In this section you will find information about child care agreement, court mediation, child custody, place of residence, visitation rights and child support.
Child care agreement
Already at the very beginning of the divorce process, it is important to agree on how affairs concerning the children in the family will be handled. The most important points to decide on are the child custody, the child's place of residence, visitation rights, and the child support.
Usually the parents sign a written agreement in which they agree on the arrangements concerning the children after the divorce. You should take care of this agreement as early during the divorce process as possible, as divorces can be quite lengthy, and both parents should be able to maintain contact with the children also during that time. The agreement can be free-form and informal; however, it is highly recommendable that you formalize the agreement by taking it to the Social Welfare Board (sosiaalilautakunta) of your municipality, who will check that the agreement does not violate the rights of the child. A formalized agreement is legally binding and thus provides more security. Your municipality's child welfare supervisor (lastenvalvoja) can also assist you in drafting the agreement. If there is more than one child in the family, things will be agreed on for each child individually. If the life situations of the parents or the child change, the court or social service point can agree to amendments to the original agreement
"We don't talk to each other at all. I mean, there's no communication, unless it's some emergency. […] And hopefully for other parents, it doesn't have to be that way, because I think the ones that suffer are the kids."
Parents should always try to find a compromise by themselves and ensure that the children have the chance to spend enough time with both of parents. Sometimes, however, an agreement cannot be reached. You can then apply for a juridical decision; if only one of the partners applies for it, the other spouse is informed and given time to write a statement indicating their agreement or disagreement. In case of disagreement, the case will be brought to a preparatory court hearing and, if necessary, to trial. If you are unhappy with the court's decision, you can appeal it afterwards to a court of appeal.
The court can suggest child custody mediators that will try to sort out the situation with both partners before a hearing becomes necessary. Those kind of court mediations are voluntary and can only be carried out with the consent of both partners. Agreements drafted and signed during these mediation sessions are legally binding documents. You can also apply for the mediation service at the district court yourself, even when the trial has already begun. The costs for the mediation will be split between the two divorcees. You can request free expert assistance from your home municipality, or you can hire a lawyer to assist in the mediation.
"The first component that we dealt with, and the most important one, was the child custody. We had to get that in place immediately, because I had to move out right away, and we needed to make an arrangement about where the kids are going to be."
Child custody (huolto) means that the custodian has the right and duty to make decisions concerning the underage child. Several arrangements are possible, and the parents should always consider the best interest of the child when agreeing on the form of custody. A very common custody arrangement is the joint custody (yhteishuoltajuus). Both parents equally have the right to access information about the child and make decisions concerning, for example, health care and school. A more specific form of joint custody with a clear distribution of rights and duties can also be arranged under the supervision of a court. In case of a sole custody (yksinhuolto) arrangement, only one of the parents is holding the custody and decision making rights for matters concerning the child. However, the sole custodian needs to ensure that the child and the other parent have the chance to maintain a strong relationship. Even in a sole custody arrangement, the other parent usually still has visitation rights. The question of custody is not the same as the question of the child’s residence; the permanent residence can also be registered for example with the parent not holding the custody.
Place of residence
The child's registered place of residence is relevant for example in questions of KELA housing allowance and child benefits. The child can officially only have one place of residence; however, it is possible for the parents to agree that the child spends equally much time at each spouse's house (vuorotteleva asuminen). Usually the parent living with the child (lähivanhempi) will receive child support from the other parent (etävanhempi).
Every child has the right to maintain contact with both of his or her parents, also in the case of a divorce. The Finnish law does not give specific instructions about the implementation of the visitation rights (tapaamisoikeus), but details should be discussed and agreed upon between parents. It pays off to be specific about the visitation rights in the agreement. You and your ex-spouse should try to be flexible and not prevent your child’s contact with the other parent.
The Finnish law only contains the visiting right for parents, but remember that relationships with other family members, such as grandparents, are also very important to the child. All decisions should be made in the child’s best interest and, if possible, with regard to the child’s own wishes. Also, you should never put your child in a position where they have to decide between you and your ex-spouse. Visiting rights apply also in a sole custody arrangement.
"The contact is important, you know. I think that the kids should have their own phone. And the parents should be able to call the kids when they want to."
If your partner does not follow the agreement, or other problems with the visiting rights occur, you can contact your municipality’s welfare supervisor for help. A joint meeting with both parents will then be arranged. If you are concerned about the safety of your child while she or he is with the other parent, contact the social service centre relative to your home address. In some cases, you can agree that the child will meet her or his other parent in the presence of a third person; the municipality offers special premises for this.
After a divorce, both parents remain responsible for the child's maintenance, regardless of the custody arrangement. Usually the parent not living with the child has to pay child support (elatusapu) to the other parent. The exact amount of child support will be determined regarding, among others, the parents' income, housing costs and other assets, as well as the child's ability to care for their own maintenance. If one of the partners fails to pay the child maintenance as agreed in the child support arrangement, KELA can pay maintenance support (elatustuki) to the other parent; however, this money will then be added up as debt for the parent who could not pay his or her part of the child support. Note that new partners are not legally responsible to provide for their spouse's children from previous marriages; the responsibility falls solely to the parents.
Helping your kids cope with divorce means providing stability in your home and attending to your children's needs with a reassuring, positive attitude.