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Government mulls reform to allow children two official homes after divorce

The current system of choosing one official home for a child can often lead to child custody and social benefit issues.

Image: Ines Bazdar / AOP

Finland's government is considering a proposal to update legislation and allow children of divorced parents to be officially registered at two different addresses.

After parents divorce in Finland, their child or children can only have one official home address. Current legislation often causes disagreements within many families as to which parent is the so-called lähivanhempi or resident parent, defined by the state benefits administrator Kela (siirryt toiseen palveluun) as "the parent who lives in the same household with the child".

The other parent, defined by Kela as the non-resident parent or etuvanhempi in Finnish, is "liable for maintenance but not living in the same household with the child", even though custody of the child may be shared equally between the two parents.

In Sweden, children of divorced parents can have two addresses, but in Finland this is not currently possible because a person cannot be registered as living in two different addresses at the same time.

Only one parent receives benefits and services

The government hopes that the proposal to allow the child of a divorced family to have two official addresses will resolve issues related to social benefits and services.

Currently, only the resident parent is entitled to such benefits and services as child allowance, housing allowance or school transportation.

This is still the case even if the child lives an equal amount of time in both homes, a situation that is becoming increasingly common.

"Arranging transportation to school for a child with a disability does not apply to both homes. This means that the other parent [non-resident parent] must transport the child to school," says senior expert Anna Moring of the Diverse Families Network, an umbrella body consisting of ten different family associations.

Anna Moring of the Diverse Families Network. Image: Karoliina Simoinen / Yle

If parents are unable to jointly decide which one is the resident parent, the matter will be settled in court, with the benefits and services awarded to the appointed resident parent.

“It [the benefits] could be hundreds of euros per month, and the other household gets more, even if the child spends the same amount of time in each home,” says Moring.

District Courts have almost equally awarded resident parents status to fathers and mothers. However, in voluntary agreements made between the parents, mothers become the resident parent in more than 80 percent of cases.

Through her work with the Diverse Families Network, Moring has become aware of the many challenges families face in interchangeable living situations.

"There are many solutions to these practical problems," Moring explains, before adding that municipal law is one major obstacle to the introduction of two official addresses.

Moring cites the example of a child being enrolled in two different municipalities, and having to deal with separate tax and service issues. Which municipality would provide daycare or healthcare services? Could the child attend two different daycares?

In December, a new law on child care will come into force, and is expected to include provisions for the mobility of children between divorced parents' homes. However, Moring believes that this will not be enough to tackle the issues.

"Just recording information in the population register doesn't really change anything," says Moring.