a single dad

Dad and son

Becoming a single dad is a life changing event. Here you’ll find a range of practical information to help you with some of the key issues that single dads face in the first few years of becoming a single father, as well as stories shared by single dads and links to the Gingerbread community.

Bereavement

If your partner has died and you have become a single dad, you will need specialised advice. Our bereavement information and advice includes guidance on supporting your children, taking time off work and identifying financial support to help you work your way through this difficult time for your family.

It may also be helpful to read about the experiences of other dads who have lost their partner. For example Chris describes life as a single father after losing his partner, Jo, following a long illness and Eddie talks about his experiences of being a single parent since his wife died suddenly thirteen years ago while his son Connor was a baby.

Separating from a partner

If you have recently split up with your partner, or are in the process of separating, you’ll find lots of useful information in our separation advice. Or use our factsheet guide on the action to take when a relationship ends for a practical guide through the things to do straight away, and the next steps to take.

Money

It’s very important to make sure that you are getting the right financial support for you and your family. If you’ve recently become a single parent, you may be entitled to different benefits and tax credits, an increased amount, or you may now be eligible for the first time.

Tax credits and benefits

Check your eligibility for benefits and tax credits with the Turn2Us online calculator and find out more about the different types of benefits and tax credits available on our money page. You can also call our helpline for help checking your eligibility and entitlements.

If your child is under five, check our guide to the benefits you can claim here. If your child is over five, check our factsheet about jobseekers’ allowance here. If you’re unable to work due to ill health or disability, you may be able to claim employment and support allowance.

If you’re working you may now be able to claim tax credits for the first time, or you may be entitled to an increase now your circumstances have changed. Our factsheet benefits and tax credits if you work 16 hours a week or more has more information on tax credits and benefits if you’re employed.

Tax credits and universal credit– how to claim

You can start the claim process online, or by telephone. Find out more about tax credits in our factsheet benefits and tax credits if you work 16 hours a week or more.

In some areas, you will be told to claim universal credit instead of tax credits. Universal credit is a new benefit system that replaces tax credits. If this applies in your case, you will be told more about universal credit and what to do when you first make a tax credit claim. Our helpline can advise you if you’re told to claim universal credit and more information about universal credit is available here.

Tax credits – what to do if you already receive tax credits

If your family was previously receiving tax credits, make sure you let the tax credits office know you’re now a single parent. It’s important to make sure you get the correct amount and you may be entitled to more tax credits as a result of any recent changes to your family such as separation or the loss of a partner. You can do this online, or by telephone, webchat or post. Find out more about what to report and when by reading our factsheet tax credits when your circumstances change.

Your home – support for your rent or mortgage

If you rent your home, you may be able to claim housing benefit for the first time, or increase the amount of housing benefit you already receive to help you rent a bigger place. If you are on a low income, you may be able to claim housing benefit even if you are working.

If you have a mortgage to pay, there is support available if you are on a low income. See our factsheet housing options for single parents for more information about support for housing costs, including rent, support for mortgage interest and council tax.

The Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline can help you work out if you qualify for housing benefit and other forms of financial support. Details of how to call the helpline are here.

Managing money and debt

If you have concerns about your financial situation, see our making ends meet and dealing with debt factsheets.

Child maintenance

If you and your child’s other parent are separated and your child lives with you most of the time, you will be entitled to claim child maintenance from your child’s other parent.

More about child maintenance

Child maintenance usually includes payment of regular amounts of money to the parent who the child lives with most of the time. The amount depends on how much your child’s other parent earns, how long your child spends with them and whether they have other children to support.

Child maintenance has to be paid for children who are:

  • Under 16
  • Under 20 in full-time non-advanced education (ie A-levels or equivalent)
  • A 16 or 17 year old who has left full-time education but has registered for work or training. In this situation, you must still be receiving child benefit for the young person.

You can claim child maintenance by arranging payment directly with your child’s other parent, or if that is not right for you, then you can claim through the Child Maintenance Service.

