Divorce or separation
As parents, you always have primary responsibility for your children’s well-being. It is your duty to ensure the balanced development of your children even after separation.
In the event of a separation, the parents must decide where the child is to live. It is important to determine whether the children will live with one parent exclusively or with both alternately. Visitation rights guarantee the child’s right to maintain contact with the parent they do not live with. Children have the right to meet their parents regardless of whether or not the parent has custody of the child.
The responsibility for the maintenance of the child remains with the parents even after separation. Child maintenance can be a private arrangement between you and the other parent, or if you can’t come to an agreement, either person can apply to the court for a maintenance order.
No, if you as parents can work things out amicably. However, it is good to know that only a confirmed written agreement can be enforced. A confirmed written agreement is needed, for example, for child maintenance allowance paid by Kela.
Even if you as parents follow such an agreement, it is not enforceable. For example, Kela will not pay child maintenance allowance on the basis of such an agreement. A confirmed agreement or a court decision is also required for the enforcement of visitation rights.
The agreements are drawn up in writing with the child welfare supervisor of the child’s municipality of residence, who confirms the agreements.
The starting point is that you, as parents, discuss together whether you are ready to negotiate on contractual matters concerning your child or to amend previously signed agreements. If this is the case, you can contact your municipality’s child welfare supervisor and the matter will be handled through the administrative assistance procedure.
If you live in nearby municipalities, it would be best if you visited the child welfare supervisor of the child’s municipality of residence together.
Before the meeting, you should discuss the content of the agreements in advance with the other parent.
You can use the parenting plan available on the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health website as a support
It is a good idea to visit a family mediator together before your meeting with the child welfare supervisor. Family mediation will give you free guidance and counselling on resolving any disagreements related to your child’s custody and visitation rights.
The child welfare supervisor does not determine the content of the agreements but is there to assist you parents in reaching an agreement. Once the matters have been agreed upon, the child welfare supervisor will prepare an enforceable document on the agreed matters. As a rule, both parents need to be present at this time.
The child welfare supervisor can only confirm unanimous agreements of parents.
It would be a good idea to conclude the agreements when you and the other parent separate or when you apply for a final divorce – in other words, when the changes have become clear to the extent that you, the parents, are ready to decide on the arrangements for the child.
It is the responsibility of the parents and adults to resolve matters relating to child custody, living arrangements, visitation rights and maintenance. However, the child’s opinion must be taken into account, even though the basic idea is that you as parents know what is best for your child.
Discuss with your child the decisions you and the other parent are making before deciding on matters of custody, living arrangements or visitation rights concerning the child.
Determining the child’s opinion is up to you and the other parent. The child’s age and development level must be taken into account in the discussion.
Tell the child about the changes in as concrete a manner as possible and give the child time to voice any opinions and wishes.
The child welfare supervisor has an obligation to ensure that children have been allowed to express their views on contractual matters concerning them. Remember that you must not pressure the child to form an opinion.
Do not blame the child for any thoughts conflicting with the plan you and the other parent have made.
The child’s differing opinion does not automatically mean that the agreement drawn up by the parents cannot be confirmed.
It is not crucial. The most important thing is that the child is told about the matters to be agreed on and is given the opportunity to express their opinion.
Make an effort to do so, because reaching a compromise in matters concerning your children is very important. Often, a compromise reduces conflicts between the parents and is thus in the best interest of the child.
If you cannot reach an agreement together despite your efforts, you can apply for family mediation. Family mediation is free of charge, and mediation can take place in English and Swedish in addition to Finnish.
Family mediation counselling and appointment booking are available on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9.00-11.00, tel. +358 40 686 5293.
If the matter cannot be resolved by mediation, one or both of you may refer the matter to the District Court. A matter concerning the child’s custody, living arrangements, visitation rights and maintenance is brought before the District Court in whose jurisdiction the child is domiciled or habitually resident.
