Sweden’s Shared Parenting System

By Robert Whiston  FRSA.  26th Sept 2009

Below is simple a résumé of Sweden’s child custody law. It is not intended to be comprehensive nor a critique.

It is an English translation based on Swedish government official documents of how Sweden sees its divorce and custody polices working.  At least in official circles this is how it believes parity is being achieved for both fathers and mothers after divorce.

Fathers in Sweden may disagree with their government and maintain that it does nothing of the sort. Some Swedish fathers may maintain that Sweden still has a discriminatory regime. However, compared with other countries Sweden’s approach in the 1990s does, at least on paper, show an enlightened approach towards fathers.

It might be said to provide a minimal level of equality that reformers and feminists in other countries should be reminded of whenever ‘reforms’ are being proposed.

It might also be said that Sweden has, by 2010, been overtaken by a more pro-father trend in the reforms found in countries like, for instance, Belgium and Australia.


Sweden’s Shared Parenting  – Child Custody

1. Where both parents are agreed that joint custody is their preferred option with regard arrangements for their children after divorce (or a separation), a separate custody decision is not needed.

2. Married parents, in Swedish law, automatically have joint custody of their children. The process of divorce involves a mandatory reconciliation or reflection period of 6 months to reconsider the decision if a child aged under 16 lives permanently with one of them.

3. During this period the child is still deemed as being in their joint custody and it is immaterial whether the two parents live together or apart. If the parents then divorce the joint custody continues in place without having to request an order from the court confirming this (emphais has been added).

Note, Swedish ‘joint custody’ does not mean that the child lives with each parent an equal length of time (contrast that with Belgium’s new custody law of equal residence).

4. The type and form of custody must be decided and mutually agreed before the divorce petition is granted. This joint agreement must take the form of a written and signed undertaking.

5. Where the parents agree joint custody it is the court which can decide which house will be the child’s ‘residence’. This does not equate to the child living only at one address. The child is free to live at alternating address – if the parents live apart – if this is seen as in the child best interests.

6. Where residence is not alternating then ‘contact’ with the non-resident parent is encouraged. Contact is for the benefit of the child not for one or both of the parents. Both parents have a responsibility to ensure that this ‘contact’ happens. Contact is enforced by fines should breaches of contact occur.

7. If either parent cannot continue with the joint custody arrangements for the child, he or she must petition the court to dissolve the joint custody arrangements. – without this procedure the joint custody remains in force. The principle exception to this rule is where the couples have lived apart for two years or more.

8. Under Swedish law all children under 18 must be in the custody of both parents unless the parent is unmarried. A child of unmarried mother is in the sole custody of the mother. Sole custody to the mother also applies when the parent mother is cohabiting. (This latter part reflects English law prior to the Children Act 1989 – RW).

9. If parents agree to alter the custody arrangements either from sole custody to joint custody or vice versa, they can apply to the court. However the Swedish ‘social welfare committee’ must approve the changes to ensure the changes are in the best interests of the child.

10. If only one parents wishes to alter the custody arrangements the court must pay due regard to what is in the best interests of the child (avoid risk of abduction, molestation etc), paying special regard to keeping good relations with both of its parents.

11. The court has the power to impose joint custody, to refuse it, or dissolve it – even if one parent opposes one or several of the options. A pre-condition for a court to decide against the wishes of one parent is that joint custody is in the best interests of the child. However, the court can never decide in favour of joint custody if both parents oppose this option.

When deciding custody options it is possible for the court to also decide contact arrangements if joint custody is not the preferred option.

12. In exceptional circumstances, the custody of the child may, be transferred to a 3rd party, e.g. when one or both parents have neglected the welfare of the child or, put it the child at risk regarding its health and development or, abused the child.

13. In an effort to achieve co-operation and mutual agreement on all matters matrimonial, all local authorities in Sweden offer counselling and advice on custody, residence, contact etc.

Before a court can issue a custody order it must ensure that both parents have contacted the local authority and sought expert advice on how to handle their divorce/separation and the custody of their children.

14. The local authority can, if the parents cannot agree upon a course of action, present its views and findings/recommendations to the court prior to judgment.

15. In Sweden ‘Legal Aid’ is not normally provided for divorce and custody cases.


18 responses to “Sweden’s Shared Parenting System

  1. Clarence Maloney

    The best and unusual part is that when parents divorce there is no need for any court intervention about custody unless a parent requests is or the situation demands it. This should be copied in all countries- and reduce the court and counseling personnel.

