When you’re planning on getting pregnant, it’s extremely helpful to know what you are and aren’t entitled to in terms of maternity leave.
You might find that you haven’t been with your employer long enough to qualify for any maternity leave at all, or they may not offer any. It helps to know exactly what to expect beforehand so you don’t get a nasty surprise later.
It might mean you put your attempts at trying to conceive off a few months, or you might need to re-evaluate everything. These are the things you should take into consideration before you get pregnant.
1. Your own circumstances and preferences
What worked for your sister or friend when she was pregnant isn’t necessarily going to work for you. You will quite possibly have different financial needs to everyone else you know, and that’s okay!
Think about things such as when you’d ideally like to start on maternity leave. Are you planning on returning to work? If so, will you return full time or part time? Will your partner take some paternal leave? Do you and your partner agree on your strategy and do you have his support?
Modern life is expensive and many people, no matter how much they want to, can live off of one income. Cost of living pressures keep mounting and once you add a new baby into the mix, you will find you have more expenses than you even imagined. It can cost a bomb to set up a nursery for a new baby, and then there are ongoing costs after that.
Can you survive on one income, or a reduced second income? What will this mean for essentials like rent/mortgage payments, food, transport, utilities, insurance and so on? Could you make the payments or would you be facing hardship? Are there things you’re spending money on that you could trim to ease the financial pressure? Do you have any savings to fall back on? Can you meet the added financial costs that the baby will bring, on top of your current living expenses?
3. Does your employer offer maternity leave?
Some employers offer maternity leave, in addition to the paid parental leave offered by the Australian government. They usually do this through registered workplace agreements, via employment contracts or in workplace policies. The amount of leave and pay entitlements will vary depending on what your individual employer offers.
If you have employer-funded parental leave, it doesn’t affect your eligibility for the Australian government’s paid parental leave scheme – you can have both.
As maternity leave offered by various employers vary widely, you need to work out how long you need to have been employed by your organisation before you can take maternity leave (this is usually 12 months, but could be more or less depending on your employer). Is the leave paid or unpaid or is there the option to do both? Can you take the leave at half pay to extend the time you have off? How much notice do you need to give? How long do you need to have worked for your employer before they will offer you the option of taking maternity leave?
4. Will you qualify for government assistance?
There are a number of payments offered by the government to help with the cost of raising children, generally dependent upon your family’s joint income.
When working out whether you can afford to take time off to have a baby, you should determine if you will be eligible for any family payments such as Family Tax Benefit A or Family Tax Benefit B. If so, will that assist you to take more time off in baby’s first year? Are you eligible for the government’s paid parental leave scheme? It can be paid for 18 continuous weeks in the first year of your child’s life, but there are eligibility conditions you need to meet.
5. Do you have a contingency plan?
Life doesn’t always go to plan, and any number of circumstances that are beyond your control could eventuate.
What happens if your partner loses their job or is seriously injured, or worse, during the time you are on maternity leave? You should investigate income protection, life and disability insurance options for both yourself and your partner to cover you.
You might have decided you only need a few months off with your baby and will be happy to go back to work. Your own emotions and expectations may change and you’ll find yourself devastated at the prospect of heading back too soon. Or if your baby ends up having extra needs, you might need to spend more time at home before heading back to the workforce.
What if your daycare options don’t pan out? Perhaps a family member agreed to care for bub on your return to work but, for whatever reason, is no longer willing/able to. Do you have fall back care options? Should you have had the baby’s name on a waiting list? Can you afford daycare?