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Agreements concerning the custody, residence, right of access and maintenance of children

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Child custody

The term custody refers to taking care of a child’s personal matters. The child’s custodians are their parents, or the people who have been entrusted with custody. The custodian has the right to decide on the care, upbringing, residence and other personal matters of the child. The custodian has the right to receive information in matters concerning the child from different authorities, and the custodian also represents the child in matters related to the child’s person. In addition to this, the child’s custodian, in accordance with the Guardianship Services Act, acts as the child’s financial guardian.

The type of custody does not have any effect on the taxation or social security of either parent. Furthermore, the type of custody does not affect the child’s right to meet with the parent with whom the child does not live or the parent’s obligation to take care of the child’s maintenance. The custody of the child ends when the child turns 18 or marries before that.

According to the Act on Child Custody and Right of Access, the purpose of child custody is to ensure the well-being and balanced development of a child in accordance with the child's individual needs and wishes. Another purpose is to secure a close and affectionate relationship especially between the child and their parents. A child shall be ensured good care and upbringing as well as supervision and protection appropriate for their age and stage of development. A child should be brought up in a secure and stimulating environment and receive an education that corresponds to their inclinations and wishes. A child shall be brought up with understanding, security and affection. A child must not be subdued, corporally punished or treated offensively in any other way. The growth of a child towards independence, responsibility and adulthood shall be supported and encouraged.

Types of child custody

1. Joint custody

The general principle of the Act on Child Custody and Right of Access is that a child’s best interests are best realised when parents are jointly responsible for the custody of their child. Joint custody means cooperation between the parents and shared decision making in issues concerning the child. However, joint custody does not mean that the child lives alternately with both parents.

In joint custody, the custodians decide together e.g. on the child’s

  • care
  • upbringing
  • place of residence
  • nationality
  • native language
  • name
  • religion
  • health care
  • education
  • passport.


Limited joint custody (division of responsibilities)

Joint custody is based on the custodians making all decisions concerning the child together. The custodians may also agree on, or a court may issue orders on, the division of responsibilities if there is a valid reason for it and it is in the best interests of the child. Responsibilities can be divided only when a child has two or more custodians.

An agreement or order on the division of responsibilities may concern decision-making e.g. about health care or medical treatment, early childhood education place or school. For example, duties can be divided so that one custodian alone decides on health care and medical treatment, while all other decisions are made by the custodians together. It should be noted that a division of responsibilities currently prevents the use of electronic services, such as the My Kanta service, on behalf of the child.

2. Sole custody

If just one of the parents is the child’s custodian, they will make all the decisions concerning the child alone. The authorities (e.g. daycare centre, school, health care and social services) will provide information concerning the child to the custodian only, and they will report to the other parent only with the custodian’s separate permission.

Non-custodial parent’s right to receive information

The parent or another person who does not have custody of the child can, by an agreement between the parents or a court decision, be granted the right to receive confidential information concerning the child from authorities and private service providers. This right to receive information can promote the non-custodial parent’s or other person’s opportunities to participate in the child’s care and upbringing.

The right to information can either apply to all matters or matters specified in the agreement. In case of a general agreement on the right to receive information, it applies to receiving information concerning the child from all authorities and private service providers.

The right to receive information can also be agreed on in more detail. For example, it may be restricted to apply only to particular operators, e.g. the daycare provider. A parent may also be granted a general right to receive information with certain restrictions. A parent may have a general right to receive information that, however, does not apply to health care or medical treatment.

3. Co-custody and foster care

A co-custodian is a person who acts as a child’s custodian alongside the parent or parents. A co-custodian has the same rights and obligations as a custodian-parent, unless separately confirmed otherwise.

Co-custody can be agreed on mutually by the parents or a court may decide on it. When agreeing on co-custody, the person becoming a co-custodian is a party to the agreement in addition to both parents. If the parents later agree on other matters, they must receive the co-custodian’s consent.

An arrangement on co-custody must be in the child’s best interests and have a need arising from the child’s best interests. For example, co-custody can apply in situations where a co-custodian can support the child’s growth conditions in order to avoid the child being taken into care.

Co-custody does not release the parents from their child maintenance liabilities. The co-custodian is not liable for the child’s maintenance.

