Custody, residency and contact with children - what does it mean and how does it work?

2017-04-09 i Barnrätt
Hello, I am in relation with a Swedish women. We are not married. We are not living together & expecting child. It seems we are going to separate as we are not happy together. I understand baby needs to be with mother for fist few years. After how many years of child age, father can have shared custody of the child ? So that the child can stay 3-4 days with father & 3-4 days with monther. Is it 2 years or 3 years ? I have Swedish citizenship. Appreciate your advice

Hello! Thank you for turning to us at Lawline for advice!

The law regulating custody of children and children’s living conditions with their parents is called Föräldrabalken (FB) and can be found in Swedish here. For a brief summary, of current legislation in English, please visit the government’s webpage for a look at their brochure. As your partner is expecting a child, I will first explain how the Swedish social services register parents after a child is born. I will then give you a summary of the rules on custody for children. Lastly, I will answer your specific questions and sum it all up.

Unmarried parents – who is the father?

When a woman who is unmarried gives birth, the social services will need to formally decide who the father is. This is typically done by a confirmation from the mother and father. A confirmation of fatherhood is done in written form with two witnesses and has to be approved of by the social welfare committee and the mother of the child (FB 1:3-4). The social services will normally get in touch after the child is born, with instructions on how this is done. In some cases, this can be done before the child is born.

Custody of children – who and that does it mean?

When a married couple have children, the children are automatically in custody of both parents. When the parents are not married, the mother has from the point of birth custody of the child. Unmarried parents who wish to have joint custody can report this to the social services at the same time as they make the confirmation of fatherhood (FB 6:4). This needs to be a join decision.

No matter if the couple decides on joint custody or that only one of the should have custody of the child, this can be changed at any time from the birth of the child. If the parents can agree, they can go from joint custody to single custody or form single custody to joint custody by a written agreement approved of by the social welfare committee (FB 6:6). If parents want to get a change of custody but cannot agree on it on their own, they can take the matter to court, where it will be decided what the best solution for the child is (FB 6:5). By tradition in the Swedish legal order, joint custody is usually the preferred form, since it is presumed to be in the best interest of the child.

Being the custodian of a child means that you have the right and the responsibility to decide on all questions relating to the child in question. If parents have joint custody, it means that both must agree on things like where the child lives, where they go to school etc. A parent who is the single custodian can make these decisions on their own, without consulting the other parent (FB 6:11-12).

Residency of the child and contact with parents

Parents are free to agree on the residency of a child on their own. If they want a valid agreement, it must be in written form and approved by the social welfare committee. If the parents have joint custody and cannot decide on if the child should live permanently with one of them or live alternately with them both, they can have it settled in court (FB 6:14a).

No matter how the issue of custody is settled, the child is always entitled to maintain contact with a parent that they do not live with. Both parents are responsible to ensure that the child’s rights and needs are met. If parents agree, they can make a formally valid agreement on contact in written form and have it approved by the social welfare committee. If parents cannot come to an agreement, they can have the matter settled in court (FB 6:15-15a).

Basis for decisions

These questions are not regulated based on the age of the child. Basically, you and the mother can decide on these matters in whatever way you see fit. The important thing to remember is that none of you have an absolute right to get custody, have the child living with you or to have a certain amount of contact with the child. It all comes down to the both of you either agreeing on these issues now and in the future or – when that is no possible – have a court settle it. The decisions should always be made in the best interest of the child.

What does this mean in you case?

As you and the mother of the child are not married, you will need to formally confirm that you are the father of the child. You will be contacted by the social services sometime after your child is born. If you want more information on exactly how this process works where you live, visit the webpage of your municipality of residence for more information.

At the same time as you confirm your fatherhood, you can decide if you want joint custody. This means that you and the mother together have the right and the responsibility to decide in all questions regarding the child. This is normally assumed to be the best option for the child. If you do not decide on join custody, the mother will be the single custodian and have the sole right to decide on all matters regarding the child. If you at a later point in time want this to change, you either must agree with the mother, or take matters to the court. If you decide on joint custody, you and the mother can also decide on where the child should live. You can agree to let the child live permanently with one of you, or to alternate. Just like the matter of custody, the residency can be changed at any point in time by an agreement or by a court. Should you decide that the mother or you have single custody, the child will still have the right to meet with the other parent. How and when this contact should take place can also be settled through agreements or by a court and can be changed in the future.

If you decide against joint custody now, you will not be able to influence in decisions regarding your child and it cannot be said with certainty that you will get joint custody of your child at a certain time in the future. If you specifically want your child to stay with the mother permanently at a young age, joint custody will not hinder you. Even if the child stays permanently with the mother, the child has the right to see you to develop a good relationship with you. Exactly how and when this contact happens is primarily a matter for you and the mother to decide.

Should you and the mother have trouble coming to agreements on these matters, or if you have other questions about custody, residency and contact with the child, you can contact your municipality of residence and its Famlijerätt, where they provide help such as family talks aimed at collaboration. You can also contact them if you have questions on how the process of confirming your fatherhood works where you live.

I hope this has answered your questions.

Best regards,

Mikaela von Bornstedt
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