What is the situation of interethnic marriage in Switzerland? We asked readers to share their experiences with us, and we thank them very much.
Binational marriages are on the rise in Switzerland, but are they protected against divorce? And how do they compare to ordinary families?

"You can be from the North Pole and your partner from the South Pole, and you can love each other to death, or you can be born in the same city and live like a cat and dog. One of our readers sent us these words, and we thought they were worthy of putting them at the beginning of the article and making them a sort of epigraph.

It seems that many agree that the success or failure of a relationship depends more on personality traits than on the nationality of the partners. It is not the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes that matters, but what is commonly referred to as "conflict management", in particular the way in which communication is structured within the couple and the way in which the partners approach the search for solutions to conflicts that arise. Of course, culture and mentality play an important role, but they are not the only factors involved.

Exotic culture

The number of interethnic families in Switzerland has tripled in the last thirty years. That's what the statistics say, and he knows it all. In 2016, 15,100 such marriages were registered in the country, which is 36.3% of the total number of marriages concluded during the reporting period. About one-third of these marriages end in divorce, with the divorce rate reaching 50% in some cantons. The common belief is that the collapse of an interethnic marriage can lead to more dramatic consequences than usual for the former partners. Is this true?

"Relationships in an interethnic marriage are a serious challenge, especially if one of the spouses belongs to a so-called "exotic" culture," says divorcee Angelica Arvizu. She married a Swiss man for love, made a career in Zurich and had a son. But everything fell apart after she moved in with her husband's family. Suddenly, her Swiss partner began blatantly cheating on her.

Looking back, she says today that he apparently wanted a divorce, believing that after that he would get exclusive parental rights to her son. "I married 'Prince Charming' and he turned out to be a real monster," says A. Arvitsu. She recently moved back to Switzerland from Mexico because it was time for her son to go to college. Part of the reason for the move was that her father had stopped paying the university fees for her son's education. This was an issue she was determined to resolve in court. 

The legislative jungle

One way or another, interethnic couples are likely to face much more serious problems than usual, and it all starts with language. It is only possible to get proper legal help if one has sufficient language skills, and it is in interethnic marriages that language can become a serious problem for one of the spouses. Katharina Stucki, a lawyer and practicing attorney from Zurich, tells us about this. She herself is originally from Brazil and often has to work with clients who only speak Portuguese.

"The decision to move to a "separation" format, for whatever reason, whether it's differences of opinion on certain things or cultural differences, can be a particular problem for interethnic couples, different from the usual "separation" of Swiss partners," says Stucki. And if they have children, the conflict can become even more complicated, especially if one of the spouses suddenly decides to return to his or her country of origin.

Under current Swiss law, a child can only move abroad with the consent of both parents. The case where the parents refuse the consent of the other spouse is very frequent in Switzerland and can be considered as an abduction, with all the problems that this entails in terms of impartial justice. According to the Swiss authorities, there are up to 240 incidents per year on average.

It is worth recalling that Switzerland is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction of 25 October 1980. The purpose of the Convention is to ensure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained in a Contracting State, and to ensure that rights of custody and access under the law of one Contracting State are effectively exercised in the other Contracting States. For Russia, the Convention entered into force on October 1, 2011.

"In Switzerland, the provisions of the Convention are generally implemented accurately and on time, which is not always the case in other countries," says K. Stucki. "The process of returning a child from Brazil, for example, can take months or years." Similar problems can arise even if both partners remain in Switzerland. The Israeli-born man, who asked not to be named, says his Swiss ex-wife forbade his children, when they were 11 and 13, to visit him, constantly vilifying him to them. After some time, he became intolerant and contacted the "Swiss National Service for Guardianship and Protection of Children and Adults" (Kindes- und Erwachsenenschutzbehörde - "KESB").

As a result, the judge ruled that he had legal rights of paternity, stressing, however, that the children were old enough to make their own decisions, including visiting their father: if they wanted to, they would come to visit him, if they didn't want to, they wouldn't. "My position in court was much weaker, because everything was done in German, which is not my native language. I expressed my thoughts with great difficulty. And, of course, this factor worked against me," says the Israeli. In fact, he recently became a Swiss citizen and started a new family. 

"Divorce is torture."

