Both the wife and the husband can get a divorce whether the spouse wants it or not. Usually a permit is issued for a separation and then a divorce is granted after one year, or six months if the married couple agrees to apply for a divorce at that time.

It is possible to apply for an instant divorce if the spouse has had an affair or used physical or sexual violence in the marriage or to any children which live within the household.

The Process

a)      Certificate of reconciliation

If a couple has custody over children under 18 years of age they need to seek reconciliation with a priest, or a representative of a legitimate religious group if the couple belongs to such a group in Iceland. If the couple are in separate religious groups or if both or either is not in a religious group the reconciliation attempt is with the district commissioner or a judge depending on where the divorce is being processed. Certificates of reconciliation may not be older than 6 months when applying for divorce.

If a couple has no children, or the children are older than 18 years old there is no need for a certificate of reconciliation. In the certificate of reconciliation it is disclosed that a priest or a representative has tried unsuccessfully to reconcile the couple.

b)      A permit for divorce issued by the district commissioner

You can apply for a divorce at the district commissioner in the district where you live. In order for the district commissioner to issue the permit for a separation the married couple must do an agreement on the division of debts and assets in writing.

Pursuant to law the assets are divided equally between husband and wife, except for separate assets (for example because of a prenuptial agreement), but each person is responsible for his or her debts. If the debts are mutual, for example due to an overdraft on a joint bank account, debt for a joint credit card etc, each individual is responsible for half of the debt.

If there is no custody agreement, there needs to be a confirmation that one party has sued for custody before the courts so that the district commissioner can issue a permit for separation. For further information see: 

c)      Divorce by the courts

If either party does not show up at the district commissioner or refuses to grant a divorce the case must be settled before the courts. It is best to hire a lawyer to present the case before the courts even though you are allowed to do so yourself.

There must be an agreement on the division of the estate or a district court ruling on public division[1], and a liquidator oversees the division of assets and debts, the determination of alimony and so forth. In order for a divorce to be settled before the court, there needs to be a confirmation that the estate has been taken for public division.

If there is no agreement on the custody of the children, then the custody case and the divorce case can be tried jointly.

See information about:

  • Custody of children
  • Free legal aid
  • Rights of access