Find out more about making arrangements for child maintenance

Work – taking time off as a parent

If you need to spend more time at home, either now or in future, there are different types of leave you can apply for as a single dad. Some are paid and others are unpaid leave, or a mixture of both.

After your child is born: paternity and shared parental leave

You qualify for paternity leave and pay if you are the father of a young child and expect to have responsibility for the child’s care and upbringing. The type of paternity leave you can take will depend on your circumstances. Usually the first period of leave will be ordinary paternity leave. Further leave can be taken to care for your baby as shared parental leave.

Paternity leave if you have been widowed

If your child’s mother has died there are special rules for paternity leave. If you are looking after your child by yourself because your partner has died you may be able to take an additional amount of parental leave and pay. As the rules are complicated please call the Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline for advice on your specific situation.

Paternity leave if you have separated from your child’s mother

Ordinary paternity leave

Ordinary paternity leave usually lasts up to two weeks and must be taken within eight weeks of your child’s birth. Your employer does not have to pay you for this leave, although they may choose to.

If you don’t get paid by your employer during paternity leave, you may receive statutory paternity pay or 90 per cent of your weekly earnings, whichever is lower. You can check your eligibility for paternity leave and pay on the gov.uk website here. This year’s amounts are given here.

Shared parental leave and pay

If your child’s other parent is returning to work before their 52 week maternity leave ends, you can apply to take the remaining leave as shared parental leave. Your child’s mother must have returned to work and given consent for you to use the rest of the leave. You can apply to take the leave as blocks of time off, or as one continuous period of leave.

Your employer does not have to pay your normal earnings during shared parental leave, although they may choose to. If you don’t get paid you may qualify for statutory shared parental pay (SSPP). You can find out more and check you eligibility for shared parental leave and pay here.

Time off to deal with an emergency or if your child is ill

You have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with an emergency involving someone who depends on you. An emergency can include your child or relative falling ill or being injured, a problem with your childcare arrangements or your child being involved in an incident at school.

You should not be penalised by your employer for taking time off, as long as your reasons are genuine. Your employer does not have to pay you while you are off work.

You can only take as much time as is needed to deal with the emergency off. For example, if your child is ill and cannot attend school, you can take time off to arrange someone to care for them. You do not have the right under this rule to take extended time off work to care for them yourself. Read more about the right to take time off in an emergency here.

Parental leave – up to 18 weeks unpaid leave

You are entitled to parental leave if you have a child under the age of 18, and you have at least one year's continuous service with your employer. You must also be named on the child's birth or adoption certificate or have legal parental responsibility. You can take up to 18 weeks parental leave for each of your children. Your employer does not have to pay you for this leave but they may choose to and they can delay this leave in some circumstances.

The purpose of parental leave is to care for your child. Examples of the way parental leave might be used include:

  • Straight after your paternity or adoption leave (providing you give the correct notice)
  • Spending more time with your child
  • Time with your child during a stay in hospital
  • Looking at new schools
  • Settling your child into new childcare arrangements
  • Allowing your family to spend more time together, for example, taking your child to stay with grandparents.

Single parents who are self-employed, a foster carer or a worker (for example an agency worker, contractor etc) are not entitled to parental leave.

For more information on parental leave and help if your employer refuses your request see this information provided by the charity Working Families.

Taking leave after a bereavement

If your spouse or partner dies, you have a legal right to take reasonable time off work to make funeral arrangements, as well as to attend the funeral. You also have the right to reasonable time off to deal with other practical issues, such as registering the death and applying for probate in order to manage your partner’s assets. You should not be penalised by your employer for taking this time off. What is reasonable will depend on individual circumstances, but is usually a few days. Your employer does not have to pay you for the time you are off work, although some do choose to do so.

Additional time off is often called compassionate leave and may be paid if your employer chooses to do so. Talk to your employer to see if they offer extra time off as part of your employment contract as being with your children after the death of their other parent is likely to be your top priority.

