Foreign Women Vulnerable in Divorce and Custody Proceedings Skip to content

Foreign Women Vulnerable in Divorce and Custody Proceedings

Foreign women going through divorce and custody proceedings in Iceland often receive incorrect information and inadequate services, RÚV reports.

Director of the Icelandic Human Rights Centre Margrét Steinarsdóttir says foreign women are in a particularly vulnerable position in Iceland when they go through divorce or custody proceedings, citing a lack of access to information, a drawn out legal process, and inadequate interpreting service.

One such woman, from Finland, has been living in Kvennaathvarf Women’s Shelter for months due to delays in custody proceedings with the Icelandic father of her child. Shelter staff say such cases are much too common.

“Many cases like this have landed on my desk. Before I came to the Human Rights Centre I was a counsellor for immigrants in Alþjóðahúsið and I can’t tell you how many cases there were. This is a very difficult situation the women are in. More or less in limbo. There are often problems with support and more,” Margrét stated.

The situation is particularly bad when they are not familiar with the system or the society. “It’s a big part of our job, for example, to correct false information. They have been given wrong information, they have been made to believe for example that the general rule in Iceland is that the father gets the children in a divorce and so forth. So they are in a worse position due to these reasons,” says Margrét.

Before court proceedings can begin, a negotiation process has to be completed through the district magistrate. Margrét knows many examples of women who do not speak Icelandic forced to go into divorce or custody negotiations without an interpreter being provided.

Margrét believes such cases should go straight to the courts instead. “[Negotiation] often takes an incredibly long time, months, and delays cases that were always on their way to the courts anyway,” she says. “In so many cases that have landed on my desk, for example, the reason for divorce is violence. And then it’s an individual that has experienced emotional abuse and oppression and so forth. And having then to sit down and try to reach an agreement with the person who is always trying to control everything is a bit unrealistic. So I would very much like to see some change.”

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