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Child protection

Parents have the primary responsibility for the safety, well-being and healthy development of their children and must agree among themselves to do so. Child protection law comes into play when parental rights need to be regulated or to protect children when their development is at risk. On this page you will find information on how to be supported as a parent and the role of the court in providing assistance and protection in times of need.

The protection of the child

The child protection law aims to preserve the best interests of the child and to promote the participation of the 2 parents in his/her care.

If the child's entourage or the private or public services are unable to guarantee the child's well-being or if he/she is in danger, it is up to the court to intervene. It does so by arranging parenting support or ordering protective measures.

To be supported in your role as a parent

Assistance from relatives or specialized institutions 

If you are confronted with difficulties in your role as a parent (dropping out of school, conflict, violence, addiction, etc.) there are many options to help you.

Do not hesitate, first of all, to seek help from those close to you and to contact public or private institutions specializing in support for parents, support in the context of a separation or therapeutic follow-up.

 

In case of disagreement or conflict: mediation

Your child's well-being should be the focus of your concerns and the choices you make with the other parent. This can sometimes be complicated if communication is difficult or if you can't get along.

The purpose of mediation structures is to facilitate discussion between parents and to help you negotiate consensual solutions in the best interests of your child.

Agreements reached in this way often avoid court intervention, promoting autonomy in decision-making.

If you are unable to reach an agreement or if there are indications that your child's development, well-being or safety are or remain at risk, the child protection services (Minors' protection Service (SPMi), Parental separation assessment and support Service (SEASP), etc.), or even the court, will intervene.

Parental rights: your rights and duties as parents

Being a parent means having rights and duties towards your child. By duties, we mean ensuring the child's well-being, safety and proper development. This applies to all parents, single, couple or separate.

Parental rights cover various areas that you are free to organize as you wish, in an agreement between the parents, such as:

  • Parental responsibility (joint or assigned to one of the parents)
  • Residence (alternating or awarded to one of the parents)
  • Contact (visiting rights)
  • Maintenance contributions (alimony)

Description of parental rights
 

  • Parental responsibility

Parental responsibility is the duty and right of parents to make important decisions for their minor child (place of residence, education, health, religion, administration of his/her property, etc.) and to ensure his/her representation to third parties.

Joint parental responsibility is considered by Swiss law to be in the best interest of the child. It is therefore the latter that will be favoured, except in cases where the protection of the child's interests requires otherwise.

If you are married, you automatically have joint parental responsibility with the other parent.

However, if you are not married, your child is subject to the exclusive parental responsibility of his mother. The other parent must then undertake proceedings to exercise joint parental responsibility.

The proceedings to undertake to change who has parental responsibility, depending on your situation, are available here.

 

  • Custody

Custody is the right to live with your child and your duty to provide an environment and living space that is conducive to his/her proper daily development. To be granted the child’s custody, you must have parental responsibility.

The parents who both have parental responsibility must agree and determine the allocation of custody (residence with one parent or with both parents on an alternating basis). Their agreement does not need to be submitted to the court.

The proceedings to undertake to fix or change custody, depending on your situation, are available here.

 

  • Contact

Contact is the right and duty of the non-custodial parent to maintain regular personal contact with his/her child, in order to promote the proper development of his/her identity and personality (visits, messages, calls, video chats, vacations, etc.).

The parents must agree to and define the terms of the personal relationship.

It is also possible, in exceptional situations, to grant visitation rights to third parties (grandparents, godparents, etc.).

The proceedings to undertake to fix or change contact modalities, depending on your situation, are available here.

 

  • Maintenance contribution

Maintenance contribution is the duty of the parents to provide for the financial needs of the child until he/she reaches the age of majority or the end of his/her education. It covers everything necessary for the child's physical, intellectual and social development (meals, housing, clothing, care, health, activities, education, pocket money, etc.).

Each parent is obliged to contribute to the maintenance of his/her child, whether or not he/she exercises parental responsibility, custody, and whether or not he/she has personal contact with the child.

The maintenance contributions must correspond to the needs of the child and the resources of both parents.

The proceedings to undertake to fix or change the maintenance contribution, depending on your situation, are available here.

Steps to set or change parental rights

The setting or modification of parental rights can, depending on your personal situation, be settled directly by you, by decision of the Tribunal de protection de l'adulte et de l'enfant or by the Tribunal de première instance.