There is no legal right to compassionate leave and if your employer doesn’t offer it, you could ask for paid annual leave or consider taking sick leave if you are not fit to return to work.

If you have experienced bereavement and would like to know more about your employment rights, support for you and your family, and your benefit and tax credit entitlement, our online bereavement guide can help you. Call our helpline for detailed individual advice.

Work: changing your working hours or requesting flexibility

There’s no set model for how to approach working and being a single father – finding a balance between paid work and caring for your family depends on your individual situation. There’s support and guidance available to help you find the balance that suits you and your family. 

More about changing or reducing your hours at work

Our factsheet working life is a guide to your rights in the workplace and takes you through the options and how to apply to change your working hours. Working Families provides advice for working parents, particularly around flexible working and discrimination. Visit their website or call 0300 012 0312 for advice.

You may find after becoming a single dad that the hours you used to work aren’t right for you anymore. Changing or reducing your working hours so that they fit better with your role as a parent is sometimes called flexible working. The law allows employees to ask their employer to change their working hours.

Flexible working can be any number of working hours or a pattern that helps you to care for your children. For example, flexible working may include:

  • Working flexible hours, so that you can choose when to work (although there are usually some set times you have to work)
  • Compressing your hours so that you work the same hours over fewer days
  • Working from home
  • Reducing your hours
  • Starting early and finishing early.

Find out more about flexible working from gov.uk.

Leaving work

If you make the decision to leave work, for example to care for your family full time, manage your health, return to education – or for any other reason – you’ll need to know what kind of support your family is entitled to. Find out more in our online leaving work advice.

If you’re thinking of giving up work and claiming benefits, make sure you get advice before resigning, as different rules apply depending on where you live and the age of your child. In some cases it is possible to claim benefits immediately, but other situations can be more complicated and you may struggle to support your family financially.

For advice on your individual situation call the Single Parent Helpline on 0808 802 0925 to speak to an expert adviser and work out your options and entitlements. Calls are free.

Returning to education

If you plan to study, we have information about the financial support available to you. Find the information you need – whether you’ll be studying full or part time, working or not - in our online education advice.

Difficult times

Situations may arise that you need some additional support to cope with. It isn’t always easy to ask for help, but by doing so you’ll be in a much better position to think clearly, tackle problems directly and be there for your children when they really need you. Single dad David share his experiences during difficult times in this video, including the challenges he’s faced, and the positive experiences of being a single parent.

Support for you

Our factsheet on emotional wellbeing has lots of advice and information for single parents going through tough times.

You may find it helpful to talk to other single parents if you’re going through a difficult period. Our online forums are a place to meet people in similar situations and share experiences.

Support for your child

There will be times when your child needs you to help guide them through a difficult situation. Our factsheet support for children and young people has lots of information about where to get support and advice.

Single dad’s stories

Find out how other single dads have coped with a difficult situation, and what life’s like for them and their children. Read our inspiring single dads’ stories below.

  • "I’m not sure I realised quite what I had taken on. I surprise myself at times. My life is so different now to how it was ten years ago but I couldn’t imagine it any other way." Read Dan's story.
  • "We’ve got a routine. On Saturdays we go shopping, Sundays it’s swimming. We went to London for Chinese New Year, we manage to do different things even though we don’t have much money." Read Jonathan's story. 
  • "I don’t see myself as being any different to a single mum. Apart from breast feeding, there is nothing a dad cannot do as well as a mum and vice versa." Read Leigh's story of building a support network for him and his daughter.
  • "I have the impression that women talk and share, touch and empathise. Men? Well, unless it is in the pub, they don't reveal their emotion." Read Steve's story of coping after separation.

Single dad’s forums

Being a member of Gingerbread means you get access to our online forums, including our single dads’ forum where single dads come to share their experiences and chat to other parents. Find out more about membership here or sign up straight away to access the forum.

Join a local Gingerbread group

Single dads are essential members of our local groups for single parents to meet up regularly. Check our interactive map to see if there's a local group near you. Meet other single parents in your area, or start a new one.