Separated children´future – decisions in Swedish courts

April 8, 2022, Lena Hellblom Sjögren, PhD, Licensed psychologist

In Sweden we can be proud that a high percentage of parents (about 35 % according to the Centre for Health and Equity Studies, CHESS) after divorce or separation understand the importance for their children to keep close and regular contact with them both.

In about 7000-8000 cases every year the parents do not take on that responsibility – for the sake of their children´s best health to share parenthood and arrange for their child/children to share everyday life with them both.

Thus, when one parent sues the other for sole custody after separation we have a system in Sweden, not found elsewhere in the Western world, as far as I know. Here is a presentation of what I, after 30 years as a researcher and investigator, have found as these unusual tracks in the Swedish system. As I see it, these tracks jeopardize the possibility to find the optimal solutions compatible with the guiding principle of the best interests of the child in every decision with an impact on the child´s life.

Thus, here are the unique traits of the Swedish system:

  • there are no family courts
  • the only professionals asked by any ordinary court to make investigations about custody, habitation, and contact/visitation rights are social workers
  • the social workers have a general 3.5 years´ education containing pieces from many fields, but no deeper or specialized education
  • they have no knowledge from their education about suggestibility, memory distortions, or personality disturbances
  • thus they are easily manipulated by a parent wishing to exclude the other parent from their child´s life
  • about 86 % of the social workers are females and quite young when they are allowed to make assessments and also to take a child into forced custody
  • the social workers do not have a license to defend
  • they do not have any national guidelines for their work as investigators in family matters
  • they do not have any standardized tools for their investigations
  • according to the law regulating the social services, they have 4 months to complete their simple investigations
  • they as officials are obliged to be impartial and matter of fact-oriented according to the Swedish fundamental law, but they almost never are
  • they talk without authentic documentation with the parents, the child/children, and one or several reference persons
  • after that, they make subjective assessments
  • in their written reports they use a licensed formula system called BBIC which in translation means: The Child´s Best in Centre, with headlines they follow  to try to structure their presentation
  • their reports end with their suggested decision for the court regarding the child´s future life with the parents
  • this report is approved by a local board (“socialnämnd”) dealing with family and social issues consisting of local politicians appointed by their political party
  • with the approval of these free time working local politicians this report after this is called the report from the “socialnämnd” and is sent to court
  • thus there is no physical person in charge of the recommendations regarding the child, very often based on the social worker´s preference for one of the parents
  • the courts almost always rely on these reports as the foundation for their decisions about the child´s future life
  • there are rarely any other professionals involved, if so they are seen as irrelevant in comparison with the social workers who have been appointed by the court to find out what the child wants
  • the court consists of one legal professional, the chairperson, and three laymen judges, appointed by their political party
  • the laymen judges are more sensitive to local opinions than the legal professional
  • if the court has decided that the child shall have the right to meet with one parent on a schedule presented in the sentence this can be broken by the preferred parent with the support from the social workers, mostly without any sanction from the court

In summary, the Swedish system violates the best interests of the child and does not respect the child´s right according to national law to have regular and close contact with both parents if they are good enough. Nor are the child´s human rights to best possible health, to keep his/her identity and the right to family life with both parents respected.