Fathers have a right to parenthood, too - even after divorce

Fathers have a right to parenthood, too - even after divorce

"Time has overtaken the legislation relating to parenthood. This is illustrated by the number of fathers contacting my office who have felt themselves to be unwanted," said Pirkko Mäkinen, Ombudsman for Equality, in her speech on Thursday in Tampere. The occasion was the open forum for the project known as ‘Tasa-arvoa erovanhemmuuteen - isät pois paitsiosta' (‘Equality in divorced parenting - fathers in from the cold').

Among the problems arising with regard to the legislation and official practice is the status of the absent parent - normally the father. In a recent statement the Ombudsman for Equality was replying to an absent father who was joint custodian but nevertheless not in receipt of information on matters relating to his child starting at nursery school. The customer information system in general use in day care makes no provision for data on absent parents.

The Ombudsman for Equality considers this situation untenable.
"The opportunity for absent parents to follow the progress of their child's daily life should also be realised in practice. Customer information systems should be developed to incorporate the practical requirements demanded by joint custody."

Many fathers contacting the Ombudsman also harboured the suspicion that social services cite inappropriate grounds in favouring women during the divorce process. These suspicions have been exacerbated by the fact that the majority of social workers are women, and that nowadays the judge handling the case in court is more often than not a woman.

"In my view a report is due on social services to establish whether gender is significant and whether, in practice, mothers are being accorded preference, as is suspected. A corresponding investigation is already under way with regard to the custody decisions of courts", said Pirkko Mäkinen.

The Ombudsman for Equality also says that the regulations on parental leave treat mothers and fathers differently. The Sickness Insurance Act stipulates that parental leave may by taken by either the child's father or mother, depending on what has been mutually agreed between the parents. Nonetheless, the right to work and to draw parental allowance varies according to gender. The child's father has a right to parental allowance if he participates in care of the child and is not during that time in paid employment or otherwise self-employed. By contrast, the mother may be paid the minimum amount of parental allowance even though she is concurrently in paid employment or otherwise self-employed, or studying full-time and receiving a study grant under the act on student grants.

Since 2003 the Ombudsman for Equality has requested the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on a number of occasions to investigate the possibility of amending the Sickness Insurance Act so that the regulations on parental allowance would apply equally to both fathers and mothers. No change has been achieved, however. As their guidelines are founded on the existing legislation, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland bears the brunt of many complaints in this regard.