Policy Description

Family Policies: Denmark (2014)


Family policies in Denmark are based on the guiding principles of universalism, flexibility, tax-based payments, and service provision. In addition, these policies are focused on individuals (not the family), and are thus based on the assumption that individuals should be able to work and provide for themselves. 

Historically, policies targeting parents and children were formulated in connection with associated policy areas, such as social affairs or employment (Linke Sonderegger 2004). 

In general, Danish family policies support dual-earner families. In response to the sharp rise in female labour market participation rates since the 1960s, the provision of childcare services was extended and a generous parental leave system was introduced. In 2014, 74% of Danish women between the ages of 15 and 65 were employed (Statistics Denmark) and the enrolment rate in childcare facilities among children under age three is high (In 2008, it was the highest in Europe (Kröger 2009)). 
Although Danish policies promote gender equality, the fact that mothers continue to be far more likely than fathers to take parental leave, and that women’s pensions are smaller than men’s pensions, suggest that gender differences in everyday life still remain (Abrahamson and Wehner 2008). The latest discussions on paternity leave indicate that this is indeed the case (Bloksgaard and Rostgaard 2014).

The rules regarding marriage, same-sex partnerships, and separation and divorce are based on the same principle of freedom of choice as the remainder of the family policies. Same-sex couples were allowed to enter into a registered partnership starting in October 1989. By 2012 this type of partnership was abandoned, and same-sex couples were given the right to marry. Along with the right to marry, same-sex couples were also granted the right to adopt a joint child. In the summer of 2014, the first Danish couple consisting of two fathers adopted a child. The individual’s right to choose freely is also reflected in the procedures of marriage dissolution. In 2013, couples were given the right to divorce without cause, and without having to be separated for a period of time prior to the divorce.

Childcare provision

Public childcare has a long tradition in Denmark. All children between the ages of six months and five years are granted a place in subsidised childcare facilities (Abrahamson and Wehner 2008). Denmark had already met current EU targets concerning childcare coverage and female labour force participation by the late 1970s. 

Childcare is seen as a means of empowering children and supporting the development of their identities, while transmitting cultural values and encouraging their integration into society. Integration in this context refers to several issues. On the one hand, children for whom Danish is not their first language are integrated through instruction in language skills. At the same time, the availability of childcare enables parents to work, and thus helps to ensure that mothers and fathers remain in the labour force (Borchorst 2009). In line with the high value assigned to childcare and the view that children have the right to childcare services, the cost of care is made affordable for families through the sibling discount and free place schemes. Under these programmes, which are intended to provide children from low-income families with the opportunity to be enrolled in childcare, the cost of care is based on the household income.
Danish childcare is organised by local authorities, which pay a minimum of 75% of the expenses. Changing taxation policies and cuts in budgets have increased the challenges municipalities face in providing free childcare. As these municipalities are committed to refrain from raising taxes, they often reduce costs by closing childcare facilities on certain days (Borchorst 2009). Approximately 20% of children under one year old and 94% of one- to six-year-olds are enrolled in day care (as of autumn 2013) (Statistics Denmark 2014). 

Private childcare provision still plays a minor role in Denmark: just under 4% of children ages 0-2 and just over 6% of children ages 3-5 who are enrolled in day care attend private facilities (as of autumn 2013) (Statistics Denmark 2014). Day care facilities are set up in various ways (e.g., child-minding services established by local authorities, day care centres established by local authorities, independ¬ent private and outsourced day care centres, private child-minding services, and approved private day care centres).

Parental leave (including maternity protection)

Since 2002, flexibility and free choice have been proclaimed as the main principles of Danish parental leave legislation. Flexible parental leave includes four different leave schemes: maternity, paternity, parental, and childcare leave. Since the 2002 leave reform, mothers are entitled to 18 weeks of maternity leave (four weeks before and 14 weeks after childbirth); the two weeks of leave immediately following childbirth are compulsory. Within 14 weeks of the birth, fathers can take two weeks of paternity leave. 

With the 2009 revision of the Maternity Act (Barselsloven), same-sex parents and adopting parents were also given the right to take leave. 

Following the maternity leave period, parents can share 32 weeks of parental leave, receiving a leave benefit that is usually equal to the unemployment benefit (specific groups receive a higher benefit; see Roostgard 2010). About 75% of the workforce are covered by collective agreements in the labour market and agreements at the company level, and these workers receive compensation during leave from their employer up to their former earnings; i.e., their employer tops up the state benefit (Bloksgaard and Rostgaard 2014).

Based on the principle of free choice, parents can split the leave between them or take leave at the same time. While the leave duration can be extended up to 40 weeks, the benefits paid in total equal the 32 weeks at the full rate of benefit (Bloksgaard and Rostgaard 2014). 

