Children in Divorce

Annually, approximately 40,000 children in Finland experience their parents’ separation. While it’s not possible to completely avoid the stress caused by divorce, it can be significantly reduced through a well-structured agreement and arrangements that prioritize the child’s best interests. These also contribute to the well-being of the parents. In a separation situation, considerations arise regarding the child’s living arrangements, visitation, and child support.

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Custody, Living Arrangements, Visitation, and Child Support

In a separation situation, considerations arise regarding the child’s living arrangements, visitation, and child support. Custody is usually retained by both parents, but in some cases, sole custody is the solution that is in the child’s best interest. Over the years, life situations change, and adjustments to previously agreed-upon arrangements may be needed.

Child’s Right to Express Their Views

A child has the right to participate in matters concerning them. Custodians must ascertain the child’s opinion and take it into account when making decisions that concern the child. Additionally, custodians have a duty to inform the child about decisions that affect them and other aspects of their life in a manner appropriate to the child’s age and developmental level.

Joint Custody or Sole Custody
Custody is usually retained by both parents, but in some cases, sole custody is the solution that is in the child's best interest. The custodian's duty is to ensure the child's well-being, upbringing, necessary supervision, and care in accordance with the child's age and developmental level. The goal is to provide the child with a safe and stimulating environment, as well as education that aligns with the child's inclinations and wishes. The child must be protected from all forms of physical and mental violence, mistreatment, and exploitation.

Auxiliary Custody
Auxiliary custody can be agreed upon between parents. In uncontested situations, in addition to the parents, one or more individuals can be designated as auxiliary custodians for the child. The registrar for child welfare confirms the agreement regarding auxiliary custody. In contentious situations, auxiliary custody can be sought by submitting a written application to the district court. This can lead to a decision that custody of the child is entrusted to one or more individuals, alongside the parents, who have given their consent. Auxiliary custody does not release the parents from their child support obligations, nor does it impose an obligation of child support on the auxiliary custodian. The auxiliary custodian acts as a custodian alongside the parents. The decision must be in the child's best interest. This situation might arise if the child has been under the care of a potential auxiliary custodian for an extended period and their relationship with a parent has been severed. It always involves a case-specific assessment and finding the best solution in each particular case.

The child's living arrangements are organized either according to the parents' joint agreement or a court order. Nowadays, the child's living arrangements can be organized in a way that the child lives alternately with each parent. In this case, the child has two homes, but still maintains one official place of residence. The specific details of the arrangement are determined based on the family's circumstances. Previously, this often meant a week-to-week arrangement, where the child switches to the other parent's home every other week.

Visitation rights refer to the right of a non-custodial parent to spend time with their child after a separation or divorce. Visitation arrangements are made based on the family's situation. If verbal agreements about visitation do not work well, it's advisable to have them in writing. Parents can agree on visitation arrangements with the help of a children's welfare officer, and the agreement will be confirmed by the children's welfare officer. The agreement is enforceable just like a court order. If parents cannot agree on visitation or if the children's welfare officer does not confirm the agreement, the matter can be resolved through a court decision or court mediation.

Visitation can occur in various ways, such as alternating weekends, weekdays, holidays, or even a shared custody arrangement where the child spends equal time with both parents. The goal is to ensure that the child maintains a positive and close relationship with both parents even after the separation.

In addition, in some cases, special visitation rights can be established for a child and a person who has a significant and established relationship with the child, like a grandparent or another close relative. This can be relevant in situations involving stepfamilies, foster families, or other unique family dynamics. These rights are determined based on the best interests of the child and the existing relationship between the child and the individual.

Child Support refers to the financial assistance provided by a non-custodial parent to the parent with whom the child primarily resides. Parents can either agree on child support through negotiation or have it determined by a court order. The child support amount is calculated based on the parents' incomes and expenses, taking into consideration the child's age, special needs, and the principle of reasonableness. In many cases, child support is typically paid until the child reaches the age of 18, although it can vary based on circumstances.

Here are some common questions related to child support:

1. How is the correct amount of child support determined?
The child support amount is estimated using guidelines published by the Ministry of Justice. The family's circumstances are taken into account during this assessment, including each parent's income, expenses, and the child's needs. Ultimately, the principle of reasonableness guides the determination of child support. The child support amount is often set until the child turns 18, and it may be adjusted over time based on changing needs.

2. What are the benefits of seeking child support through the court?
Seeking child support through the court is typically done in contentious situations where parents cannot agree, and relationships have deteriorated. When an agreement is unlikely and one party is not cooperative in providing necessary financial information, involving the court can help ensure child support is provided. Using the court process with legal representation can also prevent further escalation of conflicts. Court proceedings require complete financial disclosure or else the court will decide on the child support amount. Legal representation can also help mediate and find a reasonable solution.

3. When can I apply for child support through the court?
Both the children's welfare officer and the court process are options for seeking child support. If an agreement is unlikely, the court process can be a way to secure child support for the child. The court will determine child support from the date the application is filed. Therefore, delays could result in missed child support payments. Court-ordered child support is rarely made retroactive unless there's a special reason. Child support confirmed by the children's welfare officer always requires agreement.

4. What are the costs associated with seeking child support through the court?
The application can be filed either in the child's name or the custodial parent's name. If the child has no income or assets, they may qualify for state-funded legal aid, making the process cost-free for the custodial parent. Legal representation will also assist with applying for legal aid. If legal expenses insurance is in effect, it can cover the costs for both the custodial and non-custodial parent's legal fees. The child is generally not required to reimburse the other parent's legal fees, even if requested.

5. How long does the process take?
When an application is filed with the court, the other party is informed, and they provide a response. This process typically takes a few months and can be longer depending on the complexity of the case. The case can be resolved in writing or through a hearing, based on the content and evidence. Written proceedings are generally quicker. Settlement can also be reached through legal representatives. The court confirms the settlement, expediting the process. While the process may take time, child support is typically determined from the start of the application process, and in special cases, even before that. The decision can be appealed to a higher court if necessary.

Sometimes reaching agreements concerning matters related to a child can prove challenging between parents due to differing viewpoints. As an alternative to litigation, efforts can be made to reach consensus on the child's issues through expert-assisted court mediation, also known as "Follo Mediation." Mediation can address matters related to the child's custody, residence, visitation rights, and child support, and it provides an avenue to consider aspects not typically covered in court proceedings.

The advantages of this process include its affordability and swiftness.

In mediation, a judge experienced in family matters serves as the mediator, with an expert such as a psychologist or social worker assisting. Through dialogue, the aim is to find an agreement between parents that is also in the best interest of the child. In practice, Follo Mediation has proven highly effective in resolving child-related issues. Participation in mediation is voluntary for both parties, and both parents' consent is required to initiate the process. Should it become apparent during the process that mediation is not the right approach for finding a resolution, it can be terminated at any point.

If parents reach an agreement through mediation, the mediator can validate the resulting agreement, making it enforceable.

During mediation, a parent can choose to have legal representation. However, the parent is responsible for the attorney's fees. Engaging a lawyer during mediation can be beneficial to assess which type of agreement is worthwhile to accept and to ensure that the agreement also takes your interests into account. If you are considering whether expert-assisted mediation could aid in your situation or pondering how to proceed in resolving disputes related to child matters, you can contact us. We possess years of experience in handling child-related issues.

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