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Mixed marriages are on the rise in Switzerland and, like other marriages, are not immune to divorce. Is the price of marriage failure higher for binational couples? swissinfo.ch asked its readers this question and spoke to experts about the topic.

This content was published on August 29, 2018 - 11:00 am

"You can come from the South Pole and the North Pole and love each other infinitely, or you can be born in the same palace and want to shoot each other," wrote one reader in Italian.

Readers' reports

swissinfo.ch has not checked the individual statements used in this article.

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The success or failure of a relationship, many seem to agree, depends more on the personality than on the nationality of the partner: especially on how a couple communicates and deals with conflicts. Culture and mentality can play a role, but they are not the only factors.

In the past three decades, the number of binational marriages in Switzerland has tripled; In 2016, 15,100 were documented, 36.3% of all marriages. On average, more than 40% of marriages end in divorce. Many feel that a failed marriage could be more dramatic for binational couples.

"It's a big challenge to have a binational relationship, especially when one of the nationalities is more exotic," says the divorced A.A.

She married a Swiss "Romeo", made a professional career in Zurich and had a son. But after moving in with her in-laws, things started to go downhill. Her Swiss husband deliberately left indications of infidelity. In hindsight, she believes he wanted a divorce and assumed he would get sole custody.

"I married a prince charming. And he turned into a monster," she explains.

She recently returned to Switzerland from Mexico to enroll her son at a university. The move had become necessary in part because the father had stopped transferring the money for the son's education; something she wants to take to court.

One reader wrote: "Marriage is always something complicated, more complicated with different nationalities and, above all, with religious differences."

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Thorny right dynamics

Binational couples may face more delicate legal issues during a breakup than non-mixed couples. When it comes to getting help, language can be a problem, explains lawyer Katharina Stucki in Zurich. She is often contacted by people who speak Portuguese. Like her because she originally comes from Brazil.

"If binational couples want to separate because they have different views and different cultures, conflicts can become more pronounced," says Stucki.

The question of children can get very tricky, especially when a parent wants to return to their home country. According to the law, the consent of both parents is required for a child to move abroad. Cases of child abduction by a parent are not the norm, but they are also not uncommon, as the lawyer explains.

The central authority for the treatment of international child abductions in the Federal Office of JusticeExterner Link handles around 240 cases per year, around half of which are from the previous year.

Switzerland has signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child AbductionExternal Link. The aim of this agreement is to expedite the return of abducted children so that they do not get used to a place where they have been taken without the consent of the other parent.

+ More information on Swiss legislation in the event of international child abductionExternal link

"It works pretty well and quickly in Switzerland," explains Stucki. "In other countries, however, it can be quite a process. In Brazil, for example, it depends on where the child is, but it can take months or even years."

One reader wrote: "I don't think it's a question of citizenship, but of the way you think and what values ​​are important to you."

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But there can also be problems if both parents stay in Switzerland. A native Israeli who asked to remain anonymous said his former Swiss wife no longer allowed children to visit him when the two elders were 11 and 13; and she had turned the children against him.

He then switched on the Kesb, the child and adult protection authority, which is made up of interdisciplinary lawyers, social workers, educators and psychologists and was created to protect the rights of children and adults who cannot do this themselves.

A judge concluded that the man was a suitable father, but complied with the wishes of the children, whom he considered old enough to decide for themselves.

"My position was weaker because everything was in German, which is not my mother tongue. I had to struggle to express myself better. Of course, that worked to my disadvantage," said the man, who later became a Swiss citizen and became a Swiss citizen started new family.

The question of finance

The financial aspects of divorce tend to be more complex for binational couples - especially in the case of assets that are in another country. Settling disputes, for example if alimony or other support contributions for children are not paid, becomes more difficult when you separate and then live in different countries.

For mixed couples with high incomes, the arithmetic in the event of divorce can become opaque. When it comes to alimony or asset sharing, or determining how much an individual's wealth is, disputes can arise over what is considered income: wages and bonuses, or just wages? Judgments by a judge in Switzerland would have no effect on property abroad.

