After the divorce, parents need to agree on the following things: guardianship, living arrangements, visitation rights, and child support payments. As parents, you have the right to decide on these matters as you see fit. After the divorce, you also continue to share responsibility for your child’s growth and development as well as everyday decisions, such as your child’s healthcare and hobbies.
After the divorce, both parents are equally responsible for ensuring children’s safety and wellbeing. This includes ensuring children can maintain their relationships with family and friends, go to their hobbies, have time to play and get enough rest. It’s also important that both parents strive to ensure children are able to have a close relationship with both parents.
Parents are expected to take good care of their children (nutrition, rest, healthcare). Children should receive understanding, affection and love. Mistreatment or abuse of children is forbidden, and parents should ensure children grow up in a safe and appropriate environment.
Parents must inform children of any decisions that affect them as well any other decisions that will affect children’s lives. Parents should make their best efforts to take children’s wishes and opinions into account where possible. Keep in mind that adults must carry responsibility for the outcome of any decision and children cannot be held responsible.
Parents need to reach a mutual agreement on four matters: guardianship, living arrangements, visitation rights, and child support. As parents, you have the right to decide on these matters as you see fit. Your contract can be either oral or written, however a written contract that you have notarised by your local child welfare supervisor is recommended. The contract has to be notarized in the municipality that your child’s permanent address is in. If your child doesn’t have a permanent address in Finland, the contract is notarized by the municipal social welfare board in the municipality that your child most recently lived in or the municipality that a parent has most recently has a permanent address in. Once a contract has been officially confirmed, the terms of the contract are enforceable by law.
Your child welfare supervisor’s task is to make sure that the contract you have presented is in your child’s best interests and has taken your child’s wishes into account. Your child welfare supervisor will assist you in drawing up your contract and negotiating the content and terms. They will pay attention to parents’ ability to put children’s needs, wishes and interests before any possible conflicts you have between yourselves and your ability to work together to share responsibility for your child’s affairs. Your child welfare supervisor will also consider your child’s age, special needs, developmental stage, their character and the distance between your homes.
Filling out a parenting plan together before meeting with your child welfare supervisor can help you reach a mutual agreement. The parenting plan is extremely detailed. The goal of a parenting plan is to give parents a clear idea about which matters need to be negotiated and decided upon. You can update your parenting plan (eg. yearly) as your child gets older.
You can also use family mediation services, which are free of charge. Your mediator will help you come to a compromise over matters related to your children. If you are unable to reach an agreement, the matter can be presented to a judge at your local district court, who will make the final decision. Read more about the legal process here.
“The goal of child maintenance is to ensure the stable development and wellbeing of a child in accordance with their individual needs and wishes. Child maintenance must ensure a child has positive and close relationships, especially between a child and his or her parents. Other close relationships a child has should also be valued and protected.” Child Care And Access Act 1 §
Shared or sole custody?
Parents or named guardians have the duty to provide care and maintenance for children. Maintenance includes taking care of children’s personal affairs, education, nurture, home, and hobbies as well as looking out for their best interests. Maintenance also includes tending to your children’s close relationships, and ensuring your child is able to have a close parent-child relationship with both parents.
After a divorce, parents usually agree on shared custody. Shared custody means it’s your legal duty to decide on your child’s affairs together. This means you are both responsible for childcare and maintenance and make decisions in mutual agreement. When you have shared custody, authorities can disclose information about your child to both guardians.
Sole custody means only one parent acts as guardian of your child. In this case, the parent acting as guardian can make all decisions related to your child alone. It’s important to remember that sole custody does not restrict a child’s right to stay in contact and visit their other parent.
Visitation rights are meant to ensure children have the right to stay in contact and regularly visit the parent with whom the child doesn’t share a permanent address. Parents have to negotiate the logistics of visits and visitation schedule, as well as organize a way for your child to stay in contact with both of you (eg. phone calls, weekly visits, texting). Keep your child’s age, the distance between your homes, and your child’s relationship with their other parent in mind as you plan how to organize visits. Both parents are required to be supportive and encouraging of your child’s relationship with their other parent. Acting in any way that harms the relationship or obstructing your child from seeing their other parent without due reason is forbidden.
Negotiate how your child will travel between your homes and whether your child can make the trip alone. Often, children need assistance with transporting bags and travelling safely. A clear plan and schedule are good ways to make things easier for everyone, including your child.
Decide on a contingency plan for if either you or your child gets sick, and you have to reschedule a visit. It’s important that you exchange information on your child’s health, possible doctor’s appointments and medication. As parents, it’s your responsibility to ensure your child receives adequate healthcare.
Take yearly holidays into consideration when you’re negotiating custody and visitation. Taking turns each year might be a good solution. It’s worth remembering that organizing holidays isn’t always straightforward for blended families, as you have to plan around the schedules of several adults and children.
How does child support work?
Both parents are responsible for children’s expenses after a divorce, however authorities don’t order you to pay child support after a divorce. Child support has to be requested by the parent with whom the child has a permanent address. Once you sign a written contract and have the contract notarized, your contract is legally binding. If the parent liable for child support neglects the contract, the parent receiving child support can apply for child maintenance allowance from Kela.
Where will my child live after the divorce?
Your child’s permanent address affects which daycare and school they go to. Your child’s permanent address also affects your entitlement to certain social benefits, such as child allowance, housing support, and income support. Decide together which parent’s address is going to be your child’s permanent address.