Even at this stage, you can still request mediation in the District Court. Mediation is applied for with a free-form application submitted to the District Court or with a form obtained from the District Court office. The mediation is led by a judge familiar with family matters and assisted by a child psychologist or social worker.
The matter of custody and visitation rights must always be resolved first and foremost in the best interest of the child. However, the best interest of the child is not the same as the child’s will; the child’s wishes and opinion are only one factor affecting the assessment of the child’s best interest.
Child custody, joint custody and sole custody
Child custody means taking care of a child’s personal affairs. The child’s guardians are the parents or persons to whom custody of the child is entrusted.
The guardian has the right to decide on the care, upbringing, place of residence and other personal matters of the child. The guardian has the right to receive information on matters concerning the child from various authorities. The child’s guardian also supervises the child’s interests and manages the child’s financial affairs.
Joint custody means cooperation between the parents and joint decision-making in matters concerning the child. Joint custody does not mean that the child lives alternately with each parent.
Joint custody requires you and the other parent to be able to discuss and decide on matters concerning the child together.
However, if you are living with the child, you can take care of and decide on the child’s everyday affairs, daily care and comfort.
If you have sole custody, you are the child’s only guardian and make all the decisions concerning the child on your own. Authorities (e.g. daycare, school, health care, social services) only provide information about the child to you and, only with your specific permission, to the other parent.
However, when the child is staying at the other parent’s home, that parent can decide on the child’s daily care and upbringing.
Your sole custody does not affect the visitation rights or the maintenance obligation between the child and the other parent.
No. Nor does it affect the child’s right to meet the non-resident parent or the parent’s obligation to provide for the child. Custody of the child ends when the child turns 18 years or if the child is married before that.
A co-guardian acts as a guardian of the child together with one or both parents. The court may decide to entrust custody of the child to one or more persons who have given their consent, in addition to the parents.
Co-guardianship does not exempt you or the other parent from the maintenance obligation, and the co-guardian is not obliged to provide for the child.
The child welfare supervisor may confirm the co-guardianship agreement if the parents agree on the matter. You can also apply for co-guardianship at the District Court.
The prerequisite is that co-guardianship is in the best interest of the child.
In accordance with the principles of joint custody, you must discuss the child’s affairs with the other parent and make the decisions together.
If you are moving alone with minor children from the family home, the notification of change of address requires the signature of both guardians or the specific consent of the other guardian. If the children are already living with you, consent will not be requested separately.
However, the move may be such a substantial change that the child’s visitation agreement and, if necessary, maintenance agreement must be renegotiated. It is also possible to agree that the child will continue daily life with the other parent if this is in the best interest of the child. As far as possible, the child’s living arrangements must take into account that the child retains the right to meet and maintain contact with the other parent.
Yes, you can. This may be the case, for example, when the refusal to issue a passport would be clearly contrary to the best interest of a minor child. It is also required that your child will only temporarily travel with you to another country. In each case, the authority issuing the passport determines what is in the best interest of the child.
It is not possible to “bequeath” a child. As parents, however, you can register your wish to entrust the custody of your child to a specific person, but the authorities are not bound by the wish. The court will always decide the matter in the best interest of the child.
Child's living arrangements
When both of you are guardians of the child but do not live together, you have to decide which one the child lives with and is registered as living with. The starting point must be the child’s best interests.
You must discuss the situation together and consider the different options, especially from the child’s perspective. It is important to consider how the living arrangements and the child’s daily life are best organised in practice. You can also refer to the parenting plan available on the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health website.
You can seek help from family mediation in order to reach an amicable settlement.
If this is not possible, the matter must be referred to the District Court. Even at this stage, you can still request mediation in the District Court.
All District Courts have expert-assisted court mediation, for which you can apply with a free-form application submitted to the District Court or with a form obtained from the District Court office.
You can submit the application yourself or together with the other parent. The mediation is led by a judge familiar with family matters and assisted by a child psychologist or social worker.
A dual-residence arrangement means that the child lives half or nearly half the time alternately with you and the other parent.
