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Last update: 04-07-2006
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Parental responsibility - Finland

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. What does the legal term “child custody” mean in practice? What rights and duties does the custodian have? 1.
2. In general, who is usually considered to be the custodian of a child? 2.
3. Can a child be assigned a different legal custodian if the parents are not capable or willing to care for the child? 3.
4. How is custody determined if the parents divorce or are separated? 4.
5. If the parents agree on the custody, how is the agreement made to be legally binding? 5.
6. If the parents cannot reach an agreement on custody, what other means are there to resolve the dispute, apart from court proceedings? 6.
7. If the parents take the case to court, what issues concerning the child can the judge rule on? 7.
8. If a court of justice decides that one of the parents will have sole custody, does it mean that he/she has the right to make all decisions concerning the child without consulting the other parent? 8.
9. If a court of justice decides that the parents should have joint custody, what does this mean in practice? 9.
10. Which authority or court of justice should be approached when filing a case for custody? What are the formalities and what documents should be enclosed with the application? 10.
11. What are the procedures in these cases? Is there a special procedure for urgent cases? 11.
12. Is financial aid available for the legal expenses? 12.
13. Can a custody judgment be appealed? 13.
14. In some cases, it is necessary to request enforcement of a custody judgment at a court of justice or at another legal office. What are the procedures in these cases? 14.
15. What are the procedures for obtaining recognition and enforcement of a custody judgment in Finland, if the judgment was passed in another Member State? What are the procedures in these cases? 15.
16. Which court of justice hears an appeal on recognition of a custody judgment in Finland if the judgment was passed in another Member State? What are the procedures in these cases? 16.
17. What legislation is applied in custody cases if the child or parties do not reside in Finland or are citizens of another country? 17.

 

1. What does the legal term “child custody” mean in practice? What rights and duties does the custodian have?

The purpose of the care and custody of a child is to ensure balanced development and well-being for the child in accordance with his/her individual needs and wishes. This should ensure positive and close relationships, especially between the child and his/her parents.

The child should be guaranteed good care and upbringing as well as the supervision and support that correspond to the child's age and stage of development. The child should be provided with a safe and stimulating environment and an education that suits the talents and wishes of the child.

The child should be brought up with understanding, security and compassion. A child should not be physically punished or otherwise treated in an abusive manner. The child should be supported and encouraged to reach independence, responsibility and adulthood. (Section 1, Child Custody and Right of Access Act)

The custodian must ensure the development and welfare of the child as described above. For this purpose, the custodian has the right to make decisions on the child’s care, upbringing, domicile and other personal matters. When making a decision, the child’s desires should be taken into account.

2. In general, who is usually considered to be the custodian of a child?

The parents who are married at the time of the child's birth are both custodians. If, at the time of the child's birth, the parents are not married, the mother is the custodian. If one of the parents is the sole custodian and the parents then marry, both parents become custodians.

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3. Can a child be assigned a different legal custodian if the parents are not capable or willing to care for the child?

The court of justice can rule that the custody of a child be assigned to another person/persons in addition to or instead of the parents, if this person has given his/her consent. The decision must always be based on the child's best interests and only if there is a compelling reason for assigning custody to a person other than the parent/s. If the parents are deceased, the social welfare board must take action to assign custody of the child.

4. How is custody determined if the parents divorce or are separated?

Child custody and visitation rights must be arranged with the child’s best interests in mind, and must be realistically implementable in the future. The parents can agree on custody. If the parents cannot reach an agreement, the case must be taken to a court of justice.

5. If the parents agree on the custody, how is the agreement made to be legally binding?

The custody agreement must be drawn up in writing, and the parents can request that the local social welfare authority validate the agreement. The social welfare authority must ensure that the agreement is in the child’s best interest. An agreement validated by the social welfare board is valid and executable in the same way as a legally valid decision passed by a court of justice.

6. If the parents cannot reach an agreement on custody, what other means are there to resolve the dispute, apart from court proceedings?

If the spouses cannot reach an agreement, they can request assistance from the family mediators at the social welfare board. The mediator tries to assist the couple in reaching a mutual understanding on how the family disagreements can be resolved in a satisfactory way for all family members. The mediator assists in drawing up agreements and with other procedures designed to help resolve the dispute. He/she must emphasise the security of any minors in the family.

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7. If the parents take the case to court, what issues concerning the child can the judge rule on?

The court of justice’s power of decision covers child custody, living arrangements and visitation rights. If necessary, the court of justice can rule on the custodian's tasks, rights and duties as well as the allocation of duties between the custodians. When ruling on visitation rights, the court of justice must provide detailed provisions on the conditions for visitation and on the child’s place of residence. The maintenance payments can also be determined in conjunction with determining custody.

