We’re breaking up – what are my rights?

Ask The Local:I have been in a relationship with a Swedish guy for the past five years and moved here for him three years ago, but unfortunately we are now breaking up. I know nothing about Swedish law and am worried about getting a fair deal with regards to the division of our property etc as we weren't married. What should I expect?

We're breaking up - what are my rights?

Claire, Uppsala.

Whether it’s insurmountable cultural differences, the stress of moving to a completely new country, or just the natural demise of a relationship, many ‘love refugees’ find themselves confronted with the reality of a break-up with their Swedish partner.

As in Claire’s case, grappling with Swedish law may feel a daunting task, and the language barrier doesn’t make things easier.

If faced with a breakup in Sweden, the first thing to do is forget everything you know about how divorce works in your home country.

Johan Sarvik, a Malmö based lawyer specializing in international and Swedish family law, explains that foreign citizens’ preconceptions represent one of the greatest difficulties during the legal dissolution of a relationship:

“People’s perceptions and expectations about the law are often based on that of their home countries. However, these often do not correspond with Swedish law.”

Sarvik’s advice is to make sure you fully understand the issues you are dealing with:

“Educate yourself. Go and see someone who works in family law, particularly someone with a thorough understanding of international family law. It is really important to make sure you know how Swedish legislation will specifically affect you.”

Further to this advice, Sarvik recommends researching the law before even arriving in Sweden: “You need to know where you will stand if you do break up.”

Family law is complex and dependent on the precise circumstances of the case in hand. The first issue is to establish whether you and your ex were legally cohabitees (‘sambo’ in Swedish). According to Swedish law, the criterion for a cohabiting relationship is that two people live together on a permanent basis, as a couple and share a joint household.

To clarify, if deemed to be living together as a couple, it is inferred that sexual relations normally constitute an aspect of the partnership. A household is legally ‘joint’ when chores and expenses are shared and cohabitants cooperate in daily household activities.

Joint financial affairs also need to be proven, although this does not need to be as specific as a shared bank account – it can just be evidence of financial cooperation over household costs.

Once this has been established, the general rule is that property shared by the cohabitants is split equally between the two partners. However, there are some crucial points to remember.

For one, couples who are married or in a (same-sex) registered partnership have different rights to cohabitees.

For cohabitees, the law will only split property (your home and household goods) down the middle if it was purchased for joint use. The dwelling is still included in the division if only one cohabitee is on the contract, as long as joint usage is provable.

Secondly, legally divisible property only comprises the joint home shared with your partner and the goods within it. It does not include bank assets, cars and holiday homes, for example.

If you moved into your partner’s home, this means that the property was not “acquired for joint use” and cannot be drawn into the division of property, even if you have contributed to mortgage repayments and other costs.

A further difference between the law regarding married couples and cohabitants is maintenance. For couples who have legally cohabited, there is absolutely no maintenance obligation towards one another, regardless of whether you have been together for a year or many years.

If children are involved, Swedish cohabitation law runs contrary to marriage law in that only the mother of the child is automatically granted custody. For a child whose parents are not married, paternity must be established by special order.

Importantly, there is a time limit on any demand for the division of property and any request must be made no later than one year after the relationship has ended.

If you and your ex cannot agree on how the property should be divided, then you can turn to the district court (Tingsrätten) and ask for judicial assistance for the split.

If you find yourself in an acrimonious position or you feel insecure about your legal position, then it would be best to consult a lawyer. Many embassies in Sweden have a list of contacts on their websites.

Do you have a question about the practicalities of living in Sweden? Then drop us a line at [email protected]

Jennifer Heape

For members


Three things not to do as a foreign parent bringing up kids in Sweden

Are you raising children in Sweden? Here are a few very personal tips for what not to do from Alex Rodallec, who was raised in Sweden by a French Breton mother.

Three things not to do as a foreign parent bringing up kids in Sweden

Raising children is hard enough as it is without having to do it in another country. The added difficulties of being a foreigner can be taxing: grappling with the language, the cultural differences, not being well acquainted with how the system works.

So how do you get advice from someone who knows a bit about the issues your child might face growing up as the child of an immigrant in Sweden? One way is to ask someone who was raised by an immigrant parent in Sweden.  Someone like me.

I am no expert in child rearing, and have no children of my own. I can, however, tell you a few things that you should try to avoid. Here are a few of my best tips for what not to do.