However, the child can only be officially registered as living at one address. For example, the child’s local school and school transport are determined according to this place of residence.
For example, when granting housing allowance, the child is only taken into account as a member of one of the parents’ household. Child benefit is also only paid to one parent, generally the parent with whom the child is registered as living.
A dual-residence arrangement requires very good cooperation and flexibility from the parents.
If you and the other parent decide on a dual-residence arrangement, the decision must be based on the child’s needs and best interests – not the parents’ will or financial interests.
A dual-residence arrangement must always be based on special consideration, taking into account the best interests and needs of the child first and foremost. Even if the child also wishes to have a dual-residence arrangement, the child does not necessarily understand what this means in practice.
The repeated change of residence requires you and the other parent to plan well and be able to make the practical arrangements work.
The younger the child, the more demanding it is to have a dual-residence arrangement, and it is usually not recommended for children under the age of three. The child must be old enough and be able to plan and anticipate the future. In addition, the child must be adaptable, since the different rules and routines at the parents’ homes require flexibility.
At best, a dual-residence arrangement is rewarding for the child, because the child can live daily life with both parents after the parents’ separation.
According to research, dual-residence arrangements have been found to work best if the parents have decided on the living arrangements based on the child’s needs and if:
- the parents share the parenting duties and take care of the child’s daily life together
- the relationship between the parents is good and their cooperation works well
- the parents have a positive and flexible attitude towards the child’s stay with the other parent
- the parents communicate information to each other about the child’s daily life at the other home.
From the child’s point of view, it is essential that the child is willing and able to make the dual-residence arrangement work and is old enough to be able to understand personal life.
In addition, it is important that the parents live so close to each other that the child’s daycare centre or school and main social relationships remain the same.
The purpose of visitation rights is to guarantee the child the right to maintain contact and meet the parent with whom the child does not live. The visitation agreement should take into account matters such as the child’s age, school, daycare, hobbies and the distance between the parents’ homes.
Even if you or the other parent feel that visitation rights do not need to be defined or recorded, it is sometimes recommended. When visitation rights are defined as carefully as possible, disputes can be avoided in the future. In addition, Kela requires a visitation agreement if income support is applied for to cover some of the visitation costs.
When agreeing on visitation rights, it is good to agree not only on the normal weekly rhythm, but also on transport to hobbies and on holidays.
The visitation agreement may also provide for other communication and the transport of the child to the other parent, including, if necessary, the sharing of travel expenses.
You should discuss such practical matters with the other parent before meeting the child welfare supervisor.
When you agree on the child’s affairs, the starting point must be the child’s best interests. In the visitation agreement, it is important to take into account how things work best in the child’s daily life. You can use the parenting plan available on the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health website.
The child has the right to maintain contact with the parent with whom the child does not live – regardless of the relationship between you and the other parent.
In case of disagreement, you can seek family mediation.
If the confirmed agreement does not correspond to reality, a previous agreement or decision may be amended either by a new agreement or by a court decision.
If the child does not want to meet the other parent, you and the other parent should try to determine the reason for this. If necessary, you can turn to a family counselling clinic or seek family mediation.
Visitation rights are primarily the child’s rights. It is the duty of the parents to ensure a positive and close relationship with both parents.
If an agreement confirmed by the child welfare supervisor or a court decision on visitation rights is valid, you and the other parent must generally follow it.
If the parent living with the child prevents you and the child from meeting each other, you must apply to the district court for enforcement of the visitation rights. Submit a written application to this effect to the District Court office.
However, a 12-year-old child (or a younger child who is sufficiently developed) cannot be forced to visit if the child objects to it.
The court may also decide on enforcement in a situation where the parent living with the child demands that the child be returned home.
In case of problems, you can seek family mediation.
No, even if the visitation rights have been officially confirmed.
Forced visitations cannot be considered to be in the best interests of the child.
