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A Single Parent's Top-Ten List of Questions

Single parents are seeking answers to questions about everything from fitting in as a single parent, recovering from a divorce, and negotiating for child support and alimony payments, to such challenges as surviving on a single-parent budget, finding a therapist or a support group, and coping with dating and remarriage.

How can I adjust?

Being a single parent isn't easy in a world where couples seem joined at the hip. But what you need to do is to stop feeling sorry for yourself and look for ways to fit in. Get involved with a single-parent support group for the support and the fun. Reach out to other single parents who may feel like they're having problems fitting in, too. Invite them and their kids over for a potluck dinner or a picnic in the park. Explore ideas for making your way in the world as a single person. The better you feel about yourself as a person, the better you'll feel as a single parent.

How can I heal?

Whether your spouse has died or you've just survived a painful divorce, you're going through a grieving process that includes denial, anger, bargaining, and depression and finally ends in acceptance. Get involved in a divorce or bereavement support group. You also need to try to heal by crying whenever you feel the urge, exercising, taking some kind of class, working on your hobby, socializing with other adults, and reaching out to others. Yes, believe it not, other folks are hurting and need your help. By helping others, you can actually help yourself heal faster. Finally, if a year has passed and you're still paralyzed by grief, seek out the help of a professional therapist.

How can I make fair child-support and alimony payments?

If you're the potential payer, don't accept the first terms suggested by your ex's attorney as you negotiate your child-custody or alimony agreements. Hire your own attorney to help negotiate on your behalf, and if you still feel that you're expected to pay more than you should, request that the court assign a mediator to collect all the facts and make an unbiased decision. Courts usually provide a court-ordered mediator at no cost, but you can also pay for a private mediator who may be able to come up with an agreement that you and your ex both will both find acceptable.

How can I receive fair child-support and alimony payments?

If you'll be receiving child support or alimony payments, stick up for yourself and your children by fighting for the support payments you deserve. Hire an attorney to help you negotiate terms you can live with or, if you and your ex are at an impasse, request that the court assign a mediator to assemble all the facts and make a decision that you must both abide by. When a court-ordered mediator gets involved, the terms are usually as fair and unbiased as you can expect to receive.

How can I make it on my budget?

As a single parent, you're probably experiencing a money crunch because your income is less than it was before. In many cases, the income that was supporting one household is now supporting two households. Look for ways to increase your income. Try to eliminate or restructure your debts.

How can we develop a co-parenting plan that works?

You and your ex need to have a written co-parenting plan that addresses all the issues including living arrangements, shared expenses, religious training, schooling, extracurricular activities, discipline policies, and provisions for unexpected catastrophes. As you talk about your plan, keep the best interests of your children at heart. This plan is not about you — it's about your kids and the best way to maintain continuity in their lives and give them the assurance that comes with both parents' love and care.

Where can I find a single-parent support group?

Single-parent support groups are everywhere. You can even find specialty support groups such as groups for single mothers only, single fathers only, and mixed singles. The diversity doesn't stop there. You can choose from groups that focus on religious support, bereavement support, or support for people who have recently divorced.

Ask for referrals from your therapist, religious institution, and community agencies. Ask around and watch your local newspaper for information about support-group meetings. Attend at least three sessions before you decide whether a group is or isn't right for you. After you find a comfortable fit, you'll receive the support you need.

Where can I find counseling for my kids and myself?

Ask for referrals from your friends, family physician, religious advisor, or health-insurance provider. You can also locate free or low-cost therapy through community non-profit centers, local churches, and university master's or doctorate programs. Regardless of your income or health-insurance provisions, you can find professional counseling to fit your budget, so don't assume counseling is only for your wealthy friends. Professional therapy is now within everyone's reach.

How do I get back into the dating game?

Whether you want to date just for the fun of it or you're looking for someone to marry, here are a few ways to find someone to date:

  • Join a coed club or class.
  • Hang out in bookstores, museums, art galleries, libraries, and any other place where singles frequent.
  • Get involved in your church, synagogue, or mosque (especially their single-parent support groups).

What factors should I consider before remarriage?

Before considering remarriage, think about these factors:

  • The longer you date and get to know your fiancé, the more likely your marriage will be a happy one that lasts.
  • Avoid marrying on the rebound.
  • Taking the dating thing nice and slow is the way to go.
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