What’s a custody dispute?

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WHEN PARENTS DIVORCE, they must re-organise their child’s matters. After all, they will continue to be the child’s parents, even when they no longer live together. • The parents must agree on where the child lives, who the child meets and when and how the child’s living costs are covered. • It must be clear to everyone when the child is with each parent. • The child must always feel safe with both parents. • The child needs to know which kindergarten or school they attend, and if they can continue their hobbies and spend time with their friends.

How are the child’s matters decided? • The child’s parents can agree on how they organise the child’s matters. • The child welfare officer can confirm the agreement the parents have made. The agreement can settle the child’s custody, where the child lives, who and when the child meets, and how the child’s living costs are covered. • If the parents cannot agree, they can seek help from mediation. • If all else fails, the district court judge will decide how things are organised. • The judge will make a decision based on what he or she considers to be best for the child.

Custody dispute in court • • • • • •

Both parents write to the judge and describe how they would like the issues to be solved. The judge calls the parents to the district court for a joint hearing. The parents can have a lawyer to help them in court. Sometimes a judge makes a temporary order on how to arrange things. The judge may ask social workers to do a child custody evaluation. The judge wants to have enough information to be able to make a good decision.

Child custody evaluation • • • • •

Social workers visit both homes to chat with the child and each parent. The social workers can also chat with the child in private, without the presence of the parents. If the child wants to, they can express their own thoughts and wishes. The social workers write a report on their findings and send it to the judge. The parents are allowed to read the report, including the parts that describe what the child has said.

Judge’s decision • Once the judge has received the report, he or she will call the parents back to court. • Sometimes these discussions help the parents come to an agreement, without the judge having to decide. • If not, the judge will decide where the child’s home is, if both parents can decide on the child’s matters, when the child can spend time with the parent he or she does not live with, and how financial matters should be arranged. • The judge’s decision must be followed.

After the judge’s decision • Ideally, the parents’ disputes are settled. But even if not, the parents have to do what the judge has decided. • When parents follow what they agreed on or what the judge decided, they usually fight less. This makes it easier for everyone. • The most important thing is for the child to live a safe daily life.

CHILD CUSTODY EVALUATION/REPORT A report about the circumstances of the child and parents. The district judge often asks a social worker to make such a report. CHILD SUPPORT/ALIMONY Alimony is money paid every month by one parent to the other for the child’s expenses. CHILD WELFARE OFFICER A municipal employee who helps parents reach an agreement on the child’s matters. He or she can also verify the parents’ agreement on the child’s custody, where the child will live, when and whom the child meets and the child’s maintenance. CUSTODY/GUARDIAN Custody means caring for the child and deciding on the child’s matters such as their name, where they live and go to school or kindergarten, matters related to their health care and hobbies, their religion and passport. Usually both parents are guardians, but sometimes just one of them is. CUSTODY DISPUTE A dispute between the parents that is settled in a district court. The disagreement can be over child’s custody, living arrangements and meetings or how the child’s living expenses are covered. DISTRICT COURT/COURTHOUSE A place where the district judges work. Here they discuss and decide the custody dispute. HEARING OF THE CHILD Talking to the child to find out his or her opinions, thoughts and wishes. The child can speak with the parents, the child welfare officer and/or the social worker doing the custody evaluation, or the judge.

Terms JUDGE/DISTRICT JUDGE The person in the district court who makes the decision in the custody dispute. LAWYER An attorney, public attorney, or licensed legal counsel who assists a parent in a custody dispute. MAINTENANCE The maintenance of the child means the child’s expenses. Maintenance is a shared responsibility of both parents. MEDIATION The purpose of mediation is to help parents agree on the child’s matters. There are two types of mediation: family mediation organised by the municipality or mediation of child custody disputes in the district court (known as Follo-mediation). PLACE OF RESIDENCE This is the child’s official address. It is the address of the parent the child is registered to live with. SHARED PARENTING A living arrangement where the child has a home and spends equal or almost equal amount of time with both of the parents. TEMPORARY ORDER A decision by the judge about the child’s matters that only applies temporarily, for the duration of the trial. This is also called an interim order. VISITATION RIGHT/MEETING The child’s right to meet and keep in touch with the parent with whom they do not live.

The child’s rights • The child must be allowed to be a child. • The child has the right to be safe, cared for and treated well. • The child has the right to express their own opinions, thoughts and wishes. • The child does not have to say anything and should not be pressured. • The child does not have to decide any disagreements between the parents. • The child does not have to choose one parent over the other. • Parents and other adults should ask the child what they think and want. • Adults need to consider issues from the child’s point of view. • The child has the right to know what is going on and what is decided.

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The Turvassa project 2019-2021 The Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters, Turun ensi- ja turvakoti ry, VIOLA – väkivallasta vapaaksi ry

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