The purpose of visitation rights is to guarantee the child the right to maintain contact and meet the parent with whom the child does not live. However, the visitations must not become a threat to the child’s health, well-being or safety. In other words, you do not have to hand the child over to a parent who is intoxicated or behaves threateningly, for example.
However, it is your duty to assess the situation and decide whether the child can meet the other parent. If there is a risk that the visitations will not be safe, an effort should be made to agree on the terms of the visitation rights again. If necessary, it can be agreed that the visitations will be held at a specific meeting place.
You cannot prevent visitations without an acceptable reason.
If risks to the safety of the child arise when agreeing or deciding on visitation rights, the child may meet the other parent with support or supervision. The precondition for supported and supervised meetings is that they have been agreed in an agreement confirmed by the child welfare supervisor or by a court decision.
A supervised meeting can be arranged, for example, when there has been violence or a threat of child abduction in the family. During a supervised meeting, the supervisor is in the same room or in constant visual and auditory contact throughout the meeting.
A supported meeting can be arranged when support is needed in parenting or when the parents do not trust each other. An outside person will then be available if needed. The person manages the beginning and end of the meeting and monitors the situation. The support ensures that the meeting takes place in the best interests of the child.
A supervised exchange can be arranged, for example, when there is a restraining order between the parents or when child exchange situations are repeatedly quarrelsome. The purpose of supervised exchange is to ensure that the child can safely transfer to the other parent.
If the visiting parent repeatedly neglects the meetings, the meetings can no longer be considered to be in the best interests of the child. Unnecessary waiting and repeated disappointments may make the exercise of the visitation rights contrary to the best interests of the child.
The visiting parent must understand that this is not a right that can be exercised at will. Instead, it is an obligation, and the continuous and repeated failure to comply with it may result in a reduction in visitation rights.
If the visitation rights are no longer in the child’s best interests, the District Court may refuse the visitation rights altogether.
In such a situation, you should contact the child welfare supervisor, or you and the other parent can seek family mediation.
If necessary, both. You should discuss and try to agree on this together. If either parent moves further away, it may be appropriate to renegotiate the visitation rights and, at the same time, agree on the sharing of the visitation costs.
If the visitation costs are very high due to the long distance, the costs can be taken into account when calculating the child support.
The non-resident parent can only keep the child within the limits determined by the visitation rights, unless the parents agree otherwise.
If the decision or agreement is not complied with, it may be enforced in court. As the child’s resident parent, you can demand that the child be returned to you and submit a written application to this effect to the District Court office.
If you are concerned about your child’s situation, please contact Emergency Social Services. If there is a threat of child abduction or if the child has been taken abroad, contact the police.
Child support and child maintenance allowance paid by Kela
Child support is a monthly sum of money that the non-resident parent pays to the child, thereby contributing to the child’s maintenance. Child support is confirmed by an agreement or a District Court decision.
Child maintenance allowance is a monthly sum paid by Kela (the Social Insurance Institution of Finland) to a child when a parent liable for maintenance has failed to pay child support or when the child support has been confirmed to be lower than the amount of child maintenance allowance.
The family is also entitled to child maintenance allowance paid by Kela if the child does not have another parent liable for maintenance because the child has been adopted by a single person or because paternity has not been confirmed.
Child support is paid if the child does not live permanently with the parent and the parent does not otherwise provide maintenance for the child. The amount of child support and the manner in which it is paid is determined by an agreement or a court decision.
The parent who, after the separation, no longer lives at the same address as the child pays child support to the parent with whom the child is registered as living.
If the child lives alternately with both parents, child support can be ordered to be paid by either parent, regardless of which one the child is registered as living with.
The determination of child support is governed by the Child Maintenance Act. It states that the parents are responsible for the maintenance of the child according to their abilities.
When assessing the parents’ ability to contribute to the child’s maintenance, consideration is given to their age, ability to work and opportunities to engage in gainful employment. Available funds and other maintenance obligations are also taken into account. Likewise, the child’s ability and means of self-provision are also taken into account.
The Ministry of Justice has published guidelines for calculating child support.
