Divorce and separation procedures are relatively simple in Germany, especially if both partners agree. If you and your partner have chosen to permanently end your marriage, you have two options open to you.
Divorce in Germany
The sole grounds for divorce in Germany is the breakdown of the marital relationship past the point of repair (causes are not considered and no “blame” is apportioned). This irrevocable breakdown is usually attested to by a separation of at least one year, where both parties agree to the divorce. If one partner contests, the necessary period of separation increases to three years.
Unusually, German courts also occasionally permit the application of foreign law. If either you or your partner is foreign, it is possible to ask the judge to grant a divorce by the laws of your home country (i.e. this may be a way to get past the one-year separation rule, if no such rule exists in your country of origin).
The divorce application needs to be lodged by one partner at the Family Court closest to where you are registered. If both partners agree to the divorce, one lawyer can represent you both.
Legal separation in Germany
You can also be recognised as being “legally separated”, if you and your spouse live permanently apart. This does not usually require any legal formalities to be completed.
Maintenance & Pensions
A major part of the divorce or legal separation process is the division of pension funds, maintenance payments, and the care of children.
The legal consensus in Germany is that children should, where possible, have contact with both parents. Joint custody is therefore the norm and parental responsibility is not usually considered by the court. You can, however, apply for sole parental responsibility, if you wish.
Following a divorce or separation, in the eyes of the law, both partners still have financial obligations towards each other and any children they have together. Maintenance claims are taken very seriously in Germany and considered carefully by the court to work out payments in proportion to each partner’s income and assets. Maintenance payments can also be deducted from your income in your annual tax return.
As well as maintenance for upbringing children, spouses are also obliged to pay maintenance to each other if one spouse cannot sufficiently provide for themselves following the separation.
Pensions (statutory, occupational and private) are also considered part of the marital property and are usually divided equally following a divorce or separation. This is especially the case if one partner’s pension contributions have been negatively impacted by family obligations, such as time taken out for pregnancy and to raise children.