A custodian is also the child’s guardian, meaning that the co-custodian and custodian-parent/parents together decide on the child’s financial matters.

If the child resides permanently with some other person than their parent, a court may award the child’s custody to another person instead of the parents. A child’s custody can only be awarded to another person instead of the parents with a court order.

The order terminates the custodial relationship between the parent/parents and the child. If the parents or one of them has custody of their child, a court may award the custody of the child to another person instead of the parents only if there are very serious grounds related to the best interests of the child for this.

Child residence

When both parents are the child’s custodians but do not live together, it must be decided with which parent the child will live. This decision must be based on the child’s best interests. When considering the place of residence, it is important to take into account how it and the arrangements of the child’s everyday life would be best organised in practice.

Alternating residence

Alternating residence means that the child lives alternately with both parents, approximately half of the time with one parent and half with the other. However, the child can only have one official place of residence. Among other things, the child’s local school and school transportations are defined based on the child’s official place of residence, and e.g. when granting housing allowance the child can only be counted in the household of one of the parents. Child benefit is paid only to one of the parents, primarily to the parent with whom the child officially lives.

Alternating residence requires that the parents are able to cooperate well and be flexible. The alternating residence solution must be based on the child’s best interests and individual needs, not on a parent’s will or financial interests. An alternating residence solution is a demanding one for a child, and best suited for school-aged children.

Alternating residence works best when

  • the parents have reached the decision together, while taking into account the child’s needs
  • the parents are able to cooperate well
  • the parents share the parenthood and responsibility for the child’s everyday life
  • the parents are flexible about the child staying at the other parent’s home
  • information flows openly between the parents
  • the parents have a similar perspective on upbringing
  • the child is capable and willing to reside alternately
  • the child is of the age to comprehend and control their life
  • the parents live close to each other, so that the child’s social circle (e.g. school, daycare, friends and hobbies) stays the same regardless of place of residence.

Right of access

The purpose of a child’s right of access is to secure the child’s right to communicate and meet with the parent with whom they are not living. Securing the child’s right of access is the responsibility of both parents. All criteria set for good care in the Act on Child Custody and Right of Access also apply to the right of access.

The child’s right to meet with a parent is not dependent on whether the parent is the child’s custodian. The right of access can only be confirmed between a child and parent, meaning that a right of access cannot be confirmed between a child and grandparent, for example.

Decision in a matter concerning child custody, residence and right of access

Issues concerning child custody, residence and right of access can be solved either in agreement between the parents, by a court decision or in connection with the parents’ divorce.
 

1. Agreement between the parents

Primarily, the parents have a freedom of contract and may agree on the child’s custody, residence and right of access either verbally or in writing. In order for this agreement to be enforceable, it has to be made in writing in accordance with the template verified by the Ministry of Justice in an appointment with the home municipality’s child supervisor, who will confirm the agreement, as long as it is in the child’s best interests. The confirmed agreement has the legal validity of a decision by a court.

In matters concerning the child’s custody, residence and right of access, the concerned parties to the contract are the parents. The child supervisor does not define the contents of the agreements. Instead, the negotiations are between the parties to the contract, i.e. the parents. The task of the child supervisor is to assist the parents in reaching an agreement and compile an enforceable document of the issues agreed by the parents.

The child’s best interests should be the basis of agreements on matters concerning the child. The parents must negotiate and consider the different options primarily from the child’s perspective and take into account how the arrangements of the child’s everyday life would be best organised in practice.

The parents may agree on

  • granting the child’s custody to both parents jointly or to one parent alone
  • the child residing with one of the parents
  • the child’s right to meet and keep in contact with the parent with whom they are not living.

The agreement on the child’s custody and residence is always valid until further notice. In contrast, the agreement on right of access can change in accordance with the child’s age or be made for a fixed period after which the situation is reviewed.

In addition to the normal weekly routine, special celebrations and holidays should be taken into account when agreeing on right of access. The agreement should therefore take into account the child’s age, school, daycare, hobbies and the distance between the homes of the child’s parents. In addition to meetings, the agreement can cover communication via telephone, text message and email. The agreement can also address the child’s transportation to the meetings and how the related costs are shared. For a special reason, the meetings can also be supported or supervised.

