Marriage, cohabitation and divorce
“Marriage is primarily a civil institution. The Marriage Act defines this recognised form of joint habitation, stating who may marry and what conditions are to be set for marrying. Marriage also has specific legal effects.” as stated by the Ministry of Justice.
There is just one Marriage Act in Iceland, and it applies equally to a man and a woman, two women and two men.
The legal age for getting married is eighteen. The Ministry of Justice may grant people younger than this age an exemption to get married.
Those licensed to perform marriages are priests and heads of religious associations and District Commissioners and their delegates. Marriage confers responsibilities on both parties while the marriage is valid, whether or not they live together and even if they are legally separated (not fully divorced).
In marriages in Iceland, both women and men have the same rights. Their responsibilities towards their children and other aspects related to their marriage are also the same.
If a spouse dies while married, the other spouse inherits a part of their estate. Icelandic law generally allows the surviving spouse to keep an undivided estate. This enables the widow(er) to continue to live in the marital home after their spouse has died.
Spouses are responsible for the debts incurred by either of them.
People living in unmarried cohabitation have no maintenance obligations towards each other and are not each other’s legal heirs. The cohabitation can be registered at Þjóðskrá, the national register.
Whether cohabitation is registered or not may affect the rights of the people concerned. When cohabitation is registered, the parties in many ways acquire a clearer status before the law than those whose cohabitation is not registered. They do not, however, enjoy the same rights as married couples.
The social rights of cohabiting partners are often dependent on whether or not they have children, how long they have been cohabiting and whether or not their cohabitation is registered in the national register.
Either spouse can obtain a divorce, whether or not the other spouse agrees to a divorce. The first step is usually to authorise a legal separation, followed by a divorce after one year. A divorce may, however, be authorised after six months if both spouses agree on applying for a divorce at that point.
If a spouse is found to have committed adultery or has been physically or sexually violent towards their spouse or their children living at home, an immediate divorce may be requested.
Information on custody, legal aid visitation rights can be found in the brochure Your rights – Important information for foreign women in Iceland