  2. WHy is it that the Swedish parent where the child is ‘written’ folkbokford has many more rights – to decisions, to barnbidrag, vardbidrag, etc., than the parent where the child is not written, even if the parents have joint custody and the child lives equal time at both residences (växelvis)??

    Are there any organizations or movements to protest the fact that one parent is effectively made into a second class citizen by this strangely rigid state protocol?

    • In Britain alone there are dozens of men’s and fathers’ rights organisations.
      Google them !
      In each European countries similar pressure groups exist. These have been brought together recently under the PEF (Platform for European Fathers) banner

  3. This is total crap. Swedish fathers who make more than their ex-wife have no protection from harassment, slander, liable or alienation of their children by their ex. As far as practicing Swedish law is concerned, there are no fathers in Sweden.

  4. To the “Swedish father” who wrote “This is total crap” I sent an email asking him to expand on his comments so we could all learn from his experiences.Unfortunately, it appears he or she (Me@bogus.se) was hiding behnd a bogus email address, so we do not have the chance to quantify his assertions or see if he was serious or just “embittered.”

  5. I am a swedish father, and I have been separating from my wife who abducted my kids and kept them in germany for about a year. Haag court sent back my kids and put a hold on the divorce/custody matters, due to the fact that the kids are born in sweden: the case has to be further seen in Sweden! Once in sweden, as long as the court did not statute on the case, the children will be moved back and forth between the 2 countries with periodicity of 1 year stay. Justice court finally after according divorce on my request, decided to give my kids to my ex-wife, and that custody will be shared, in contradiction with your item 11!
    Furthermore, I had proof of what happened, ad she did the abduction, that was not enough to convince court of the ill-minded plans of my ex. I find myself today running to supreme court, in order to stop the district court decision along which, my kids should be handed in to my ex-wife ‘immediately’. That was concluded, even that we warned court that the ‘only’ aim of my wife -all along these processes- was to slow it down enough to reach the limit made by German court on periodicity of kids residing in alternate homes… A shitty system indeed!

  6. Dear Rom, Yours is a most important message. It shows that despite official claims to the contrary, Sweden operates as badly as the rest of Europe (and the US). The messages coming through to PEF and to me is that Sweden is in need of urgent reform. I find it bizzare that for all the equality laws it is still legal to discriminate against men and fathers

  7. Justletmehavearelationshipwithmykids

    Dear Rom & Rwhiston
    I have two children who where born in the UK, my ex-wife is Swedish. During the year following our separation, she suggested mediation and I took the opportunity to arrange this. Once found a suitable Mediator it took 4 month for my ex to commit to a meeting. September 2011 was our first meeting and December was the second. During this meeting, the mediator thought it was important to arrange contact for Christmas. It was important to me as my mother was coming from Canada to visit and to meet my youngest child for the first time. The day my mother arrived, I had had my children over night and we picked my mother up that morning, returned home and had breakfast, then I brought the children back to my ex. My mother looked forward to Christmas and the time she was going to spend with her grandchildren. The next day I received a recorded letter from my ex stating that she had to go to Sweden for unforeseen circumstances. I immediately went to the high court in the UK and was wrongly advised to submit papers for abduction. The judge was quiet sympathetic and held open the case until she heard back from my ex on her return.

    My ex then over the next two months took my children out of the country illegally to Sweden and also applied to the UK courts for rights to remove. In the UK if your contact with your children is low the Courts just let the mother leave as long as she says that she is not happy in the UK and says that she has support network with family. She was allowed to leave the UK on June 16th 2012 with conditions. She had to provide Skype call twice per week, bring the children back to the UK once per month, and I if I chose to, could travel to Sweden once per month for contact enabling me to see my children every two weeks as it was when they where in the UK.

    The order also stated that I would have half of the children’s holidays also. 2 weeks at Christmas, 1 week for Easter, 3 weeks in the Summer, in any weekly combination, and 1 week in October.

    When they left the UK, CSA (child support agency) where deducting £427 a month from my pay, which was over inflated due to back payment, regular payments would have been around £280 per month. When I informed them of my change in circumstances and the increase on contact time and the fact that they almost made me bankrupted, homeless and without funds to even submit papers for a simple order to increase my contact so that I could prevent my kids from leaving the country they did an investigation and cancelled payments to my ex as she was now out of the jurisdiction. This was a relief as I now had the expense of traveling to Sweden every month.

