Child law

How is custody of a child determined and what is joint custody?

Act on Child Custody and Right of Access (8.4.1983/361) lays down provisions on child custody, living arrangements and right of access. The guiding principle is the best interests of the child.

If the parents are married at the time of the child’s birth, they have joint custody of the child. Very often, cohabiting partners also agree to have joint custody as parents of their child. The agreement is made with a child welfare officer.

As a rule, the custody of a child does not change after the end of the parents’ partnership, unless the parents themselves agree otherwise. The vast majority of children remain in joint custody after their parents separate. The custodian has the right to decide on all matters concerning the child.

Joint custody means that parents must be able to decide on matters concerning the child together – even though the parents’ relationship has ended.

If the parents are unable to act as joint custodians, it is possible that the custody of the child will be agreed or awarded to one parent alone. In this case, the single custodian will in principle decide on all the matters of the child on his or her own.

Child’s residence and right of access

The child must have only one official place of residence, regardless of the form of custody. The place of residence is agreed between the parents, but if no agreement can be reached, the court will ultimately determine the child’s place of residence.

A child has the right to keep in touch with the parent with whom he or she does not live. The extent of the visits is a matter for the parents to decide, but the age and stage of development of the child must be taken into account.

The use of what used to be a fairly standard schedule of visits, i.e. every other weekend, has declined. Instead, arrangements more similar to alternating residence have become more common. Following the law reform in 2019, the law includes the possibility of alternating residence, where the child spends at least 40% of the time with each parent. The case-law also still refers to the so-called alternating weeks schedule, where the child spends a week at a time with one of the parents.

Why does the agreement need to be confirmed by a child welfare officer?

Even if the parents are able to reach a consensual agreement on matters concerning the child, including custody, residence and visits, the agreement should be confirmed with the child welfare officer. In this way, if a dispute arises later, there is already an agreement in place which can be enforced by the authorities if necessary.

What to do in the event of a dispute?

If the parents cannot agree on matters concerning the child, the only option is to take the matter to the district court. The district court may order a report from the social welfare board on circumstances affecting the case, including the child’s own wishes and views considering the age and stage of development of the child as well as the parents’ capacity to act as parents. District courts now also offer the possibility of expert-assisted mediation of custody dispute (so-called follo mediation).

How is child support determined?

The Child Support Act (5.9.1975/704) is based on the notion that the child has the right to adequate maintenance, which is provided by the parents in proportion to their ability to support him or her. The assessment of the amount of child support is consistently based on the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Justice.

The calculation is based on the child’s maintenance needs, which are determined by the child’s age, the child’s share of the living expenses borne by the parent with whom he or she lives and any other special expenses, such as education fees. The amount of child benefit is deducted from the expenses. The parents are responsible for the child’s maintenance, according to their ability.

The Ministry of Justice has issued separate guidance on child support in situations involving alternating residence.


The agreement is made either with the Child Welfare Officer or, in the event of a dispute, in the district court

An agreement on the support of the child should be drawn up and confirmed by the Child Welfare Officer in your municipality. This is the only way to make the agreement enforceable if the parent later fails to meet his or her maintenance obligations for one reason or another. If the parents cannot reach an agreement, the matter concerning child maintenance can be brought before the district court. Ultimately, it is the district court that determines the amount of maintenance.

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