Moving to a cheaper country could also result in lower maintenance payments for children, says Stucki, as the judges usually used the compilation of the major bank UBS for prices and wages in various cities around the world as a reference. In doing so, they might not take into account the costs for private schools in countries in which public schools do not meet Swiss standards.

"If all the assets are in Switzerland, the disputed issues can be resolved and the courts can decide," explains Stucki.

"The problem starts when there are possessions abroad. It can be difficult to obtain information ... and the higher the income, the more fierce the controversy over maintenance payments. Often the Swiss part of the couple does not want to disclose the financial information."

Badly informed and isolated

If foreign women are completely dependent on their Swiss husbands - an outdated but still common gender dynamic - they tend to seek help late and take at face the husbands threats that they will be expelled from the country and lose their children become.

"They only look for help when the problem is really big," says lawyer Stucki. "The system is not bad for them, but there is a lot of misinformation out there."

American citizen C.T. says she consulted five lawyers specializing in family law while separating from her Swiss husband. She met him in the USA and lived with him there before they moved to Switzerland. Her 2016 divorce crowned various traumas.

"My husband is a millionaire and I live on welfare," she told swissinfo.ch, listing a long series of bad experiences and accusing her ex-husband of hiding his fortune.

"Swiss divorces are brutal," she adds. "The Swiss milk you for everything and scare you to death. A debt collection agency was after me because of bills that my ex-husband refused to pay. As a foreigner, my concern was that I would not understand these papers."

Because she is American, she continues, she was "ready" to "fight for her rights".

Marriage for family reunification

Some binational couples have no choice but to get married quickly for logistical reasons, especially if a partner comes from a country that does not belong to the EU or EFTA. Marriage to a Swiss citizen opens the way to stay in Switzerland on the basis of family reunification.

"In Switzerland, there are great differences between people who come from the Third World compared to people from the USA or from EU countries, for example," explains social worker Esther Hubacher. "If a person comes from a third country, you do not have the opportunity to test the partnership first. You have to marry in order to be able to live the partnership."

Hubacher works for the Bern section of Frabina, an organization that advises binational couples in different languages ​​in areas such as marriages, divorces and migration.

"If you come from Germany, there are fewer problems," says her colleague Hafed El-Badaoui, who among other things advises people who speak Arabic. "Anyone who comes from Germany already knows the language. Some diplomas are also recognized. You don't have to start all over again from scratch."

Hubacher points out that there is a robust system to help refugees integrate into Switzerland, while the wives or husbands of Swiss nationals are often quite isolated and heavily dependent on their Swiss partner.

The financial pressure could be higher initially and integration slower, says El-Badaoui. "They have to start with the language, with the education, have to find a job to cope with being here without their families. There is a gap between the couple."

Cultural differences

Swiss spouses may be surprised by cultures that have a broader concept of family, since in Switzerland, as in many other western countries, the focus is more on the nuclear family. This can lead to tension, for example, when the foreign spouse wants to send money home to support relatives there.

A Swiss husband or wife may not want to spend all their holidays in their partner's home country. If they are the main breadwinners, they could also be sensitive if they have to pay fines for a spouse, a wife from a country with fewer rules and regulations, for violations.

Skepticism from others, whether they be consular authorities abroad or conservative relatives at home who suspect that marriage is based on interests rather than love, can also be a stress factor.

"Unfortunately, most mixed marriages are based on 'residence papers'," wrote swissinfo.ch reader Moha Monib, reflecting a view that is quite widespread among our readers.

Frabina's social workers say these fears are exaggerated and such cases are the exception. The red flags to watch out for are big age differences and the lack of a common language for both people. Purposes could also exist within a single cultural area, sometimes these are also successful.

Chadi Hamad, a Lebanese native who married a Swiss woman and became a Swiss citizen, says he was targeted by authorities ten days after filing for divorce. They have expressed concerns about the times the couple lived apart before they married.

"Obtaining citizenship is a very difficult process," he said in a telephone conversation with swissinfo.ch. "You can't just go to a kiosk and buy them. Why didn't you raise these questions while I was married?"

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