Families’ disputed/messy divorces should be a matter that
Petri Kolmonen, Chairman of the Fathers´ Association for Children, says
that he himself has gone through a very difficult divorce. Kolmonen says
he was accused of ´everything possible´ but luckily, he was able to prove
that the allegations were untrue. In his opinion, it was extremely hard to
prove to society that he was a good father. In practice, I was the person to
whom my child was most attached, and I had the prime responsibility for
caretaking and nurturing, and this was not acknowledged.
Kolmonen also states that when the custody issues were dealt with by the
local social welfare office his experience was that, as a father, he was
treated in an unfairly biased way. Of course, this is district-specific and
employee-specific, but according to research it has been proven that
authorities do treat fathers differently from mothers. In addition, he also
feels that in his case, negative issues concerning him were more easily
documented by the social services than any of those of the mother. For
example the interaction and bond between him and his child was also
wrongly assessed, he says. This bond was then reassessed positively, but
the Court of Appeal did not take this into account in their decision.
Fathers do not always consider custody agreements in the best interest of
the child. Studies also show that the authorities favor mothers in custody
Research results also indicate that many official documents are corrected
retrospectively in favour of fathers after re-assessments. In Kolmonen´s
case he had the main responsibility for raising his child and this was not
recorded and had to be corrected in the records of the social services in
hindsight. According to research approximately 13 percent of fathers are
granted primary custody in the District Courts but at the Court of Appeal
this rises to 27 percent in favour of fathers. These statistics show that it
appears that there is bias in favour of mothers says, Kolmonen.
Mari Palo-Revo’s statistical
2006.Fathers with similar aforementioned problems were never granted
Kolmonen considers the figures unnecessarily bad but feels that they do
reflect the current situation. He would also seek to remind us that there
has been a big change in the role of the father, especially during this
millennium. In the past we thought of the father as the provider and that
the mother was the one who brought up the children, nowadays both sexes
share these roles. Still, it seems that the social services have not fully
abandoned these old stereotypes in their practices. According to
Kolmonen, the problem is that the law is seeking a winner and the loser
will pick up the bill. Custody decisions are often made in the midst of a
crisis, is that even a good moment to decide the fate of child´s entire life?
Last year, almost 700 phone calls were received by the Father’s
Association for Children (Isat Lasten Asiassa) which is a figure that has
almost doubled from the previous year. According to Kolmonen the
association did not previously place so much focus on its visibility and
that these figures may just be the tip of the iceberg concerning the true
scale of the problem. He also stated that another possible reason for the
increase in the number of calls may be that fathers are now better aware
of the possibility of participating in the life of the children after divorce,
as this topic has recently been more widely discussed in the media.
Fathers who are divorcing or are living with the threat of divorce, often
do not believe that the authorities will comply with the law on
constitutional equality (clause six). Fathers know they are in a weaker
position with authorities such as the social services. During this period of
crisis, they may be on the receiving end of threats from the spouse to take
the children to the other side Finland or that they will never see the
children again. Some fathers face untrue allegations and attempts by the
spouse to alienate the children. Kolmonen regrets that in cases of parental
alienation there are no systematic services or protocol to deal with this
serious problem. Kolmonen, also reminds us that other divorce support
services are used by parents who already concurrent that they want an
It must also be remembered that there are many parents who do think in
terms of the best interests of their child. On the other hand, there are also
cases where one parent alienates a child, even though this is serious
mental abuse. In the current system, those parties who carry out alienation,
for example, are not required to go to mediation unless they want to.
Alienation is defined as when communication with a child is prevented or
made difficult by the other parent. Studies show that about 30% of
children are alienated from the other parent. This number rises to 37%
when a parent with primary custody finds a new partner.
In Kolmonen´s opinion, the parent with primary custody has a lot of
power if they do decide they want to misuse it. This shouldn’t even be
seen as a gender issue, as a lot of mothers also share the same experiences
and have similar crises. However, the fact is that statistically more fathers
than mothers suffer from being alienated from their children.
According to Kolmonen´s experience, regarding crisis calls to the
Association, it can be seen that different values, different perceptions of
bringing up children and/or cultural differences often cause serious
disputes in divorces. Kolmonen hopes that in the future divorces would
not even be granted unless there is a binding agreement concerning the
children. This really would be in children´s and their parents´ best
interests. Kolmonen also believes that disputed divorces, where children
are involved, should be a matter for society: as children of single parents
suffer the most poverty.
There are also clearly more health and welfare problems for children of
divorce. 12 percent of children in nuclear families have such problems
which rises to 20-25 percent of children of divorce. It is clear that badly
managed issues concerning
The framework for equal parenting-shared living is slowly moving
forward in fits and starts. The law in Finland does not yet recognize the
concept of equal parenting-shared living even though it is becoming
In Sweden, equal parenting-shared living is considered the best option for
the wellbeing of children after divorce. In the new child welfare and
parental access bill shared living is only mentioned as alternative,
although according to Petri Kolmonen, there is extensive research that
overwhelmingly shows that is the best arrangement after the breakdown
of the nuclear family.
In Finland last year, the working group of Health and Welfare Ministry
led by MP Annika Saarikko (Centre), presented new ideas about reforms
to the ministry´s current practices. The working group advocated, among
other things, that shared living should be recognised by registration in the
population information system.
Saarikko´s working group also proposed renewal of laws concerning
general housing support, making it possible that a child could be
recognised as permanently resident in two locations. Similarly, reforms
are also being considered in the laws concerning child maintenance
payments and of home care and personal support benefits. These new laws
would make possible the equally shared payment of benefits to both
homes where children reside. These proposals are being processed by
Finland´s State Council. This feasibility study is referred to as (VNTEAS) which refers to the current status of equal parenting-shared living
and the effects on services and the benefit system.
Proposals for the reform package are being processed and maintenance
and legislative reforms (OM) are pending subject to parliamentary review.
According to Kari Ilmonen, the Chairman of the youth sector of the Health
and Welfare Department of the Ministry of Health, these new laws would
enable the Registrar to be able to officially record a child´s shared living
status and the agreed addresses in the population registry.
Petri Kolmonen, chairman of the Children’s Association, believes that
equal parenting and shared living should always be the starting point
concerning living arrangements for children after divorce. This would
guarantee the right of the child, above all else, to
spend time equal time with both parents. According to research,
the most important single factor for the well-being of children after
divorce is the relationship between parent and child Petri Kolmonen emphasises.
Translated to english from magazine Terveys ja Talous (health and economy)