Although the parents have a freedom of contract, in terms of enforcement, it is preferable to determine the right of access as closely as possible. It is recommendable to use as detailed phrases as possible (e.g. “The child has the right to a meeting on even calendar weeks from Friday 16:00 to Sunday 18:00.”). When necessary, it is good to record the child’s transportation to the meetings and back home: who takes care of the transportation and who is responsible for the costs. Sometimes, people wish to add further conditions to meetings that are not enforceable as such (e.g. “The child must go to bed at 21:00 at the latest”). Such conditions can be included in the agreement, but the parents must understand that such conditions cannot be enforced in case of disagreement.

In order to come to an agreement, the parents can also turn to mediators of family issues.

Parents who cannot come to an agreement concerning the matters of their child after a divorce may request a mediation from a district court. On 1 January 2011, the Helsinki District Court launched an experiment on utilising an assistant specialist in court mediation concerning child custody, right of access and maintenance. The objective of the mediation is to achieve a permanent agreement between the parents.

If the parents cannot come to an agreement, they may request that the matter be solved by a district court.

2. Court decision on child custody and right of access

If the parents cannot come to an agreement on a matter concerning the child’s custody, residence and right of access, the issue can be solved through the district court. A claim concerning the child’s custody, residence and right of access is launched with an application that can be made by 1) the child’s parents together, 2) one of the parents, 3) the child’s custodian or 4) the Social Services Committee. In a claim concerning custody and right of access, the concerned parties are the parents, and the claim is processed in the district court under the jurisdiction of which the child’s domicile or permanent home is.

A court may order that:

  • child custody be awarded to both parents jointly or to one parent alone
  • the child shall reside with one of their parents, if the parents do not reside together
  • child custody be awarded to one or more persons who have consented to this in addition to or instead of the parents
  • the child shall have the right to maintain contact and meet with the parent with whom they do not reside.

A court may also decide on the division of responsibilities between the custodians and the granting of the right to receive information to the non-custodial parent. However, a court cannot decide on any specific disagreements concerning the child’s custody, e.g. which school the child should attend or to which religious community the child should belong. This kind of disagreement concerning custody is solved either with an order on division of responsibilities or by granting the custody and authority to one parent alone.

When deciding on a matter on the child’s custody and right of access, the court must take the child’s interests and personal wishes into account. The court may request a report on the conditions of the parents and the child from the Social Services Committee. Social services do not decide on the matter, but act as an assisting authority. However, the report forms a significant part of the court hearing materials as it decides on the matter regarding custody and right of access.

When a case concerning child custody or right of access is pending in a court, the court may issue an interim order concerning the child’s residence and right of access. Furthermore, a court may, for a special reason, issue an interim order determining to whom the custody of the child is awarded. An interim order is in force until the court makes the final decision on the matter, unless the order is repealed or amended prior to this.

The liability for legal costs of a custody dispute is as set out in Chapter 21 Section 2 of the Code of Judicial Procedure, according to which the parties are liable for their own legal costs, unless there is a special reason for rendering a party liable, in full or in part, for the legal costs of the opposing party. In other words, the losing party is liable for the legal costs of the other party only if there is a special reason for it.

3. Decision in connection with a divorce

Issues concerning child custody, residence and right of access can also be solved in connection with the parents’ divorce. The action will then be introduced as an associative requirement of the divorce petition in the district court of one of the parents.

Amendments to agreements and decisions

An agreement confirmed by the Social Services Committee or a court decision on child custody and right of access may be amended with a new agreement or court decision if the circumstances have changed since the confirmation of the agreement or the issue of the decision or if there is some other reason for this.

In order to amend a valid agreement or court decision, the parents may make an appointment with the child supervisor. In matters concerning the child’s custody, right of access, residence and maintenance, the concerned parties to the contract are the parents. The child supervisor does not define the contents of the agreements. Instead, the negotiations are between the parties to the contract, i.e. the parents. In order to amend the agreements, both parents must be present at the same time. If the parents cannot come to an agreement, one or both of them may request that the matter be solved by a district court.