The Geneva courts have jurisdiction if the child is domiciled or resides for a long period in the canton of Geneva. If this is not the case, you must apply to the competent authorities in the place of his/her domicile or principal residence.

 

Which court to apply to?

To orient yourself in this process, you can refer to the following documents:

  • If you are married but separated from the other parent or are in the process of separating and wish to determine parental rights for the first time: you must apply to the Tribunal de première instance which will settle all parental rights in the context of an application for divorce, protective measures for the marital union or legal separation.
     
  • If you are divorced or judicially separated (measures for the protection of the marital union or legal separation) and you wish to change one or more parental rights: the Tribunal de protection de l'adulte et de l'enfant is competent, unless you do not agree on parental responsibility, custody or maintenance contributions. In case of disagreement on these points, you must go to the Tribunal de première instance.
  • If you have never been married and you wish to set or change one or more parental rights: the Tribunal de protection de l'adulte et de l'enfant is competent, unless you disagree about the maintenance contribution. In case of disagreement on this point, you must go to the Tribunal de première instance. When you exercise joint parental responsibility and you agree on all parental rights, your choices do not need to be submitted to the court.

 

What form should I use in my situation?

  • If both parents agree, there are different types of forms at your disposal, depending on your situation and the parental rights you wish to establish or modify. A table allows you to choose the appropriate form.
     
  • If you disagree with the other parent, and if no means of reaching an agreement has been effective, send a letter (unilateral petition) to the court that explains the situation as precisely as possible (difficulties encountered, parental rights involved, points of disagreement with the other parent, etc.).

Application for joint parental responsibility

 If you are not married and you both want joint parental responsibility, file a common declaration of joint parental responsibility.

Access to the joint parental responsibility form (declaration)
 

In case of disagreement, the parent who does not have parental responsibility may file a written petition with the court to obtain joint parental responsibility.

 

Costs of proceedings related to parental rights

There is a fee for proceedings to set or modify parental rights (fee rules of order).

If you have limited financial means, and before filing your application with the court, you can contact the Legal aid Office, which will decide whether you can be granted financial assistance for the costs of the proceedings.

Court intervention

It may happen that, for various reasons, you are no longer able to guarantee the well-being and safety of your child despite the various support solutions you have put in place yourself or with the help of your family or specialized institutions.

The court then intervenes to evaluate the need for protection and to take the necessary measures.

The court can be informed by any person (relative, neighbour, teacher, social worker, doctor, etc.) of the situation of a child in difficulty (personal, family, school, etc.).The court may also take action on its own initiative when it directly observes a situation requiring its intervention. The child in need of assistance can also request the help of the court.

It should be noted that persons bound by professional secrecy (psychologist, doctor, lawyer, etc.) must be released from their secrecy prior to any report, either by the person concerned or by the competent cantonal authority.

In principle, only the situation of a child domiciled or residing principally in Geneva can be reported to the court. If the child is domiciled or resides in another Swiss canton, the report must be sent to the child protection authority of the place of domicile or main residence (COPMA). In case of doubt, the report can still be given to the court which will forward it, if necessary, to the competent authority.

Steps to report a situation to the court

The person reporting the situation must:

  • Send a letter written in French and signed to the court, indicating your complete contact information (last name, first name, date of birth, nationality, address, telephone number, e-mail) or drop it off directly at the court desk or at the Greffe universel.
     
  • Indicate, if possible, the complete contact information of the child who is the object of the report as well as those of the child’s parents (last name, first name, date of birth, nationality, address, phone, e-mail, etc.).
     
  • Explain as precisely as possible the situation (personal difficulties, addictions, family context, school problems, etc.).
     
  • Attach to the letter any document in his/her possession that could attest to the difficulties encountered (name of the school, correspondence with the school, contact information for the paediatrician, medical certificate and/or therapy certificate, certificates from specialized institutions, etc.).

In case of emergency: if you feel that a child is in danger, contact immediately the Police (117) who will take the first steps to bring him/her to safety and liaise with the services in charge of child protection (SPMi and SEASP).

Steps to set or modify parental rights

Specific steps must be undertaken to set or modify parental responsibility, custody, contact (visitation rights) and/or maintenance contributions (alimony).