    This did not go down well with my ex, and she promptly sent Swedish Child Support Agency after me. After accessing my situation they turn around and said I did not have to pay anything. Mostly due to the fact that once a month a trip would cost me anywhere from £450 to £550. I travel every month, missing the odd one here one in February and March of this year due to the extreme cold weather and recently June, as it would have cost £700.

    Out of the 9 weekends my ex was supposed to bring my children to the UK she has done it twice, My summer holiday, I received a lot of resistance from her to take my children to Sweden to go see my family. Christmas 2012, the same resistance and now for my summer holidays she does not want the children to leave Sweden at all and has told me that I have to come their if I want to have a holiday?

    The UK retained jurisdiction over the my children, however my ex has ignored this and filed for sole custody and for me to have limited access, as she feels this is in the best interest for my children? She also does not wish for them to travel anymore to the UK?

    I have to now travel to Sweden in August for a hearing to contest this and prove that this is not in the best interest of the children. I’ve been told that Sweden is pro father but from the sounds of things, it feels like the UK, a women’s world. The costs are ridiculous and forever spiraling, and i wish for the day that there is some resolution to it all. But I feel this may be far from reality as my ex had been quiet vicious and nasty and is blatantly trying to estrange me from my children. This should be illegal

    I’ve been told that Sweden is pro father… from the sounds of it they were wrong…

    • Thank you for your story. It illustrates that although Sweden poses as a father-friendly country it is no different to the rest of the EU or of North America.
      If you are young enough my advice is to start again with someone new – otherwise your fate will be to die the death of a thousand cuts.

  8. Justletmehavearelationshipwithmykids

    I’m in my forties my kids are 2 going on 3 and 4 going on 5. I have moved on and have a new partner however, I WILL FIGHT, and encourage every father or mother who is being wronged by a vicious malice selfish minded parent to stay strong and be there in any way shape or form for their kids. I WILL NEVER WALK AWAY… I am a Father who love his kids. And I believe in Carma.

  9. robert whiston

    That’s fine as a choice – just so long as you know and appreciate the penalities it can carry, not just for you but for your 2nd family. The courts and the system depend absolutely on you behaving honourably and playing with a straight bat.

    • I have nothing to hide…. I have done everything by the book. I correspond with my ex via email only and email keep them business like as you are suppose too. I record all my Skype calls, I have 100s of email correspondence that shows my ex is difficult to deal with, and a UK judge has already said this. Not sure what u mean by by my second family, but as you can understand keeping a straight as a bat can be challenging when all u want to do sometimes is lash out at evil behaviour.

      • I don’t think I said anything about hiding things, did I ? If I did it was not intended. Perhaps I was getting you mixed up with another commentator who’d mentioned their new partner.
        No matter how amenable you are, you will probably never get the judgment you want. This is tough to accept but it is a phase all fathers have to go through. You can see all the effort you have to put in just to maintain the status quo.
        Compliance by fathers gives the court its authority and interestingly an alternative strategy of defiance called the “Retreat strategy” (Google it) meets with as much success as compliance. Effectively it intimidates the courts into granting fathers more of their wishes by usurping, or threatening to usurp, the court’s authority a posture it is not designed to handle.

  10. I moved to Sweden after giving my place up in the uk to live there in Stockholm with my then pregnant girlfriend.
    The original idea was to stay in the uk, as it would have been easier for us both to find work. I was promised work through her dad that never materialised, and once i moved there i found out she had adhd and she completely changed on me, i was beaten, kicked and slapped about by her, had no swedish bank account so everything went through her. My son is now 20 months old, I have joint custody of him which we both signed for as we were not married.
    I came back to the uk to get a new passport, and she has told me i am not welcome back and she has met someone else. I have contacted the migrationsverket, and they have told me that i can stay in sweden under swedish law through my son. But as we applied for my temporary residency through her signing to support me (i did not want to do it that way and feel conned) and we did not wait until my son was born, then I could be deported back to the UK. I now find myself homeless, with the wrong kind of residency to stay in sweden and do things for myself, i want to find work and somewhere to live and have had to get in touch with project crossroads who help people from the EU get their foot on the ladder.
    If anyone knows where I should go, or what I should do to get myself living in the same country as my son, without having to sleep rough, please let me know. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • I have today posted your comments onto two forums I often use in the hope that someone has Swedish connections or knowledge.

  11. Pingback: Sweden’s Shared Parenting System | familyinnocence

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