Dealing with financial issues arising from the divorce is also much more difficult for these couples. Resolving disputes related to the payment or non-payment of alimony is more difficult if the former spouses live in different countries. Furthermore, it is practically impossible to enforce Swiss court decisions abroad and vice versa. For example, when it comes to alimony, division of property and determination of the amount of the spouses' assets, disputes can arise on any aspect, for example, what should be counted as income - the salary plus the bonus or only the salary? And the decision of the Swiss judge, as mentioned, will not affect any assets held abroad.

The same difficulty arises when a child moves with one of the ex-spouses to a less expensive country. As K. Sztuki, this may result in a decrease in the amount of payments for the child, as the judge is usually guided by the actual ratio of prices, salaries and cost of living, based on UBS (UBS Prices and EarningsLien externe) data.

There are often objectively unfair situations when, in a cheaper country, a child is forced to attend not a public school, whose level and quality of education sometimes do not correspond at all to the educational standards of the public/municipal schools in Switzerland, but private educational institutions, resulting in additional costs, which now fall entirely on the family in which the child lives.

K.T., a U.S. citizen, says that when she separated from her Swiss husband, with whom she lived in the U.S. before moving to Switzerland, she had to consult five family law specialists at once. They separated in 2016, but the divorce left a lot of wounds in its wake. "My husband is a millionaire and I live on welfare," she tells swissinfo.ch, accusing her ex-spouse of deliberately hiding the true size of his assets.

"Swiss divorces are just torture," she adds. - In Switzerland, you are made to pay almost every step and are constantly harassed by the terrible consequences that are supposed to follow! Meanwhile, collection agencies were chasing me with open accounts, which my ex-husband refused to pay. As a foreigner, I didn't understand anything about what was in all these legal documents, and I suffered terribly." Nevertheless, she was "determined to fight for my rights. After all, I am an American!" 

"Starting from scratch, even less than from scratch."

Marriage is notoriously difficult, requiring seven measurements, but many international couples have no choice but to marry in a hurry due to migration status, especially if one partner is from a country outside the European Union or the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). "In Switzerland, citizens of so-called 'third countries' are in a completely different situation than people from the United States, the United Kingdom or the European Union," explains Esther Hubacher.

She works for the Bernese consulting agency Frabina, which advises international couples on marriage, family law, migration issues and even divorce. "If a person comes from a "third country", for example from the former Soviet republics, then unfortunately they simply do not have the opportunity to "test" their partner and live with them in a kind of trial format. In order to live together, they have to get married. Period! They have no other form of life together." And such haste can cause problems in the long run.

"If you come from Germany, for example, you have fewer problems," confirms his colleague Hafed El-Badaoui, who advises Arabic-speaking "clients" at Frabina. - You already speak the language. Your university degree can be recognized very quickly. You don't have to start from zero or even less than zero. But if you come from a "third country", things are more complicated.

As E. Hubacher, Switzerland makes a great effort to integrate and support refugees. Foreign spouses of Swiss nationals do not fall into this category, and often no one cares for them, which can lead them to feel almost isolated and dependent on their Swiss partner. "They have to start by learning the language, recognize the equivalence of their education, find a job. This creates an objective inequality between spouses, which puts additional negative pressure on the marriage itself," adds Hafid El-Badau.

Swiss spouses also sometimes face serious problems. The cultural norms that are customary for foreign spouses and that govern family behavior and marital relations may be very different from those in Switzerland and in Western countries in general. The Swiss partner, for example, may not want to spend all of his or her vacations in the spouse's home country. As the main "breadwinner", he or she may be annoyed by the willful or deliberate misconduct of the "other partner", who is used to different behavior in standard situations. What if these misconducts also result in financial losses, for example in the form of parking fines and other "sins"?

Marriage in the name of a "permit"?

"Most mixed marriages are in fact a form of migratory solution: marrying just to get a 'permit'. Swiss law is very naive in this regard," says swissinfo.ch reader Moha Monib, and this seems to reflect a widespread opinion among our users. Frabina staff, on the other hand, consider these cases to be the exception.

According to them, it is not only a matter of haste to settle the migration status of one of the spouses, but also of too great a difference in age, or the lack of a common language of communication, while "marriages of convenience" can also occur between people of common culture. This is also the case of Chadi Hamad, a Lebanese man who married a Swiss woman and obtained citizenship.

In a telephone conversation, he said that when he filed for divorce, the authorities were openly "on my doorstep. They must have thought I was getting married just to get a passport. But I'm sorry, getting Swiss citizenship is not like going to the newsstand to buy a newspaper. So why didn't the authorities have doubts about me and my reliability while I was still married?