Matters concerning child custody and right of access
Parents may file a petition at the district court of the child's place of residence in order to be issued with a decision on the custody, living arrangements, right of access and maintenance of their common minor child. The petition may be filed either together 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.
If the parents disagree, the district court shall hear the matter in a trial. The parents are first summoned to a preparatory hearing. The district court may also request a report on the family’s circumstances from the social welfare authorities, if the circumstances cannot be established to the necessary extent in the preparation. The report is drawn up based on a home visit at the parents' home, the child's opinion and, if need be, information obtained from other authorities.
The parents may settle their dispute also during the trial. In that case, the judge issues a decision that is in accordance with the settlement and the consideration of the case is thus concluded.
Once the social welfare authorities have submitted their report to the court, the parents are summoned to a main hearing, where witnesses may also be heard. At the end of the proceedings, the district court issues its decision.
The main principle is that parents agree on child custody, living arrangements, right of access and maintenance by visiting a child welfare officer and concluding an agreement there. The social welfare board of the child's municipality of residence shall confirm the agreement, which makes it as legally valid and binding as a court decision.
If the parents disagree on the child's matters, they may also seek to use the family mediation services provided by the municipalities for free. The mediator helps the parents find an amicable solution to their disagreements.
The family mediators are often employees of the family counselling services and other social welfare services. Mediation is provided also by the family counselling services of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (perheasiain neuvottelukeskus) and other instances authorised to provide mediation services.
Mediation is always confidential.
See the brochure on family mediation for more information.
A custody dispute may also be mediated at the district court. The mediator is a judge acquainted with family matters, and he or she is assisted by an expert in parenting and child development matters (usually a psychologist or a social worker). The mediator cannot be the same judge as the one hearing the case at the court. Using the assistance of an expert is free of charge for the parents.
Mediation may be applied for either by the parents jointly or by one of them alone. The application may be freely formulated. Application forms are also provided for this purpose by the district court. The application must include the parties' names and contact information, the matters to be dealt with in the mediation and a short description of the dispute.
A case may also be transferred to mediation procedure even when court proceedings in the case have already been initiated. In that case, the proceedings are suspended until the mediation is over.
Mediation is informal and consists mainly of discussions and negotiations conducted with all the parties present. The mediator and the expert assistant may also discuss with a party without the other party being present.
Mediation must be carried out without delay. The goal is that the mediation session is held within six weeks from the initiation of the mediation procedure.
The mediator may confirm an agreement reached during the mediation as enforceable.
For more information, see the brochure on expert-assisted mediation in child custody disputes.