You can choose to have your child stay at one address most of the time or arrange for your child to spend alternating weeks at both of your homes. Read more here.
Alternating weeks refers to a situation where your child spends almost the same amount of time (50%-50%) or almost the same amount of time (40%-60%) at both of your homes. Alternating weeks is a common system, but it’s also possible to alternate time equally at other regular intervals. Trial different variations to see what works best for your child.
Children can only have one permanent address, which affects child support and housing allowance as well as determines which daycare and school your child attends. If you’re alternating time spend at each of your houses equally and the difference between your financial situations is notable, your child may still be entitled to child support.
Alternating time spent at two homes is recognized by Finnish law (Child Care and Maintenance Act 7§ 190/2019). In accordance with the Act, parents may sign a contract stating that a child will spend equal time at both parents’ homes. A contract should include the details of your arrangement and any travel or transportation expenses involved. The contract should also include your decision on which parent’s address will become your child’s official address.
It’s important your child is happy and content with their new living arrangements. Alternating weeks is usually a good solution for parents who want to spend equal time with their children and share parenting responsibilities equally. Fairly dividing child maintenance and avoiding conflict are other reasons to choose alternating weeks. Alternating time spent at both parents’ homes requires communication, co-operation, and flexibility. Although you might miss your child and feel guilty, alternating weeks also gives you some time of your own. When you don’t spend every day with your child, the time you spend together can feel more meaningful.
Having two homes is beneficial for children, as it means they can easily have good relationships and attachments with both parents after the divorce. When considering alternating weeks, take into account your child’s age, development, and whether your child is happy with the arrangement and how often they would like to switch homes. The younger your child is, the more you should consider their relationship with both of you, how you get along with your child’s other parent, and the distance between your homes. Living arrangements can need to be updated as your child gets older and becomes more independent. Expect to review your living arrangements especially as your child becomes a teenager and has more interests of their own.
Travelling between two locations and adjusting to house rules at two different homes can be a challenge for your child. Your child might become frustrated with constantly packing bags and leaving things behind at their other home. You should do your best to make sure your child has what they need with them and doesn’t find it a hassle to travel from one home to the other. It’s easiest on your child when you both live close by and they don’t have trouble getting to school, hobbies, or seeing their friends from either home.
How children adjust to alternating weeks is individual. Alternating weeks works best when both parents communicate well, and your child feels that they have a place in both homes. When alternating weeks is successful, your child can feel like they’re a part of one family that just lives at different addresses.
What to consider when planning alternating weeks:
- Your child’s age
- The distance between your homes
- Your child’s opinion (keep their age in mind)
- Your child’s development and disposition
- What’s best for your child’s growth and development
- Which home will be your child’s permanent address
- Division of expenses and child maintenance (eg. make sure your child can still attend hobbies they attended before the divorce)
- How willing you are to commit to alternating weeks and whether the schedule will work with your lifestyle
- How well you and your child’s other parent get along, how flexible you can be and whether you communicate well
You are required to inform your child’s other parent when you move. Moving to a new address within your municipality or moving to a new municipality can affect visitation schedules and shared custody arrangements. If either parent is planning on moving to a new address, and the move will affect your previous arrangements, you are legally required to inform each other. The early you inform your child’s other parent, the more time there is to discuss practical arrangements as well as prepare your child for the move and changes in their routines.
Your child’s right to maintain relationships with people that are important to them, such as family and friends, could be affected when you move. Discuss how your child will be able to stay in contact with friends and family and how to divide transportation expenses.
Let your child’s other parent know you’re planning on moving as soon as possible, ideally 3 months in advance. Both parents must inform each other about any moves, irrespective of which parent’s address is your child’s permanent address. You can inform your child’s other parent about the upcoming move in writing, but it’s a good idea to discuss how to structure visits and other matters related to your child together.
You aren’t required to inform your child’s other parent of the move or disclose your new address if informing them would endanger the safety of either you or your child in any way or place you in immediate danger.
As parents, you also have to discuss decisions involving your child that aren’t included in your official custody and maintenance contract.
The Parenting Plan is a good tool to help you discuss all the decisions you need to make involving your child.
- What’s your child’s vaccination schedule and who will take care of their appointments?
- Who will take your child to doctor’s appointments and the family clinic?
- How will you organize childcare if your child gets sick?
- Which parent will take out insurance and how will you cover the costs of your child’s insurance?
- If your child has special needs or expenses, how will you work together to organize care such as doctor’s appointments, medication, rehabilitation, physiotherapy, glasses etc.
Early education and school
- Who will attend your child’s daycare or school events, or will you attend together?
- Who will go to teacher-parent meetings and participate in parents’ nights?
- How will you help your child with homework and studying for exams at home?
- How many extracurricular activities can your child attend?
- How will you divide expenses related to your child’s hobbies?
- How will you organize transportation to and from your child’s hobby?
- What can you do to guarantee your child is able to participate in hobbies they enjoy?
Other discussion topics
- At what age is it ok for your child to be left at home alone?
- Does your child have the same bedtime rules at both homes?
- What are your rules on screen time, such as watching tv, video games or mobile phones?
- What’s your child’s curfew on weekdays and weekends?
- Will you give your child an allowance? Decide on an amount together.
- Do you have the same rules on mobile phone usage and charges?
- Is it ok to share pictures of your child on social media? How does your child feel about it?
- What will you do to make sure take your child feels listened to and how will you take their opinions and wishes into account when you’re making decisions?
For additional information on contracts and family mediation contact your local child welfare supervisor’s office.