Moreover, parental leave may be postponed until the ninth birthday of the child. To be entitled to receive parental leave benefits, individuals must have worked at least 120 hours during the 13 weeks preceding the leave. For employees, leave is financed by payroll taxes paid to the sickness benefit fund (dagpenge). Parents who are unemployed receive the benefit if they are entitled to receive benefits from the unemployment insurance fund. Qualifying parents receive either a daily cash benefit from the sickness benefit fund, or their full prior earnings under specific labour market agreements (Rostgaard 2010). Leave uptake remains highly gendered: only 5% of men take paternity leave (Abrahamson and Wehner 2008). In 2007 and 2008, the industrial sector and the public sector introduced parental leave specifically for fathers, with full payment of wages for four and six weeks, respectively. In 2013 there was a discussion in the Danish parliament about whether to earmark parental leave for fathers in the Maternity Act. As of November 2014, however, this idea has not been implemented. 

Family allowances

In 1987, the conservative government introduced a family allowance designed to support families in providing for their children under age 18. While it was first introduced as a tax allowance, it was changed into a quarterly cash benefit paid to parents regardless of their income or savings, but decreasing in amount as the child grows older (Abrahamson and Wehner 2008). Since 1 January 2014, the cash benefit has been tied to the family income, with a reduction in the benefit amount if the household’s annual income exceeds 95,800 euros. The allowance is generally paid to the mother, or to the father if he has custody and does not live with the mother.

Other social transfers are not affected by the amount of the family allowance (Linke Sonderegger 2004). In addition to the family allowance (børnefamilieydelsen; the name was changed to children and youth allowance), the Danish government pays child maintenance (børnebidrag) to parents in need, and a child allowance (børnetilskud) to parents in special situations; e.g., lone parents or those with multiple births. Since 1 January 2014, women who chose to be single mothers (i.e., who became pregnant by means of insemination or who adopted a child) have been eligible to receive the single-parent allowance. 


In terms of who is eligible to marry, the provisions of the Marriage Act have changed relatively little over the past hundred years. One significant change has, however, been in the ages at which both men and women are permitted to marry. In 1922, the law specified that men under age 21 and women under age 18 were not allowed to marry, and that both men and women under age 21 needed parental permission to marry. These limits were changed in line with changes in the legal age: namely, to age 20 in 1969 and age 18 in 1970. 

Other rules regarding eligibility to marry have been simplified. These changes were primarily made when the act was revised in 1969. At that time, a number of groups of people who were previously required to ask for permission to marry from, for example, the Ministry of Justice were given the right to marry without permission. 
In October 1989, same-sex couples were given the right to enter into registered partnerships (Law no. 372 of 07/06/1989. Act on Registered Partnership). The registration of a partnership had the same legal effects as marriage, except for the rules regarding adoption and the rules in which the rights and duties in a marriage were linked to the gender of the partner in question.

The most significant recent revision of the Marriage Act was made in 2012 (Act no. 532 of 12/06/2012). This revision changed the scope of the law to apply to marriage between two individuals of different sexes and between two individuals of the same sex. 


Over the past century—and particularly since the 1970s—the major changes in the rules regarding separation and divorce have been related to the amount of time the divorcing couple must be separated, and the specific grounds for divorce. 

The Danish Contraction and Dissolution of Marriage Act of 1922 (Act No. 276 of 30 June 1922) introduced the right to separation in the event of an irretrievable breakdown, and the right to divorce on that basis after a certain period of time. In 1969 couples were given the right to request a divorce after three years of withdrawal from joint cohabitation even if they are not in agreement. In 1989 the right to separation became unilateral; and after a separation period of six months, the spouses could divorce if they were in agreement. At this time, the grounds for divorce were simplified and reduced to five (Lund-Andersen & Krabbe 2002): 1) separation, 2) living apart for two years due to incompatibility, 3) adultery, 4) violence, and 5) bigamy. The right to separation is unilateral, and the spouse applying for separation does not have to state his or her reasons for seeking the separation. After six months (in agreement) or one year (if not in agreement) the divorce is granted.

In 2013, couples were given the right to divorce without previous separation, and without specifying their reasons for seeking a divorce. An immediate divorce is, however, granted if there is a joint decision. The reasons for divorce without separation in the case of non-agreement have not changed significantly since 1989 (the sexual assault of spouse or of children is added to point 4 on violence).   

Cohabitation and civil unions

The legal position of unmarried, cohabiting couples became an important issue in Denmark during the 1970s (Vindeløv et al. 1988). At this time, the Marriage Commission published three white papers outlining the legal position of unmarried couples. In these papers, the commission members suggested changing the laws concerning parental rights and responsibilities, rights and access to rental housing and cooperative dwellings, property and inheritance taxes, and duties of maintenance (Vindeløv et al. 1988:17-18, 23-28). In the Danish legal system, there has been a tendency to minimise the demands made on cohabiting couples to marry or register their partnerships. From the 1980s onwards, most laws have been based on the practical reality of cohabitation, rather than on the legal arrangements made by the couple  (Vindeløv et al. 1988:17-18). 

Danish law does not regulate or specify the rights and duties of cohabiting partners who are not married. The legal position of cohabiting couples is found in numerous laws. 

In general, the rights of cohabiting partners have become more similar to those of married couples, but they are not the same. For example, cohabiting partners do not have the same rights to inheritance as married couples. Cohabiting partners inherit from each other only if inheritance is provided for in a will (The Inheritance Act of June 2008).