The different protective measures

Depending on the situation, the court can order different measures, from the lightest to the most restrictive, which can sometimes be combined:

  • Instructions to parents (ordering mediation, therapeutic follow-up for the child or the family, etc.) and reminding parents of their duties towards their child
  • Right to be consulted and informed (a supervisor is designated to periodically contact the professionals involved with the child to ensure the child's proper development and to inform the court on this subject)
  • Deputyship (a deputy is appointed to accompany you in the educational care of the child, the supervision of contacts, the representation of your child, etc.)
  • Decisions related to the exercise of joint parental responsibility (choice of place of residence, school, therapeutic follow-up, etc.)
  • Limitation/suspension of the right to contacts (limitation or prohibition of contacts, visits to the Meeting Place, etc.)
  • Withdrawal of child custody (placement)
  • Guardianship (withdrawal of parental responsibility from both parents)

The steps of a child protection proceeding

Step 1: reporting 

Anyone can contact the court if he/she feels that a child living in Geneva needs help or protection.

Steps for reporting to the court

The person reporting the situation must:

  • Send a letter written in French and signed to the court, indicating your complete contact information (last name, first name, date of birth, nationality, address, telephone number, e-mail) or drop it off directly at the court desk or at the Greffe universel.
     
  • Indicate the complete contact information of the child who is the object of the report (last name, first name, date of birth, nationality, address, phone, e-mail, etc.).
     
  • Explain as precisely as possible the situation (personal difficulties, addictions, family context, school problems, etc.).
     
  • Attach to the letter any document in his/her possession (name of the school, correspondence with the school, contact information for the paediatrician, medical certificate and/or therapy certificate, certificates from specialized institutions, etc.).

 

Step 2: investigation

Before taking a decision, the court gathers all the necessary information.

During the investigation phase, the parents have the opportunity to make their views known and can propose solutions.

The child must also be heard (either by the court or through a specialized third party), provided that his/her age or other reasons do not prevent this. Depending on the case, the court may appoint a deputy to represent the child in the proceedings.

The court may also request a social assessment report from the Minors' protection Service (SPMi) and/or the Parental separation assessment and support Service (SEASP) and/or order a family expertise.

If the well-being of the child so requires, the court may, during this investigation phase, order provisional protective measures (ex-parte interim measures and/or interim measures).

 

Step 3: decision

At the end of the investigation, the court decides whether or not to establish a measure and makes a decision.

If a deputyship is established, the court appoints a deputy for the child.

This decision may be appealed to the Chambre de surveillance de la Cour de justice within the time limit indicated on the decision.

 

Step 4: Follow-up of the measure

As long as the measure lasts, the court follows the evolution of the situation, notably by periodically requesting reports and accounts from the deputy.

If the situation changes, the court can adapt or lift the measures in force at the request of the child, the parents, the deputy, third parties.

Contacts

Address

Address

Rue des Glacis-de-Rive 6
1207 Genève

Contact details

Desk-telephone

Opening hours
10h-13h

Tribunal de protection de l’adulte et de l’enfant

Case postale 3950
1211 Genève 3

Questions/answers

In case of disagreement, specialists (mediation structures, Parental separation assessment and support Service (SEASP), lawyers, legal assistance services, etc.) can help you find a solution.

If no agreement is found, you must refer the matter, by unilateral petition, to the competent court according to your situation (refer to Steps to set or modify parental rights).

No, a parent can't relinquish or delegate parental responsibility to someone else, even to a family member.

In case of impossibility of exercising parental responsibility (for example, the parents are under general deputyship), a guardian will be appointed or the exercise of parental responsibility will be entrusted exclusively to the other parent.

In the case of joint parental responsibility, the consent of the other parent is required if a change in the place of residence could have significant consequences for the exercise of parental responsibility or personal relations.

Parents who jointly exercise parental responsibility must seek to reach an agreement in order to develop solutions together that are consistent with the child's best interests.

In case of disagreement, specialists (mediation structures, Parental separation assessment and support service (SEASP), lawyers, legal assistance services, etc.) can help you find a solution.

If no agreement is reached, the matter must be referred to the court in fairly early time by way of a unilateral petition to allow the court to conduct an investigation and make a final decision in time.

If you exercise parental responsibility alone, you must inform the other parent of your intention to move.

If a proceeding is already underway, you must inform the court about the move.

When parents exercise parental responsibility jointly and one of them dies, parental responsibility automatically devolves to the surviving parent.

If the deceased parent has been exercising parental responsibility alone, the court assigns parental responsibility to the surviving parent or appoints a guardian to ensure the best interests of the child.

The surviving parent will be required by the court to make an inventory of the child's property.

