Dealing with disagreements concerning child custody

When parents get divorced, they can make an agreement on the custody, living arrangements, right of access and maintenance of the child by visiting a child welfare officer in the child's municipality of residence. The social welfare board confirms the agreement, which makes it enforceable.

Matters concerning the child may also be decided at a district court. Parents together or one of them alone may file a petition at the district court of the child's municipality of residence in order to be issued with a decision on the custody, living arrangements, right of access and maintenance of their common child. The petition may be filed at the same time with the divorce petition or separately. The district court may, upon petition, also amend an earlier decision or a confirmed agreement concerning the child's matters, if there have been changes in the child's or the parents' circumstances or if there otherwise is reason for this. The petition may be freely formulated, but most of the district courts also provide petition forms for this purpose.

Parents may engage the services of a legal counsel if they so wish. They may turn to state legal aid offices, private advocates or other lawyers licensed to assist clients in trials for legal assistance.

If the petition is filed by one of the parents alone, the district court reserves the other parent an opportunity to issue a written statement on the petition. If the parents agree on the matter, the district court decides the matter in a written procedure without summoning the parents to the court.

If the parents disagree, the district court hears the matter in a trial. In that case, the parents are summoned to a preparatory hearing, where the court establishes what the parents' claims and disagreements are and whether there are any prerequisites to reach a settlement in the matter. If the parents settle the matter in the preparatory hearing, the district court issues a decision in accordance with the settlement and the consideration of the case is thus concluded.

If no settlement is reached, the district court may request a report on the circumstances of the family from the social welfare authorities. The report is drawn up based on a visit at the parents' home, the child's opinion and, if need be, information obtained from other authorities. Once the court has received the report, the consideration of the case continues in a main hearing, where witnesses may also be heard. After the main hearing, the court issues a decision either immediately or at a later date announced to the parties. The district court is obliged to make a decision that secures the best interests of the child.

If the parents are dissatisfied with the decision of the district court, they may appeal against it to a court of appeal.

Mediation of custody disputes

Parents' disagreements concerning the custody, right of access and maintenance of a child may also be resolved by way of mediation. The purpose of mediation is to assist the parents in resolving their dispute in a manner that satisfies both the parties. Municipal social welfare authorities and other instances authorised to provide mediation services offer family mediation (for more information, see the brochure "Family mediation"). Custody disputes may also be mediated at a court.

The mediator is a judge of the court. He or she may be assisted by an expert in parenting and child development matters, usually a psychologist or a social worker.

Parents jointly or one of them alone may apply for mediation at the district court of the child's municipality of residence. The application may be freely formulated, but the district courts also provide application forms for this purpose. Mediation may also be requested when court proceedings between the parents are already under way.

Initiation of mediation requires that both the parents consent to it. The court decides whether mediation is to be initiated.

Mediation is carried out in form of discussions that the mediator and the expert assistant may conduct with both the parties present and separately with one of them at a time. Mediation is always confidential. No minutes shall be drawn up and the discussions shall not be recorded.

If the parents come to an agreement, the court may confirm it. Mediation shall be concluded, if one of the parties announces that he or she no longer wishes to continue the process. The mediator may also conclude the process, if he or she considers that a settlement cannot be reached.

Published 6.8.2014