In a divorce, an intercultural family, or a family where the parents come from different countries, faces the same issues, emotions and experiences as a family where the parents share the same native country and the same cultural background. An intercultural divorce does have some certain distinguishing features, however, such as the parents´ choice of which country to live in, custody of the child, and supporting the child´s bilingual and intercultural identity after the divorce.
In a divorce, an intercultural family will possibly face questions like: Which country´s legislation will be applied to the divorce? Where can a parent with a foreign background find information on divorce practices in Finland? Will both parents remain in Finland? What to do in a situation where one of the parents returns to his/her native country or moves to a third country? How can the development of the child´s bilingual and intercultural identity be secured in a situation where the parents no longer live together?
When bilingual parents end up in divorce, culture may become a scapegoat that the parents use as a weapon in their disputes. This kind of situation places the child in a conflicting position as what the parents are fighting about is an important and inalienable part of the child´s self-image. The child finds the situation very confusing, and in the worse case the parents´ disputes lead to a situation where the child is ashamed of and insecure about his/her cultural background. This is why the parents should try to see the situation through the child´s eyes and accept the fact that the divorce will not change the fact that the child´s roots extend to two countries, and that there are still two equally valuable sides to the child´s identity. The parents also need to avoid denigrating each other in the presence of the child, and the child should never have to take sides between his/her parents or their respective cultures at the request of his/her father or mother.
The parents´ cultures should be present in the child´s life in a natural and positive way even after the divorce because such positive experiences will help the child to deal with the painful experiences that a divorce inevitably brings with it. In an ideal situation, the parents also aim to secure the child´s right to develop and maintain the native language of both his/her parents; language, after all, is the key to understanding your culture and your roots. Being bilingual will support the child´s identity and open up windows to the worlds of both parents. It also creates favourable circumstances for close relations with grandparents and other relatives. When divorcing, the parents should consider the linguistic environment of the family and what kind of opportunities it affords for supporting the child´s bilingual identity in the form of foreign-language day care centres, playschools, schools, friends, relatives, books and films, for example.
Interaction skills, flexibility and respect are necessary for functional intercultural marriage, and it is exactly these same skills that are necessary also when the couple ends up in divorce. Despite the divorce, the parents still have a child and they are both responsible for bringing him/her up and ensuring his/her healthy development. I an ideal situation, the parents endow the child with both a bilingual identity and a strong and positive intercultural identity.
Guide booklet related to the topic:
The Library section includes articles, reports, research material and guides.
For articles and other material in Finnish, please visit the Duo Kirjasto.