Custody, living arrangements and right of access

Custody

When a child is born while his or her parents are married, both parents are his or her guardians. If the parents are not married, the mother is the sole guardian of the child.

When a child is born out of wedlock or if the parents divorce, the parents decide on joint custody or one parent's sole custody. When making this decision, the parents should carefully consider their facilities for mutually negotiating on issues affecting the child. Regardless of custodianship, the child has the right to be maintained by both parents as well as the right to meet both of them.

If the parents decide on joint custody:

  • they will together decide on the child's maintenance, upbringing, last name, passport, place of residence, nationality, religion, education, health care, and asset management. Nevertheless, the parent living with the child can decide on everyday matters affecting the child such as daily care.
  • both parents can receive information about the child from different authorities.
  • if one of the child's parents dies, the other parent will assume custody of the child.

How to make an agreement on custody?

The parents can make a custody agreement during an appointment with a child welfare officer or let the matter be decided by a court of law. In addition to the parents, the court of law may decide to give custody to another person, for example, a grandparent. Custody ends when the child has his or her 18th birthday or marries before turning 18.

Living arrangements

When the parents divorce, they shall agree on the parent with whom the child will live. The child shall be registered as a resident in one place only. When granting housing allowance and child benefit, the child will be accounted for as a member of only one household.

Right of access

A child has the right to meet and keep in contact with the parent with whom he or she does not live (that is, non-custodial parent). The parents can mutually agree on the visiting rights, make an agreement on the matter at an appointment with a child welfare officer or have a district court solve the matter.

There is no one legislative model for meetings between a child and his or her parents. Nevertheless, it is important for little children to have these meetings sufficiently often; preferably several short meetings a week. As the child grows, the frequency of the meetings could be lessened while lengthening their duration. Both parents are responsible for ensuring the child's right of access.

A fixed-term right-of-access agreement can be concluded to be revised as required, for instance, when the child begins day care or school.

As a general rule, the parent that meets the child is responsible for costs arising from the right of access. The parents can negotiate on sharing these costs, in particular, when the distance between the non-custodial parent and the child is long.

If the non-custodial parent is unable to care for the child during these meetings, supervised meetings can be arranged.

Amending an agreement/decision

An agreement made by the parents or a decision by a court of law can be amended with a new agreement or with a new court decision. Compiling a new agreement, however, always requires that both contracting parties give their consent.

Child left without a guardian

If a child's only guardian dies and the child is left without a guardian, the Health and Social Welfare Committee will be notified of the matter. The child's close relatives can also themselves contact a child welfare officer. The child welfare officer will negotiate with people close to the child and submit an application to a court of law in order to name a guardian and potential trustee.

If the child's other parent is alive, he or she has primary claim to custody. The child's opinion will also be heard when making an account of the case. If the dead parent has presented any wishes in his or her last will and testament, they will be accounted for, but they will not be binding when making a decision. A district court is responsible for naming a guardian.