Enforcement of the decision on child custody and right of access

The enforcement of decisions on child custody and right of access is governed by a separate act. The enforcement of a decision or agreement confirmed by the social services concerning the child’s custody and right of access can be demanded through a court if the decision or agreement has not been followed. Enforcement is requested from the district court of the child’s or opposing party’s domicile. An application for the enforcement of a decision on child custody may also be filed with an enforcement officer of the child's place of domicile, if the decision has been issued less than three months ago. Available coercive measures are penalty payments and collection. However, enforcement of the agreement should not be carried out if a child who is 12 years of age, or younger but mature enough, opposes it.

An enforcement court proceeding may address:

1) a court decision or agreement confirmed by the social services on child custody, residence or right of access
2) an interim order issued by a court on the above-mentioned matters
3) a decision issued in a foreign state on child custody or right of access
4) a demand ordering a child to be handed over to a custodian, if the child is being cared for by
someone else than their legal custodian
5) enforcement of a child’s right of access, if the child is being cared for by someone else than their legal custodian

The application may be made by the child’s custodian who demands that the child be returned to them, or the parent with access rights, who demands that these rights be enforced. However, in spite of confirmed right of access, the resident custodian cannot demand that the other parent is obligated to meet with their child. Forced visits cannot be considered to be in the child’s best interests.

Generally, the court initially sends a pending action for an enforcement mediation. The mediation aims to ensure that the concerned parties follow the order or agreement voluntarily. If the matter cannot be solved through enforcement mediation, enforcement is carried out by issuing an enforcement order, with which the applicant’s opponent is obligated to return the child to the applicant (enforcement of custody) or allow the meetings of the child and the visiting parent (enforcement of the right of access). In addition to this, the terms of access rights confirmed in the enforcement proceedings can be changed or elaborated on either temporarily or, to some extent, permanently.

Child maintenance

Right to maintenance

According to the Child Maintenance Act, the parents are responsible for maintaining their underage child. The child has the right to sufficient maintenance that includes meeting the child’s material and mental needs in regard to the child’s development level, the necessary care and education, and any costs incurred due to these.

According to the Child Maintenance Act, the parents are liable for their child’s maintenance based on their abilities. When assessing the maintenance ability of the parents, their age, occupational capabilities, possibilities for gainful employment, amount of available assets and their other legal maintenance liabilities are taken into account. When assessing the extent of the parents’ maintenance obligation, the child’s ability and possibilities to be responsible for their own maintenance are also taken into account, as well as factors due to which the costs of child maintenance to the parents are non-existent or minimal.

Generally speaking, the child’s right to receive maintenance from their parents ends when the child turns 18. The parents’ maintenance obligation may end sooner, e.g. if the child is able to fully provide for themselves by working. Furthermore, it is established case law that the parents’ maintenance obligation ends if the child gets married before turning 18.

If the custody of the child has been awarded to a person other than the child’s parent, such a custodian is not liable for the child’s maintenance as intended by the act on child maintenance.

Child support

According to the Child Maintenance Act, the parent who does not otherwise take care of the child’s maintenance or with whom the child does not permanently live can be ordered to pay child support for the child. Child support means a monetary payment with which the child’s parent must periodically contribute to the costs of their child’s maintenance in accordance with their maintenance obligation.

Amount and payment of child support

The amount and payment method of child support is confirmed either in agreement between the parents or by a court decision. Child support can be confirmed for a fixed period or to be paid in different amounts for different periods of time.
Since the factors impacting the amount of child support are described in rather general terms in the relevant act, the Ministry of Justice has issued a guide on assessing the amount of child support. These instructions are not based on a legal authorisation and do not bind the authorities as such; their legal nature is to act as a recommendation in the determination of child support.

The determination of child support is always based on the needs of the child, for which both parents are responsible according to their abilities. The type of custody or right of access does not have an impact on the parents’ legal maintenance obligation, and the maintenance obligation is not shared between the parents directly based on the time the child spends with each parent, for example. Time spent living with a parent can, however, be taken into account in determining the amount of child support.

Child support is paid monthly in advance or the parents can agree on a one-off payment. A one-off child support can be confirmed if it is required in order to secure the child’s maintenance in the future and it can be deemed reasonable in view of the child support payer’s payment ability. Child support shall be paid on the due date, and it is usually paid to the resident parent’s bank account. If the child support instalment is not paid on the due date, it can be recovered from the person liable for maintenance. Child support is subject to late-payment interest and expires in five years.

