There’s so much to think about when you discover you’re expecting a baby, or have been matched with a child for adoption, that it’s easy to forget everything that’s in place to help you.
JSP 760 is a good place to start – it explains the entitlements your soldier has to maternity, adoption or paternity leave and pay. Here are a few highlights for you to consider, whether you’re married or in a long-term relationship…
Sharing the load
Shared parental leave (SPL) gives you more choice in how you care for your child during the first year. A mother (or primary adopter) must take a minimum of two weeks’ maternity (or adoption) leave following the birth/placement. After that, if you’re a working parent, you can opt to share up to 50 weeks’ leave, and up to 37 weeks of statutory shared parental pay with your serving partner under the Armed Forces Shared Parental Leave Scheme and the shared parental leave scheme of your own employer.
There are several ways to use SPL, including:
- the mother or primary adopter returns to work and their partner takes SPL
- the mother or primary adopter returns to work early from maternity or adoption leave and takes SPL later
- both parents are off at the same time
- both parents share SPL evenly and are off at different times
- both parents return to work at the same time and take SPL later.
After the birth of their third child, soldier Gary took sixth months’ SPL so his wife Naomi could return to her job. “Having taken over a year off with the previous two children, I didn’t want the same break at this stage of my career,” says Naomi. “We wanted to give Gary the opportunity to experience all the ups (and downs!) of looking after a baby every day.
“SPL is a crucial part of achieving gender equality in the workplace and gives fathers a precious opportunity to spend quality time with their baby. We would highly recommend it to anyone.”
To qualify, your soldier needs to satisfy the ‘Continuity of Employment Test’, and the other parent must fulfil the ‘Employment and Earnings Test’. For SPL to start, the mother or primary adopter must either return to work or give their employer binding notice of the date they plan to end their leave.
To apply, your soldier must notify their commanding officer no later than 15 weeks before they intend to start the leave. Your own employer will specify the notification period in their policy. For further details, visit gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay
Maternity and Adoption Pay
Planning ahead will allow your employer to support you and ensure you get everything you’re entitled to. But, as ever with life as an army family, postings can turn your plans on their head!
Wherever you work, you are automatically entitled to statutory maternity pay (or maternity allowance) provided you satisfy the government’s eligibility requirements. However, Occupational Maternity Pay (OMP) and Occupational Adoption Pay (OAP) are determined by each organisation – your employer decides whether they pay this and how much.
If your employer offers OMP or OAP, consider if you’ll be able to fulfil any return to work requirements before you accept. If you’re posted during your leave, you may be asked to repay the occupational part of your pay if you can’t go back to work.
Of course, you may have every intention of returning when you start your maternity leave, but are then unable to because of an unexpected posting. Explore alternative ways to fulfil the requirement, such as remote working, reduced hours or transferring to another branch.
Other family friendly policies
Service personnel can take compassionate leave to support their partner if they experience post-natal difficulties. Your soldier can apply for two weeks’ leave in these circumstances, in addition to two weeks’ paternity leave.
Another entitlement is unpaid parental leave, which your soldier may take to look after their child’s welfare – to settle children into new schools for example. Each parent is entitled to 18 weeks’ unpaid leave up to the child’s 18th birthday, with a limit of four weeks in any one year.
Check your eligibility requirements at discovermybenefits.mod.gov.uk/army/army-health-welfare