The purpose of the AVS educational credits is to compensate when calculating the retirement pension, for the loss of income that a parent may have suffered because of caring for a child. Dividing them in half is in principle justified when the 2 parents participate approximately equally in the care of the child. When this is not the case, they go to the parent who assumes the greater part of the day-to-day care of the child. However, the parents are free to change this allocation at any time by co-signing a request to the AVS, which does not have to be submitted to the court for validation.

For further information, parents can contact the Cantonal social insurance Office for information on the allocation of educational credits. The court does not offer any advice on this subject.

Lack of financial means should not prevent you from acting if your child's welfare is at stake.

At the beginning of the proceedings, ideally, before you file your application, if you have limited financial means, you can file an application for legal aid to obtain financial assistance for the costs of the proceedings, or even the assistance of a lawyer.

Family expertise is ordered when the situation is particularly delicate (sharp parental conflict, child development problem, parental alienation). The expert is a specialized child psychiatrist who is assisted by an adult psychiatrist when the situation so requires.

During family expertise in the field of child protection, the family members (parents and children) will be interviewed. The family dynamics and the interactions between each parent and child are analysed to define the difficulties and needs of the child. The results of the assessment also allow for the identification of solutions to be considered in order to promote the proper development of the child.

The expert's report is communicated to all parties concerned who have the opportunity to express their opinions and ask the expert additional questions.

No, but in some cases, he/she may be assisted by a deputy who has been appointed to represent and assist him/her during the proceedings. If you have accompanied your child to court, you will be asked to wait in the waiting room.

You will only be able to attend the hearing if you have been summoned to appear at the same hearing.

Joint parental responsibility is the obligation for parents to make important decisions together for their child.

Joint custody is the custody arrangement that allows the child to live alternately with both parents, for example, one week out of two at one parent's home and the other week at the other parent's home or any other equitable distribution of custody time.

Joint custody is not automatic: when parents exercise joint parental responsibility, they can agree on joint custody. In the event of a disagreement and at the request of one of the parents, the court can also order joint custody.

For any information on adoption, you can contact the Placement facilities authorization and monitoring Service (SASLP), as the cantonal central authority for adoption.

See also the thematic guide Adoption

 

The child is heard alone or assisted by a deputy appointed to represent and assist him/her in the proceedings conducted by the court which will ask him/her any question deemed necessary for a proper understanding of the situation. The questions are adapted according to the age of the child.

The parents will subsequently receive a copy of the record of the hearing.

You can recognize your child even after he/she has reached the age of majority by taking the necessary steps at the civil status office in your place of residence.

When the amount of the maintenance contribution (alimony) agreed between the parents or set by the court is not paid by one parent, the other parent can contact the Cantonal Service for the advance payment and recovery of maintenance (SCARPA).

If you wish to modify an existing maintenance agreement, steps must be taken with the court depending on your situation.

If you believe that a child is in danger or requires urgent intervention, contact the police immediately who will take the first steps to bring the child to safety and make the connection with child protection services (SPMi and SEASP).

The jurisdiction of the Swiss or French courts is determined by the child's habitual residence, i.e. the place with which the child has the closest ties (place of school attendance, medical care, leisure activities, acquaintances, etc.).

You must therefore apply to the competent court in the child's place of habitual residence by providing all the information you consider useful for making a decision. In the event of a dispute, the court will rule on its own jurisdiction.

 

Each mediator or mediation structure can set its own fees. They are often calculated according to the income of each parent. The total cost of mediation then depends on the number of sessions held and the rate charged.

Some legal protection insurances cover the costs of mediation. If you have limited financial means, you can apply for legal aid to obtain financial assistance for mediation costs.

When mediation has been ordered by the court in order to end the current proceedings, the cost of the first 3 sessions is covered by the court.

In order to be able to make a decision, the court must have all the decisions that have been made in the past. To obtain these documents, you must contact the Swiss or foreign authority that issued them and ask for certified copies.

When the parent-child relationship is established with each of the 2 registered partners, they are considered as married parents (see procedures for married parents).

See also

Tribunal de protection de l'adulte et de l'enfant

The Tribunal de protection de l'adulte et de l'enfant ensures the protection of people throughout their lives, from childhood to adulthood up to their succession. It intervenes when no satisfactory solution has been found for the person concerned within the family, with relatives or any other institution that can provide assistance.

Adult protection

The adult protection law intervenes when the interests or the well-being of the adult person are in danger.

Successions

You need to prepare your succession or need to know what actions to take following the death of a close relative.