The provisions on custody of children are to be found in the Child Custody and Right of Access Act 361/1983. Custody can be decided on the basis of marriage, a court decision or an agreement between the parents. Custody of a child can be exercised either jointly by the parents of the child or by only one of the parents.
If the parents of the child are married to one another at the time of the birth of the child, they shall both have custody of the child. If the mother of the child is not married, she is the sole custodian. Also after the establishment of paternity, the mother will remain the sole custodian, unless the parents agree otherwise or a court order is issued in the matter.
The custody award is partly decisive in determining whether or not a child abduction has taken place.
If the parents cannot reach an agreement on the question of custody, the matter will be settled in court.
The parents can make a mutual agreement on either joint custody or on sole custody to one of them. An agreement on joint custody will in general be considered when the parents do not live together, for instance after a divorce. In general it is then also agreed with whom the child is to live and how the other parent is to maintain contact and visit the child. The agreement between the parents shall be confirmed by the social authorities.
Custody by virtue of birth can be changed either through a court order or an agreement between the parents, confirmed by the social authorities.
When the parents have joint custody they are together responsible for the duties inherent in custody, and they make joint decisions relating to the child, unless something else has been provided or ordered. Consequently, the consent of both custodians is, as a rule, necessary when significant matters relating to the person of the child are decided. Such are for instance decisions on the education of the child, changes in the place of residence of the child and obtaining of a (Finnish) passport for the child. If the parents have joint custody, neither parent has the right to change the child’s residence abroad without the consent of the other parent, not even if the child is staying with the parent that has removed him or her.
The situation is different if a parent is a sole custodian. In that case this parent alone makes decisions on matters relating to the person of the child. The consent of the other parent is not needed. In these cases the parent who is not a custodian is not entitled to decide for example where the child is to live and reside without the consent of the parent who has sole custody. If one of the parents has sole custody of the child, the other parent has no right to take the child abroad without the consent of the custodian.