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Divorce lawyer: Understand Finnish marriage laws before walking down the aisle

Divorce can alter the lives of spouses in many ways, often for the better. Many experience quite a shock, however, when it comes to money and its division between parties.

Image: Maxwell Monty / AOP

In her work as a divorce lawyer, Katariina Kuusiluoma sees how a divorce is not only a stab through the heart but a hit to the wallet.

"I feel like no one should get married before signing a document stating that they understand that without a prenuptial agreement, matrimonial rights are in full effect and all assets will be divided fifty-fifty," she says.

From the point of view of a family lawyer, marriage is purely a legally binding financial agreement. Since 1987, either spouse has been able to terminate the marital contract without cause. After a six-month reflection period, the marriage ends. Somewhat dramatically, the district court "sentences the spouses to divorce".

At that point, the marital right to joint and personal property, which entered into effect at the altar or in front of the registrar, is also dissolved. Many experience quite the shock when it comes to the division of property.

In a divorce, not only communal assets but also individual assets are divided between parties. In addition to what was acquired during the union, assets accumulated before the marriage are also included in the tally. Many find this unfair.

"Finnish marriage law is severe and wide-ranging. Its effects come as a complete surprise when divorce is imminent," says Kuusiluoma, who works at Lexly, a law firm specializing in family and inheritance law.

No division of property is made unless either party demands it.

Young couples lacking assets also need prenups

Those who marry at a young age rarely have a lot of savings, so a prenuptial agreement may seem unnecessary. But, in life, it is always worth planning ahead.

As the years go by, and the mortgage on your home decreases, wealth will start to accumulate. One spouse may become an entrepreneur, or a couple might decide to establish a business together.

Laura and Mika Gröndahl, owners of luxury chocolate brand Chjoko, have dealt with all the necessary paperwork.

"I said I wanted a prenup. So did my husband. That was the whole conversation. The agreement can always be modified later, if needed," says Laura.

"It was simpler for us to start our union by agreeing that what he brought in is his, and what I brought in is mine," she recalls.

A prenuptial agreement can feel necessary when a spouse starts their own business. Chjoko owner Laura Gröndahl says a prenup was the obvious choice for her and husband Mika Gröndahl. Image: Jari Pussinen / Yle

Entrepreneur couples are not the only ones who find prenuptial agreements useful. In joining two families, a prenup can be helpful when there are children from both the current and previous relationships in the picture.

Investment values can vary daily, but at the time of a divorce they drop 50%

Finns have prospered, and almost a million people in Finland have invested in the stock market.

As there is a lot of overlap between those investing in stocks and mutual funds, it is difficult to pinpoint the number of people that purely have investments in mutual funds, but this number is also in the ballpark of one million.

In recent years, women, in particular, have been eager to invest. This includes Laura Gröndahl.

"If I have taken the risk to invest the euros I get from the chocolate shop or elsewhere, then the growth also belongs to me and not to my husband. I also respect that his investments belong to him. They are not my property," she says.

Active investors are engrossed in the daily fluctuations of their shares and funds, however small.

"They often forget that in a divorce, the value of the investment portfolio drops by 50 percent," warns Kuusiluoma.

Finnish marriage law is severe and wide-ranging and comes as a surprise to those facing divorce, warns Lexly family lawyer Katariina Kuusiluoma. Image: Jari Pussinen / Yle

Talking about finances can be difficult. Kuusiluoma encourages couples to abandon lofty principles and discuss the tangible.

"Often clients say that they talk openly with their partner and that there are no secrets between them. Still, they lack an understanding of their assets. They should put all assets on the table and discuss what is shared property. At the same time, they should define what is each individual’s 'adventure money'," says Kuusiluoma.

Attitudes towards prenuptial agreements have changed. A younger generation does not believe that prenups show a distrust in their partner, but rather acts as a mutual insurance policy that prepares them for the risk of divorce.

Simple or complex, a prenup only takes effect when filed

A prenuptial agreement is, in its simplest form, a contract that eliminates a spouse’s marital right to all or part of the other's party’s property. The prenup can be valid in the event of divorce or death, or both.

An informal prenuptial agreement can bite you on the nose at the exact time it is needed. Employing the help of a professional is recommended because every couple is different.

A signed and witnessed prenuptial agreement must not be forgotten in the desk drawer. The marriage contract is only legally valid when it is filed and registered with the Digital and Population Data Services Agency.

The preparation of a simple prenuptial agreement by a professional lawyer can, at best, cost less than a hundred euros, and is usually handled online without much difficulty. A fee of 55 euros will be charged for registering the agreement.

Almost 270,000 prenuptial agreements have been registered with the Digital and Population Data Services Agency. In 2020, the number was 8,661 registered prenups. That is 33.8 percent of the number of marriages performed in 2020. However, the statistics are obscured by the fact that in the event of a change in the prenuptial agreement, the old contract remains in the system and the amended prenup is also recorded.

Last year, 22,296 marriages were registered in Finland. During the same year 13,365 unions ended in divorce.