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Lose your marriage, lose your home

The Age
9 July 2008

Lose your marriage, lose your home
By Carol Nader

The end of a relationship can cause as much housing stress for a separated father as it does for his former partner.

Research has found that the rate of home ownership for separated fathers and mothers is about the same, and vastly lower than for parents who are still together.

"There's an awful lot of non-resident parents in housing stress," said Maggie Walter, co-author of the research and a senior lecturer at the school of sociology at the University of Tasmania.

"Separating, when you have children especially, causes hardship and housing hardship for everyone, and it ripples on for years.

"Both parents have poor housing outcomes in comparison to those who don't separate, or who have not separated yet."

The analysis of 4000 households with parents of children under the age of 18 in 2005, including more than 1000 separated parents, found that 47% of resident parents - usually mothers - and 48% of non-resident parents owned or were paying off a house. But for parents still together, the rate jumped to 81%.

The analysis also revealed that 37% of resident and 40% of non-resident parents were renting privately, compared with 14% of parents still together. And 17% of resident parents and 19% of non-resident parents said they were unable to pay their mortgage or rent on time at least once in 2005.

For parents still together, the rate was only 9%.

The research will be presented at the Australian Institute of Family Studies conference in Melbourne today.

Dr Walter said the proportion of Australians who own their home outright has been declining, and that was partly due to relationship breakdown: "Most people have such big mortgages now that when they separate there seems to be a pattern that both parties are thrown out of home ownership, because even if she gets to keep the equity in the house she won't be able to afford to pay for the mortgage herself, so the house is sold."

Dr Walter said that just as people on low incomes could get rental assistance, separating parents should be able to get financial assistance to help them maintain home ownership, or to re-enter the market if they are in danger of falling out of home ownership.

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