Asset information form (PDF) 
Ministry of Justice instruction on assessing the amount of child support (in Finnish) 

Decision in a matter concerning child support

Matters concerning child maintenance can be solved either in agreement between the parents, by a court decision or in connection with the parents’ divorce.

1. Agreement between the parents

Primarily, the parents have a freedom of contract and may agree on child support either verbally or in writing. An agreement by the parents that waives the child’s right to receive child support in the future is, however, void as such.
In order for this agreement to be enforceable, it has to be made in writing in accordance with the template verified by the

Ministry of Justice in an appointment with the child’s home municipality’s child supervisor, who will confirm the agreement, as long as it is in the child’s best interests. The confirmed agreement has the legal validity of a decision by a court.

In matters concerning child maintenance, the concerned parties are the parents. The child supervisor does not define the contents of the agreement. Instead, the negotiations are between the parties to the contract, i.e. the parents. The task of the child supervisor is to assist the parents in reaching an agreement and compile an enforceable document of the issues agreed by the parents.

The child support agreement includes:

  • the personal information of the child and parents
  • the amount of child support
  • the starting date of child support
  • the ending of child support
  • the due date of child support
  • the recipient of child support.

If the parents wish that a child support calculation be drawn up, they must deliver the necessary income and expense information to the child supervisor. When necessary, the child supervisor can check the person’s income and benefit information from the Incomes Register and Kela’s customer information system.

The child support agreement is signed by the parent who commits to providing child support and the custodian on behalf of an underage child. If the child has been taken into care, the custodians may require a substitute guardian for the purposes of a child support agreement.

If the parents cannot come to an agreement, the matter shall be solved by a district court

2. Court verdict on a matter concerning child maintenance

If the parents cannot come to an agreement on a matter concerning the child’s maintenance, the issue can be solved through a court. The action is introduced with a written summons delivered to the district court. The competent court is the district court under the jurisdiction of which the respondent/interested party has domicile or permanent home or alternatively the district court under the jurisdiction of which the person demanding or receiving child support has domicile or permanent home. In the child support action, the concerned parties are the child and the parent from whom child support is demanded. An underage child is represented by their custodian.

The action can be initiated by:

  • the child’s custodian
  • the child’s guardian
  • the Social Services Committee.

The court confirms the child support primarily starting from the initiation of the action or a later date. However, the court may order that child support must be provided starting from an earlier date than the initiation of the action if there are very serious grounds for this. In any case, child support can be ordered to be paid for a maximum of one year preceding the initiation of the action.

Legislation does not govern the opportunity of an interim order for a separate child support demand action, but the issuing of an interim order is generally deemed possible in order to secure the maintenance of the child. An interim order is in force until the court makes the final decision on the matter, unless the order is repealed or amended prior to this.

The liability for legal costs of a child support dispute for the person liable for maintenance
is as set out in Chapter 21 Section 1 of the Code of Judicial Procedure and for the child as set out in Chapter 21 Section 2 of the Code of Judicial Procedure. This means that if the person liable for maintenance loses the case, they are liable for all reasonable legal costs incurred by the necessary measures of the opposing party. In contrast, the child is not generally liable for the legal costs of the opposing party even when losing an action on the confirmation or raising of child support. The child who loses the case can be rendered liable for the legal costs of the opposing party only for a special reason.

3. Decision in connection with a divorce

Issues concerning child support can also be solved in connection with the parents’ divorce. The action will then be introduced as an associative requirement of the divorce petition in the district court of one of the parents.

Education allowance

According to Section 3.2 of the Child Maintenance Act, the parents are liable for the costs incurred due to the child’s education even after the child has turned 18, if this is deemed reasonable. In such cases, the child’s abilities, the duration of the education, the amount of costs incurred and the child’s ability to take care of the incurred costs after the schooling has been completed are taken into account, in particular.

If the education allowance is confirmed before the child turns 18, the parent living with the child will act as the child’s representative. However, a child over 18 years of age shall themselves request education allowance and, if living independently, may request support from both parents. Education allowance is paid into the child’s own bank account if the child has turned 18.

