The number of intercultural couples and families in Finland is increasing steadily. Over the last twenty years, the number international families has more than tripled, and there is little reason to believe that this development will change in the future. Currently, there are about 70 000 intercultural couples living in Finland, about half of which have children (Statistics Finland 2015).
Along with the increasing number of intercultural relationships and marriages, intercultural divorces have become a phenomenon with rising significance. More than 10 000 marriages are dissolved in Finland every year, latest 13 766 in 2013, of which 14% were intercultural marriages (Statistics Finland 2014).
When an intercultural marriage or a relationship comes to an end, “cultural differences” and “culturally based value differences” are sometimes used as a reason or a scapegoat for the break-up. However, the so-called cultural differences are seldom the root cause of a divorce. Indeed, the main reasons behind an intercultural divorce – such as unmet expectations, communication problems, inability to resolve conflicts, different priorities and interests, lack of intimacy, and infidelity – are the same than in “monocultural” relationships. Thus, it can be said that intercultural marriages dissolve for the most part for the very same reasons than monocultural marriages.
However, there are some factors that go some way to explaining the slightly higher divorce rate of intercultural marriages. One such a factor is a rushed marriage between partners who have not had a chance to get to know each other very well before the marriage. Many former long-distance couples only really get to know each other when they get married and move in together, and some realise only then that they have very different expectations or that they are they are “just too different”. Other factors include the stress involved in the immigration and integration processes, which can have a negative impact on both partners and can sometimes be a burden too heavy to bear for the relationship.
A divorce is hardly ever an easy decision, especially when children are involved. Worries about one's own future (and the future of the children) come to mind and the question whether the end of one's marriage also means the end of one's time in Finland often arises. Additionally, lack of social and emotional support make it additionally difficult to cope with the many challenges that come with a divorce, and the language barrier and unfamiliar bureaucratic processes stand in the way of making use of all available support options. The need for English and other language services and information is vast, and will probably be even more in the future.
In order to help foreigners in Finland (and maybe also Finnish people divorcing from a foreign partner) to make their way through the labyrinth of laws, services and regulations for a divorce, Duo has developed an Intercultural Divorce information package that contains the most basic starting points. The compact guide provides information on the most pressing questions about divorce process in Finland, including child custody and child care, distribution of assets, residence permit questions, legal support, and counselling services. Every section further includes quotes from people going through or having gone through an intercultural divorce in Finland, as well as useful documents and links to further information and services. Additionally, we created a glossary with the most important divorce terms in Finnish and English.
The Duo Guide to Intercultural Divorce in Finland is available online (web section on Duo's English language website) and in an electronic format (PDF)
(Silke Jungbluth and Hanna Kinnunen)
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