Marriage, the family and divorce in Finland

As with many Western societies, women are putting off getting married until an older age, but marriage, when it is undertaken, is more like a partnership between equal people. Most families have no more than two children, and again the women are putting off having children until later. Although the total responsibility of the family and the home lies on the shoulders of the women, men of all ages share the responsibility of looking after the children (and a few chores). It is quite common to hear even fairly elderly men talking about cooking or cleaning and looking after children or grandchildren because their wives are working. The Finnish housewife still does more of the chores than the man and just under one-third of couples share housework equally. Of women that work, 27 per cent feel that they are neglecting their home because of work.

Marriage, the family and divorce in Finland

From myself:

A young Finnish student I met, who had spent several months in the United States staying with an American family, told me how “different” life was there. Family mealtime was something that was a real culture shock for her. She was used to her mother cooking everyday and the whole family eating together. “At home”, she explains, “I’ll go to McDonald’s twice a year. When there… twice a wee”. She found the habit of TV meals and never eating together very strange, and remarked that the American Mum only cooked twice in the whole time of her stay. This is backed up by a recent survey by UNICEF, demonstrating that the USA was close to last when it comes to children eating and talking frequently with their families. In Finland, families still try to eat together, especially at weekends, when traditionally the meal of the day will be served at 2:00 pm.

National dancing performances during a mid-summer festival. Finns value their traditions and family ties and such celebrations are opportunities for them to spend together.

Family ties and family values are very strong in Finland and this nation has a worldwide reputation for excellence in welfare. There is an intensive pre and post natal care service for mother and child, and Finland has the world’s lowest infant mortality rate. The state guarantees ten months of fully paid maternity leave for either the mother and/or the father. This maternity leave can be split between them. In deed, Prime Minister Lipponen took two weeks off work when his wife had their child (and in the British press there was speculation whether Prime Minister Blair would copy him when his wife Cherie gave birth). There are modern state-subsidised childcare centres for children until the age of six, when they go to school. In recent years, the state has taken on more and more responsibility for family welfare, and currently it is one of the most generous systems of payment for mother and childcare in the world.

Aleksis Kivi was considered one of the greatest Finnish authors of his time. He published 12 plays and a collection of poetry. In 1939, this statue was built in front of the National Museum as a tribute to him.

Bustling with vendors selling Finnish delicacies and souvenirs, Kauppatori Market Square is one of the most famous attractions in Helsinki, Finland. One of the highlights and also its longest tradition is the display of vintage American cars on the first Friday of every month.

Rollmop is a traditional dish featuring a pickled herring fillet, rolled into a cylindrical shape with slices of onion, pickled gherkin or green olive with pimento. In Finland, rollmops are usually served with potatoes on the side.

Helsinki is the major political, educational, financial, cultural and research centre of Finland. As one of the major cities in Northern Europe, Helsinki has close historical links with its neightbouring cities such as St. Petersburg, Stockholm and Tallinn.

Dining al fresco in Finland. Eating with the Finns is a quick affair as the Finnish do not linger over meals. They tend to eat as fast as possible and leave the table when they are done.

In the 1960s, Finnish men had the world’s highest death rate from heart disease. Twenty years ago, it had reduced slightly, but heart disease was a problem all over Finland. As a nation, they decided to tackle the problem. A national project was launched to reduce the risk factors for heart disease and further reduce the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease. The “North Karelia Project” took its name from the province in which it was launched (and which had the highest incidence). It was going to act as a pilot study for the rest of Finland. With good education and local medical centres giving advice, Finland has significantly reduced its national health problem.

An English friend, who works in the Health Care System in Britain, said the Finns brought about this change because each person took responsibility for their own health and that of their families. “It is a different culture, she explained. They didn’t want to be seen to be irresponsible. They didn’t want to be a burden to the rest of society. That would have appeared selfish — and that is one thing the Finns are not”. There has been a remarkable decline in heart disease in North Karelia and in Finland as a whole. There has also been a reduction in cancer deaths. Finland has reduced its incidence of heart attacks by 75 per cent since the early 1970s.

Healthiest Children in Europe

Along with Swedish children, recent surveys found Finnish children to be the healthiest in all of Europe. Also, in 2007, UNICEF’s report on the well-being of children in industrialized nations found Finland fourth in ranking, after the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, when comparing six categories: material well-being, health, education, relationships, behaviours and risks, and young people’s own sense of happiness. The worst, in descending order, were Portugal, Austria, Hungary, USA, and last Britain. The highest ranking countries have a greater family awareness, a better work-life balance and do not usually have such a “dog-eat-dog” competition in their jobs.

A Note on Hairdressers

Just a note — it seems very difficult to get an appointment at the hairdressers. You definitely cannot walk in off the street and have your hair done (which is what I tend to do in the UK and Mediterranean countries). Maybe this comes from their orderly mentality which I am disrupting. Anyway, hairdressers seem to be booked up ages in advance!

Medical care for the elderly is good and care for the aged is one of the Finns built-in values. Pensioners are well off financially even though there are 40 per cent more pensioners than there are adults of working age. Social security payments for the unemployed are relatively generous and include paying for television license, newspapers and telephone, as these are all seen to be essential to the education and well-being of a whole person.

As with many Nordic countries, the divorce rate in Finland is high — 50 per cent. According to Finnish female friends, Finnish men are not demonstrative at all. They complain their men folk “don’t talk and they don’t kiss”. However, very recently things have begun to change and talking about feelings and personal problems, for both men and women, is not such a taboo. What brought about this change has been the publication of two books. The first was written by the wife of former President Koivisto in which she describes her battle against depression — she “went public”. The second was written by a man, a British author famous in Finland for writing TV scripts, named Neil Hardwick. He wrote about the effects on his life and family of the “burnout” he suffered, how it made him drop out of his career and living, and the long slow journey to recovery.

Finnish divorce settlements are usually “clean-cut”. As most women work and may well be paid better than their husbands, men need only help pay for the children and assets are split 50-50.

Distribution of the Property of Divorcing Spouses

Example 1: Short marriage without children, no marriage settlement.

Matti and Maija conclude marriage. After the marriage has lasted two years, the spouses are granted a divorce. Matti has property worth € 600,000 and Maija has a flat worth € 200,000. Both are gainfully employed and there are no children. Under the main rules applicable to the distribution of matrimonial property, the property of the spouses (€ 800,000) would be divided equally so that Matti would have to give € 200,000 of his assets to Maija. Under the rules on the adjustment of the distribution of matrimonial assets, it can, however, be decided that each shall keep his/her own property, because otherwise Maija would receive an unjust financial benefit after a short marriage.

Example 2: Long marriage — marriage settlement.

Antti and Raija are granted a divorce after a marriage of 16 years. The spouses have children aged 14 and 12 from the marriage. Antti’s monthly income is € 4,000 and Raija’s € 2,000. Raija has been at home for ten years taking care of the home and the children. The only property of the spouses is a flat worth € 400,000 in Antti’s name; the spouses have no debts. Under the marriage settlement concluded by Antti and Raija, neither has a matrimonial right to the property of the other, which means that upon the distribution of property, Antti would keep the flat in his name and Raija would obtain no property at all. Under the rules on the adjustment of the distribution of matrimonial assets, the stipulations of the marriage settlement may be disregarded and the property (€ 400,000) can be divided equally between the spouses, because compliance with the marriage settlement would lead to an unreasonable end result taking into consideration the duration of the marriage, the financial position of the spouses and Raija’s activities for the common household. In this case each will obtain property worth € 200,000.