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.
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.
When seeking a divorce either spouse can obtain a divorce, regardless of whether or not the other spouse agrees to get a divorce.
The first step is to file the request for a divorce application, called a legal separation, at your local district commissioner’s office. Online application can be found here. You can also make an appointment with the district commissioner for assistance.
Once the application request for a legal separation is filed, the process of granting a divorce usually takes approximately one year.
In case both spouses are in agreement to seek divorce, they shall be entitled to divorce when six months have passed from the date a permit for legal separation was issued or judgment pronounced.
Each spouse shall be entitled to divorce when one year has passed from the date a permit for legal separation was issued or judgment pronounced in a court of law.
An annulment of your marriage can be authorized after six months if both spouses agree on applying for a divorce.
The district commissioner issues the legal separation permit when each spouse signs a written agreement on the division of debt and assets.
When the divorce is granted, assets are divided equally between spouses. With exception to separate individual assets determined legal property of one spouse. For example, distinct properties owned by one individual prior to the marriage, or if there is a prenuptial agreement.
Each spouse is, responsible for their own debt, i.e. debt that you are personally responsible for, or half of the shared debt acquired while married. For example the debt for an overdraft on a joint account, a joint mortgage loan, or a joint credit card.
It is important to note that if a spouse is legally determined to have committed adultery or has been physically or sexually abusive towards their spouse or their children, an immediate divorce can be requested.
Information on custody, legal aid, and visitation rights can be found in this brochure: Your rights – Important information for foreign women in Iceland
Detailed information about the divorce process:
In the application for a divorce to the district commissioner, you will need to address the following issues, among other things:
- The basis of the divorce.
- Arrangements for custody, legal domicile and child support for their children.
- Some form of determination of the division of assets and liabilities.
- A decision must be made as to whether a pension should be paid.
- Additionally, it is recommended to submit a certificate of reconciliation from a priest or director of a religious or spiritual association and a financial communication agreement (If neither a settlement certificate nor a financial agreement is available at this stage, you will be able to submit them later.)
The person requesting the divorce fills out the request and sends it to the district commissioner, who presents the divorce claim to the other spouse and invites the parties for an interview. You can attend the interview separately.
The interview is conducted with a lawyer at the district commissioner’s office.
If you choose to interview separately one of the spouses attends the interview, and the other spouse is called for an interview later.
It is possible to request that the interview be conducted in English, but if an interpreter is needed in the interview, the party requiring a translator must provide an interpreter themself.
In the interview, spouses discuss issues that are addressed in the application for divorce. If each person agrees on all the issues that need to be decided in order to finalize a divorce in the interview with the district commissioner, permission for divorce is usually issued on the same day.
When the divorce is granted the district commissioner sends the National Registry a notification of divorce, the change of addresses for both parties if they are available, arrangements for child custody, and legal residence of child/children.
If a divorce is granted in court, the court sends a notification of the divorce to the National Registry of Iceland. The same applies to custody and legal residence of children decided in court.
You may need to notify other institutions of a change in marital status, for example, due to the payment of benefits or pensions that change according to marital status.
We would also like to point out that the effects of legal separation will terminate if the spouses move in together again for more than a short period they may reasonably be considered necessary, particularly for removal and acquisition of a new home. The legal effects of separation will also terminate if the spouses resume living together later, except for an attempt of short duration to resume the union.