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Family forum: Support with Money

When one partner doesn’t earn enough to cover expenses…

QUESTION:

My 24-year-old daughter has been in a de facto relationship for four years. During this time, the couple has been financially independent. My daughter is studying and has to advise Centrelink of her partner’s earnings, which prohibits her from receiving any benefits. Her partner does not financially support her. She has a part-time job but is struggling to pay rent, buy food and fuel. Can you please advise if there are any steps that can be taken to encourage her partner to financially support her, or if there are any Centrelink provisions that can support her. Her morale and mental health are at a very low point.

ANSWER:

It is not uncommon these days for people entering into relationships to keep their financial affairs separate and support themselves as individuals. This can work if both members of the couple are earning an adequate amount but there needs to be an agreement about what will occur if circumstances change, if a child is born and one of the parties needs to stop working to take on the child-caring role, or if one of the parties loses their job or becomes ill.

The Australian Government income support policies that Centrelink entitlements are based on assess the income of couples (married or de facto) by taking into account the combined income of both parties, based on the assumption that couples are pooling their resources and sharing living costs.

Caring partners would ordinarily share resources and support a partner who was studying, or unable to work due to child rearing responsibilities, or illness.

The fact that your daughter’s partner seems oblivious to this need or is refusing to assist your daughter by taking more than half of the financial burden is not a good sign. Your daughter may benefit from seeing a counsellor to assist her with being more assertive in negotiations with her partner, or perhaps it is time for her to review the relationship.

It is very important that couples discuss how they will manage their finances prior to making the decision to live together. “Pre-marriage” courses or couples counselling can be very useful, as values and attitudes towards money can be discussed and arrangements can be formulated and agreed to, so situations such as the one your daughter has found herself in can be avoided.

Meanness with money or controlling finances to exert power and control is damaging to relationships. In some circumstances, this can constitute financial abuse and be an example of domestic violence.

There are exceptional circumstances in which Centrelink does allow for a member of a couple to be treated as if they were single. However, it is intended to be the last resort, and only applies when all other reasonable means of support have been explored and exhausted.

This would apply if a couple are not able to pool resources but does not apply if they are able to but choose not to.

More information about the definition of a couple and discretion to treat a person as not being a member of a couple for a special reason is available in the Social Security Guide: http://guides.dss.gov.au/guide-social-security-law/2/2/5

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Family Forum is a panel of general practitioners, medical specialists, lawyers, therapeutic and financial counsellors to discuss each letter before the appropriate professional answers it. The panel is appointed by Relationships Australia SA.

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