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Joint or sole custody – what does it mean?

Most parents never have to think about the legal concept of custody. You agree most of the time and can talk to each other about important issues concerning your child. The question is what happens when the collaboration between parents with joint custody does not work? Who has the right to information and decision-making? The question of sole or joint custody of the child can be crucial.

Here you will find out more!


What is it all about?

Custody is, simply put, who has the practical and legal responsibility for the child. Custody may be joint and exercised by the parents together (two guardians) or be vested in one of the parents, sole custody (one guardian).

Situations where the guardian’s formal approval is at its peak are primarily decisions about:

  • name
  • population registration
  • medical care for the child that is not of a routine nature,
  • education ( choice of preschool / school)
  • passport application

Normally, the approval of both guardians (e.g. notification of move or passport application) is required for joint custody or only the approval of the parent who has sole custody. 

What is the difference between the two?

Joint custody is most common in Sweden today regardless of whether the parents live together or not. For joint custody to work, the parents need to be able to cooperate with each other reasonably well and make joint decisions. They thus agree on the big issues such as housing, school, name and the like but may think differently about smaller things.

In the case of joint custody, both guardians can participate independently in school meetings, have contact with doctors and inform themselves about the child’s affairs. If a parent is not  guardian, the parent does not have an independent right to participate in school meetings, receive information about the child from the child and adolescent psychiatry or social services. It is required that the sole guardian consents.

The parent who is the sole guardian has responsibility to inform the other parent about the child’s life so that the child can have a functioning interaction with its other parent when they meet, for instance over the weekend every other week. But not more than that in a legal sense.

Is one type of custody better than the other?

The question of joint or sole custody does not in itself depend on how or with whom of the parents the child lives. The important thing is whether the parents can solve practical issues concerning the child, or not. The child should not have to suffer because the parents are unable to cooperate. Then it is often better that one parent has the responsibility to make decisions in the best interests of the child.

Examples of situations when sole custody could be in the child’s best interest: 

  • The child misses a school offer because one or both parents refused to give their consent
  • Parent refuses to approve a passport application for the child who cannot go on vacation with the other parent
  • The child is at risk of not receiving necessary medical care due to a parent not giving consent
  • Necessary consents exist, but the parental conflicts are so deep and long-lasting that the child is hurting and feeling unwell
  • If the child needs protection from their parent (e.g. domestic violence or different types of abuse) it is crucial for the other parent to contact a lawyer and file a lawsuit in Court

Decision on custody

The guardian decides alone to change custody (from sole custody to joint custody) or together with the other guardian (from joint custody to sole custody).

If the parents agree, they can sign an agreement on custody. The social services in the municipality then conduct an investigation. If everything is in the child’s best interest, the social welfare board can approve the agreement, which then becomes legally binding.

If the parents do not agree, one of the parents is required to sue the other parent in Court. In Court much time is spent trying to make the parents reach a voluntary agreement. If this is not possible, the Court will rule in the matter.

We are here for you

Research shows that children of parents who take early help and resolve their conflicts out of court often feel better much better. They have a safer and more stable everyday life with their parents.

We at Varannan Vecka have extensive experience of representative work in Court. Today, we work preventively with parents who want to avoid custody disputes. Together we draw up a plan for the child and build a stable parenting team with good communication.

Please contact us at hello@varannanvecka.app or give us a call 08-21 26 00 if you want to know more.

Elisabeth Scholander