Joint custody to become Swiss law for divorces, unmarried parents

BERN, SWITZERLAND – Parents who are not married will in future have joint custody of their children, following a 41-0 (one abstention) vote Monday 4 March by the upper house of the Swiss parliament.

One in five Swiss children is born out of wedlock today and 50 percent of couples today divorce, some 20,000 a year with an impact on 15,000 children. Joint custody became an option for families in 2000, but parents must go to a judge to request it. Automatic custody has been given to the mother in the case of an unmarried couple, and this will end.

Only 41 percent of children are covered by a joint custody agreement.

The lower house of parliament voted in September favour of making joint custody the rule rather than the exception. Exceptions made be made, but a judge will rule, and if the single parent custody becomes a problem, the parents will have to go before a judge again. The government had asked that the ruling be made by a child protection agency, but parliament voted against this, noting that the agencies are new and do not have sufficient experience in this area.

The upper house in early February made four key recommendations to adjust the law, notably about what happens if one parent moves away, which the lower house has accepted, and joint custody will now become law, Some final details will still need to be ironed out.

The legal change will follow another one that went into effect in January 2013, that opened up the options couples have for the names they will have, as well as for their children’s names.