Four major themes are dominant in discussions about the rights of cohabiting partners: a) the circumstances of the couple during the cohabitation (e.g., wealth, spousal support, public allowances, tax rules, and insurance); b) the circumstances of the couple when their relationship dissolves (e.g., the division of wealth, the tax rules related to the maintenance of the partners and their children, and the right to joint accommodation); c) the legal rights of each partner when the other partner dies (e.g., inheritance, inheritance taxes, life insurance benefits, pension rights, and the right to joint accommodation); and d) the legal rights of both children and their parents during cohabitation, and following the dissolution of the relationship (e.g., paternity, adoption, parental rights and responsibilities, and the legal position of the child in case of parental death) (Vindeløv et al. 1988). There is no single law covering cohabiting couples and their legal status. Instead, there are a number of different laws that apply to cohabiting couples: e.g., the Cooperative Housing Act, the Adoption Act, the Inheritance Act, the Social Assistance Act, the Children Act, the Tax Act, the Act on Rentable Housing, and the Tax Law.


  • Abrahamson, P. and Wehner, C. (2008): Current Issues of Family Policy in Denmark. In: Oster, I. and Schmitt, C. (ed.). Family Policies in the Context of Family Change. The Nordic Countries in Comparative Perspective. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag: 57-74. 
  • Bloksgaard, L. and Rostgaard, T. (2014) ‘Denmark country note’, in: P. Moss (ed.): International Review of Leave Policies and Research 2014. Available at: http://www.leavenetwork.org/lp_and_r_reports/country_reports/
  • Borchorst, A. (2009): Danish Child-Care Policies within Path – Timing, Sequence, Actors and Opportunity Structures. In: Scheiwe, K. and Willekens, H. (ed.). Child Care and Preschool Development in Europe. Institutional Perspectvies. New York: Palgrave Macmillan: 126-141. 
  • Budtz V (1996): Samliv uden papir. Forlagene Idag og Nordan. In Danish
  • Danielsen S, Hornslet M & Knudsen K (1984): Ægteskabsloven [The Marriage Act]. Jurist- og Økonomforbundets Forlag. København.
  • de Jeppesen CG & Kronborg A (2011): “National Report: Denmark”. American Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, (pp. 113-121)
  • Knudsen, L. B. (1999): Recent Fertility Trends in Denmark - A Discussion of the Impact of Family Policy in a Period with Increasing Fertility. Research Report 11. Odense University: Danish Center for Demographic Research. 
  • Kröger, T. (2009): Dedomestication and childcare policy: A comparison of care service provisions of fifteen welfare states. Paper presented at the ISA RC19 Conference Social Policies: Local Experiments, Travelling Ideas, Université de Montréal, August 20-22 2009. 
  • Linke Sonderegger, M. (2004): Mehr als nur staatliche Kinderbetreuung. Optionserweiterungen und Geschlechterrollen in der aktuellen dänischen Familienpolitik. (ZeS-Arbeitspapier; WP-2004-07). 
  • Lund-Andersen I & Krabbe L (2002): Grounds for divorce and maintenance between partners - Denmark. From: http://ceflonline.net/wp-content/uploads/Denmark-Divorce.pdf.
  • Lund-Andersen, I: 'The Danish Registered Partnership Act', in: K. Boele-Woelki & A. Fuchs (eds.): Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Couples in Europe, Antwerp: Intersentia, 2003, p. 11-23
  • Marriage Commission: White Paper No. 5 (720/1974): Samliv og ægteskab [Cohabitation and marriage] (A mapping of the legal position of unmarried couples). In Danish.
  • Marriage Commission: White Paper No. 8 (915/1980): Samliv uden ægteskab I [Cohabitation without marriage I] on parental rights and responsibilities, right and access to rental housing and cooperative dwelling, law on property and inheritance taxes. In Danish.
  • Marriage Commission: White Paper No. 9 (989/1983): Samliv uden ægteskab II [Cohabitation without marriage I] on duties of maintenance. In Danish.
  • Nielsen L (2006): Familieretten. Gjellerup/GADs Forlag. In Danish
  • Pedersen HVG (2001): Familie- og Arveret, 5. udg., 2001, p. 111-119
  • Ringgaard L & Funch Jensen H (1966): Ægteskabsloven. Gads Forlag. [In Danish]
  • Rostgaard, T. (2010): Denmark. In: Moss, P. (ed.). International Review of Leave Policies and Related Research 2010, Employment Relations Research Series No. 115: 88-95.
  • Vindeløv V, Lund-Andersen I, Nielsen L (1988): Retsstillingen for ugifte samlevende [Legal position of unmarried cohabiters]. GADs Forlag, København . In Danish.


Lene Tølbøll (2014)
Department of Sociology and Social Work, Aalborg University

Data collected in the framework of the Population Europe Research Finder and Archive (PERFAR) in 2014, based on the information provided by:

Marieke Bohne (2010)
External Consultant

Christoph Jährling
External Consultant

Julia Höppner
External Consultant

in the framework of the Population and Policy Database (2010).

Please cite as:
SPLASH-db.eu (2014): Policy: "Family Policies: Denmark" (Information provided by Lene Tølbøll). Available at: https://splash-db.eu [Date of access].