8. If a court of justice decides that one of the parents will have sole custody, does it mean that he/she has the right to make all decisions concerning the child without consulting the other parent?

In the case of a single custodian, he/she alone makes all decisions related to child care. However, the ruling of the court of justice may include stipulations on the rights and duties of the single custodian, for example, on the right to change the child’s place of residence.

9. If a court of justice decides that the parents should have joint custody, what does this mean in practice?

Joint custodians share the responsibility of all issues related to the child. If the custodians are separated, they make everyday decisions related to the child depending on which parent the child lives with. However, both custodians’ consent is needed for major decisions. These include, for example, changing the church or domicile of the child, passport, educational decisions and healthcare or hospital care issues.

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10. Which authority or court of justice should be approached when filing a case for custody? What are the formalities and what documents should be enclosed with the application?

A written application for custody and visitation rights should be filed at the District Court of the child’s place of residence. The application can be made by one or both parents, by the custodian or by the social welfare board. A claim and the grounds for the claim should be presented in the application. Any documents to be used as evidence must be enclosed. The application must be signed and submitted to the District Court either in person or by an authorized representative. Otherwise, the application can be sent by post or by fax. The case becomes pending when the application is received by the District Court.

11. What are the procedures in these cases? Is there a special procedure for urgent cases?

In custody cases, the Child Custody and Right of Access Act is applied. According to the said act, the court of justice must give the parents and custodians the opportunity to speak when hearing a custody or visitation rights case. The child him/herself can testify in the court of justice if this is deemed necessary to resolve the case. The court of justice usually obtains a report on the child's circumstances from the social welfare board.

When the case is pending, the court of justice can pass an interim decision on who the child should live with and on visitation rights and their conditions. The court of justice can, in special circumstances, designate a custodian until the final decision is reached. The interim decision cannot be appealed. It is valid until a final decision is reached by the court of justice.

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12. Is financial aid available for the legal expenses?

Legal aid is available in custody cases. (See page ”Legal aid – Finland”)

13. Can a custody judgment be appealed?

A judgment by the court of justice can be appealed in the Court of Appeal.

14. In some cases, it is necessary to request enforcement of a custody judgment at a court of justice or at another legal office. What are the procedures in these cases?

The Child Custody and Right of Access Act is applied in the enforcement of a custody judgment. The enforcement is applied for in writing at the District Court of the child’s place of residence. Enforcement of a custody judgment can, however, be requested from a bailiff if the judgment was passed less than three months earlier. The custody decision must be enclosed with the application.

Upon receiving the application and the statement of the other party, the court of justice will usually assign a social welfare board mediator to deal with the case. The mediator contacts the parents and discusses the issue with them and, if possible, with the child. The mediator reports to the court of justice after which the court of justice rules on the case. The court of justice can also order that the child be examined by a doctor.

If the court of justice rules that the custody judgment must be enforced, the other party is obliged to surrender the child. If the party refuses to comply, he/she will receive a fine. As a last resort, the child can be forcefully taken away from the party that is not complying with the decision.

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15. What are the procedures for obtaining recognition and enforcement of a custody judgment in Finland, if the judgment was passed in another Member State? What are the procedures in these cases?

Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 is applied in the recognition of a custody judgment from another Member State if the ruling falls within the scope of the said decree. (See page Child Custody – Community Legislation”) The regulation is not applied in Denmark.

According to the said regulation, a judgment passed in a marriage dissolution case is recognised by other member states without any special procedures. Anyone whose interests are affected by the judgment can, however, apply for a decision that the judgment be or not be recognised. The application for recognition is filed in Finland, at the district court of the child’s place of residence.

Custody decisions passed in Denmark and custody decisions in Sweden, other than those passed by virtue of the above-mentioned regulation, are executed on the basis of the 1977 Act on Judgments in Nordic Countries. A separate confirmation of the recognition of the ruling is not available. A request for enforcement is made at the District Court.

All other foreign custody judgments are recognised in Finland without any specific confirmation. Upon application, the Helsinki Court of Appeal can, however, confirm the recognition or non-recognition of the judgment in Finland.

The application for the enforcement of an executable custody judgment is filed at the District Court of the child’s or applicant’s place of residence or temporary place of residence. (See question 14 ee item 14 above for execution procedures.)

16. Which court of justice hears an appeal on recognition of a custody judgment in Finland if the judgment was passed in another Member State? What are the procedures in these cases?

Same procedure as outlined in question 15.

17. What legislation is applied in custody cases if the child or parties do not reside in Finland or are citizens of another country?

Finnish legislation is applied in child custody cases.

Further information

« Parental responsibility - General information | Finland - General information »

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Last update: 04-07-2006

 
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