You and the other parent should bring the necessary documents to the negotiation meeting as listed below. They will help prove the accuracy of the information if necessary.
These documents are also needed when a parent liable for maintenance regards their ability to pay as poor and proposes an amount of child support lower than the child maintenance allowance.
List of documents:
- a valid child maintenance agreement or a child support decision by the District Court, if these documents are not already known to the child welfare supervisor
- the most recent tax decision
- an up-to-date account of the current year’s earned income and the previous year’s full income
- an account of business income
- a decision and payment notice of pension income
- a decision and payment notice of social benefits
- documents showing any other income
- a certificate of duration of studies and decision on student financial aid
- proof of student loan repayment and interest
- documents showing the housing costs for the permanent dwelling
- an account of commuting expenses
- an income support decision, if any
- documents showing the child’s hobby costs and daycare fees.
If necessary, the child welfare supervisor can check the parents’ salary and benefit information in the Incomes Register.
If the child lives with you and you do not receive child support from the other person liable for maintenance, submit the confirmed original maintenance agreement to Kela and apply for child maintenance allowance on the grounds of failure to pay child support.
Child support may also be collected through recovery proceedings.
Confirmed child support cannot be left unpaid unilaterally.
There is no minimum amount of child support. The term “minimum amount of child support” is often used to refer to child maintenance allowance paid by Kela. You can check the current amount of child maintenance allowance on the Kela website.
Yes, if there is a significant change in either parent’s ability to contribute to the child’s maintenance or in the child’s need for maintenance. It is also required that the change is not short-term and that the change is reasonable for both the child and the person paying child support.
The amount of child support can be changed with a new agreement confirmed by the child welfare supervisor. An appeal for change can be filed with the District Court if the parents cannot reach an agreement on the matter.
The recipient of the child support uses the child support for the child’s expenses.
As a rule, child support for a minor child is paid to the guardian. If a young person under 18 years of age lives independently, the parents can agree on paying the child support to the young person.
Education support for a child over 18 years of age is paid to the child.
The child’s need for maintenance is determined by a child welfare supervisor or a district court judge in accordance with the instructions of the Ministry of Justice. In other words, the amount is for you or the other parent to decide, and it cannot be any random sum.
If additional negotiations do not help, contact the Legal Aid Office or a law firm. In such a case, the amount of child support and the manner in which it is to be paid must be confirmed by the District Court.
There is no need to delay bringing the matter to the District Court. Child support is specifically about the right of the child.
If the circumstances change substantially, it may also be justified to reduce the current amount of child support. As a parent paying child support, you can also bring the matter to the District Court.
You can request the help of the Legal Aid Office or a private lawyer to prepare a child support claim.
If the amount of child support is too high compared to your current income, you and the other parent can make an appointment with the child welfare supervisor.
There are two conditions for changing the amount of child support:
1. The circumstances have changed substantially since the child support was confirmed, and the change is not short-term.
2. Changing the amount of child support is reasonable.
If you fail to pay child support, the parent who is registered as living with the child can apply for child maintenance allowance from Kela on the grounds of your failure to pay. After that, you can no longer pay child support to the parent who is registered as living with the child, but you must pay child support to Kela.
Make a payment plan with Kela. If your income is very low, Kela may give you a retroactive release from the accrued child support debt.
The obligation to pay child support ends on the child’s 18th birthday.
Please note, however, that according to the Child Maintenance Act, the parents are responsible for the costs of the child’s education even after the child has turned 18 years of age.
Both parents have this obligation, if it is considered reasonable. At least in the case of a young person attending general upper secondary school, both parents are responsible for the person’s actual study costs and living costs during education.
The conditions for receiving child maintenance allowance are defined in the Act on Child Maintenance Allowance, and the allowance is granted by Kela.
The Kela website contains detailed information about the criteria for granting the allowance and the application procedure.
Contact Kela for a family pension application, because the payment of child support and/or child maintenance allowance ends when the person liable for maintenance passes away.