Do not reject your adopted country’s culture

This does not mean that you should assimilate completely. It is, however, a good idea to try to embrace your adopted country’s culture as a positive, rather than a negative, for the sake of your children.

Why? Because your children will not have your cultural identity, at least not entirely. And this will be true no matter what you do to prevent it. They will in part become Swedish, imbued with many of the values and customs of Swedish society, with the behaviour and norms.

This might not sound so serious, but if you are someone who is resentful of Sweden, or if you ever become resentful of it, it might become a serious problem.

My mother, who was French, first came to Sweden as a tourist and then later to work, but with no plans of staying. Then she met my father, a Bolivian man, whom she would eventually divorce when I was around two years old. After that my mother went to live in France with my big sister and me, and with the intention of staying.

The next part I am not so sure about, but I believe my father might have threatened legal action if she did not return with us to Sweden. Whatever the reason for her involuntary return, I do know that my mother’s dislike of Sweden grew with her resentment of having to stay there. And sad as that may be, because of our Swedishness she eventually began seeing us children – though only intermittently – as physical manifestations of the country she hated. Or perhaps we were a constant reminder of the fact that she could not leave. Why could she not leave? Because she loved us. How complicated the twists and turns of life sometimes play out.

Growing up, my mother would often tell us that it was our fault that she was “stuck in this country”, and her most common use of the word ‘Swedish’ was as a profanity directed at us, her children. Naturally this created a dissociation with Sweden and Swedishness, primarily in myself and my big sister, and to a lesser degree in my little sister.

And even though my mother had put my big sister and I in private schools with other children of immigrants (The Catholic and English Schools in Gothenburg), coupled with the fact that we went to preschool in France, we had still committed the cardinal sin of absorbing ‘Swedishness’. My little sister had it the worst when it came to this. She went to a Swedish public school, and never had the experience of going to preschool in France, and so was the most ‘Swedish’ of us all.

To this day, the subject of Swedishness and the like or dislike of Sweden is still a topic of conversation whenever I talk to or meet my sisters. My little sister has accepted her Swedishness, and lives in Gothenburg where we grew up. But my big sister and I both live abroad, and to varying degrees have issues with the country we grew up in. I am slowly learning to love and accept my Swedishness while living in France, but my big sister lives in London and baulks at the thought of ever moving back to Sweden. We are a separated family, in part due to our varying degrees of acceptance of Swedishness.

Perhaps I should stress that my mother was not a horrible person, but she suffered greatly from the circumstances of her life.

So, do not fill your children with your resentment of the country they will grow up in, it may very well be detrimental to their well being and their integration into the society they grew up in.

Do not ignore the complexity of cultural identity

Even though cultural identity can become symbolic of underlying issues, as was the case with my mother, it can also be a great resource, albeit one that might need some help along the way.

Being half French, half Bolivian, born and raised in a Swedish multiethnic suburb, had me untangling the threads that make up my cultural identity for decades. An experience common among multi-ethnic children. Your children might eventually need your support in this, I know I could have used some help.

My advice is to promote the idea that one can be many things all at once. And that to a certain degree these things are contextual. I myself am Bolivian to a greater degree when I spend time with the Bolivian side of the family, and more French when I spend time with the French side.

Having multiple cultural backgrounds also has benefits. Your reference points are multiplied compared to someone who has only one cultural background. You can act as a sort of cultural bridge, much like Commander Spock in Star Trek, for the Trekkies out there. Beyond that, having multiple languages is an asset, children who grow up speaking multiple languages struggle a bit at first, but then tend to outdo their peers in language mastery.

Do not be intimidated by how well your children adapt to Swedish society

This one might be slightly odd, but is an experience that many of my friends of immigrant background have shared with me.

Because your children will grow up as cultural insiders they will master the ins and outs of Swedish society much better than you. Most parents want their children to outdo them, but a parent also wants to feel useful and capable in front of their children. You might have a hard time coping with the fact that your children at a certain point, and perhaps much quicker than they would if you were in your home country, will outdo you. On top of that, in many cultures there is also a more authoritarian parent role, where children ought to know their place as children, and let the parent lead and decide.

My advice is: if you have an issue with your children making you feel inadequate, try to think of yourselves as a family unit. If your children can help you do better, that is good for all of you, try to embrace that. And why not look at it as a great opportunity to learn?

What are your best tips for parents raising children in Sweden? Share your experiences of parenting in Sweden with The Local by emailing us at [email protected]