It is established case law that education allowance can be confirmed for the duration of general upper secondary education, since it is deemed to be included in the citizens’ basic education. Education allowance can also be confirmed for vocational training but the threshold is higher. In any case, the confirmation of education allowance always requires case-specific consideration on the reasonability of the confirmation. The consideration must also take into account the child’s personal opportunities for covering the costs of the education, e.g. with a student grant, student loan or by working.

The regulations on child support cannot be directly applied to the amount of education allowance, although the education costs include the living costs for the duration of the education in addition to the direct study costs. Instead, costs incurred from leisure activities are generally speaking not intended to be covered by the education allowance.

Changes to child support

It is possible to change verified child support either through an agreement between the parents or a court decision. Even when the verified child support was solved with a court decision, it can be changed later with an agreement between the parents.

The amount of verified child support can be changed if there has been a significant change in the conditions since the verification, and if the change is deemed reasonable when taking into account the conditions of both the child and the parent paying child support. The child support can also be changed if the verified child support is deemed to have been unreasonable from the start.

Index-linked child support payments

Child support payments are reviewed at the beginning of every calendar year so that they correspond to the rise of the cost-of-living index (1951:10=100). The purpose of index increase is to maintain the real value of the confirmed child support as the actual value of money changes.

The obligation to pay for the index increase is directly based on legislation, which means that the parents are not separately informed of the increases. If the parents deal with the support payments privately, they must also take care of the index increases. Upon request, the parents may receive a note in their original agreement concerning the date of the increase and the amount of the increased child support. If the child support is paid as child maintenance allowance or goes through debt recovery procedure, the Social Insurance Institution (Kela) and the execution officer will ensure the index increases.

Index increase notes are provided by family law services at Vironkatu 2, 4th floor.


Recovery of child support debt

If the parents have a valid agreement confirmed by the child supervisor or a court decision on child support payments, unpaid child support is a debt that can be charged through a debt recovery procedure.

The resident parent may launch the debt recovery procedure by delivering a written application for enforcement (PDF) and the original child support agreement or court decision to the enforcement officer.

The resident parent may also apply for child maintenance allowance through Kela if the person liable for maintenance has not paid the confirmed payments. Recovery of the unpaid child support payments and the calculated interest is then assigned to Kela.


Child maintenance allowance

Child maintenance allowances are governed by the Act on Maintenance Allowances. The purpose of child maintenance allowance is to secure an underage child’s right to sufficient maintenance when one of the parents is not involved in the child’s maintenance. The implementation of child maintenance allowance is the responsibility of Kela

A child is entitled to receive child maintenance allowance if

1) the parent liable for maintenance has not paid the confirmed child support
2) no child support has been confirmed to be paid or the amount of confirmed child support is lower than the child maintenance allowance due to the financial situation of the parent liable for maintenance
3) the paternity of a child born out of wedlock has not been confirmed
4) paternity has been confirmed, but it was not possible to confirm child support at the same time

Eligibility for child maintenance allowance based on sections 1) and 2) requires that the parents have signed a child support agreement confirmed by the municipal social services or that they have a court decision regarding child support.

Child maintenance allowance is not granted when

1) the child is living with the parent liable for maintenance
2) the child has an income of their own enabling the child to support themselves
3) the person liable for maintenance has died.

Child maintenance allowance can be applied for by a parent or another person in whose care the child is. The allowance can also be applied for by the child themselves, if they have reached the age of 15. The child maintenance allowance is granted until further notice or for a fixed period, e.g. when the child support agreement is made for a fixed period. The allowance can also be granted retroactively for three calendar months preceding the application, provided that the prerequisites for granting the allowance were met at the time. Child maintenance allowance can also be granted retroactively for a longer period of time if there are very serious grounds for this. The child maintenance allowance expires as the child turns 18.

The granting of child maintenance allowance does not free the parent liable for maintenance from paying child support as confirmed by an agreement or order. The right to recover all unpaid child support and the calculated interest is assigned to Kela after child maintenance allowance has been granted based on the parent liable for child support not paying the confirmed child support. However, the recovery of child maintenance allowance as compensation for child support is not carried out as far as the non-payment of child support is caused by the insolvency of the person liable for maintenance. The person liable for maintenance can make a related application to Kela if their insolvency is caused by inability to work, unemployment or other reason beyond the control of the person.



11.02.2022 15:42