Honestly, I’ve really debated with myself about whether or not to write this article. Or, how to write with sensitivity, compassion and understanding. Well, first thing is first, I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to come to the decision to end your marriage. It has to be one of the most isolating and difficult choices to make. But, for so many, it’s often a necessary decision for a multitude of reasons. It’s even more desperate when decisions about how the lives of young children will be turned upside down.
Separation whilst living in a foreign country with your family is an even tougher reality. International law and multilateral treaties can complicate separation of properties and custody of children. According to a new study carried out by Demographic Research (Andersson, Obucina, Scott, Volume 33, Article 2, Pages 31−64 Published 3 July 2015) there is empirical evidence that suggests separation and divorce amongst immigrants in Sweden is higher than for native Swedes, by almost 15%. But, very rarely is this openly talked about. It is easy to understand the circumstances in which separation and divorce happens for immigrants. The upheaval, stress and culture shock related to moving to a foreign country alone is enough to test the bonds of marriage. This, along with spousal alienation, fear, loneliness and lack of independence in a new country are the leading causes of separation and divorce amongst immigrants. But, as an immigrant family, what happens when you decide to separate in Sweden?
Getting a divorce in Sweden
Divorce laws are generally binding in the country in which you reside, regardless of the country in which you were married. There are some special circumstances including Shariah Law and, most recently, opposition to the European Union cross-border divorce legislation. Seeking a divorce in Sweden is relatively easy, so much so that neither spouse is required to provide a reason the marriage has broken down in order to obtain a decree of divorce. In the best of circumstances, a mutually agreed separation, only a court can decide to dissolve a marriage. In Sweden, there are alternative options to settling any issues that arise from the dissolution of a marriage. Family mediation and cooperative discussions are all methods that are encouraged to deal with dividing of property and custody of children agreements. You can read a detailed explanation of these two methods via the European e-Justice portal. The Swedish Courts website also has a clear table of information regarding divorce legislation and settlement methods. Both of these resources are written in English.
Divorce for immigrants in Sweden
For immigrants seeking divorce it is often not that simple. In circumstances in which one of the petitioners is dependent on the other for financial and civic support ( in plain English, one person is in full-time employment by a Swedish company, the other person is dependent on that person’s financial support and dependent on rights to remain in Sweden through marriage) separation and divorce can become acrimonious, especially if children are involved. In these instances, the Hague Convention can sometimes be invoked. Often, a parent will leave the foreign country that they are residing in to return home, with their children, when separation or divorce becomes a reality. Unfortunately, this often ends with that parent facing child abduction proceedings.
We’ve reached out to a couple of lawyers who specialise in international family law, both in Sweden and in the UK, to ask them for their advice to parents who are facing these difficult decisions. We’ll be publishing these interviews in a separate piece. For now, the overwhelming advice is to talk with your partner about what could happen and how you both would want to deal with these difficult decisions. Plan, ahead of time, together how to manage your family circumstances if your marriage or partnership does break down.