Getting a divorce in Switzerland
An introduction to your rights and responsibilities when a marriage is ending, and a guide on how to file for divorce in Switzerland.
If you are filing for divorce in Switzerland, there are several procedures and requirements for processing the divorce.
In order to get a divorce (Scheidung / divorce / divorzio) in Switzerland, either you or your spouse must be resident in Switzerland, and have lived there for at least one year. The divorce application must be submitted to the court in the canton where one or both of you resides. Find a divorce court online.
The technicalities and paperwork involved vary from canton to canton across Switzerland. The article below gives a general overview, but it's important to consult a lawyer or other professional for individual advice.
In principle, the same processes apply for same-sex and heterosexual divorce, for the dissolution of a marriage or a civil partnership. In practice, many cantons in Switzerland are very small and as same-sex marriage has only been legal since 2007, some courts may not have encountered a same-sex divorce before. Same-sex marriage is technically a 'registered partnership' (in eingetragener Partnerschaft / lié par un partenariat enregistré / in unione domestica registrata).
Throughout this document, translations are listed in the following format: English (German/French/Italian).
Conditions for divorce in Switzerland
If both spouses file for divorce together, the process is fairly simple. The two must write a letter to the court stating they both want a divorce. No reasons need to be given. Most courts require an agreement on how to deal with any issues arising (typically joint property and custody of children). It's advisable to get legal advice on this issue.
If one spouse files for divorce without the agreement of the other, then divorce can only take place after two years of separation (physically living at different addresses). The time delay may be waived in certain circumstances, including domestic abuse.
Processing a divorce in Switzerland
It typically takes two months from the time the documents are lodged with the court for the case to come before a judge. At any time during this process, the court may request further information.
The court may request whatever evidence it deems necessary. Expect to provide:
- residency permit information;
- family record document (Familienausweis / le certificat de famille / il cosiddetto atto di famiglia) – you may not have this unless you got married or had a child in Switzerland;
- formal petition for divorce;
- agreement on how to deal with issues arising;
- pre-nuptial agreement, if one exists;
- income, property and tax information;
- information about any children.
Standard division of property
In Switzerland, the default is that during marriage each spouse manages and maintains their own financial affairs. Property brought into the marriage (eg. savings, gifts, inheritance) and individual debts remain with the individual. Any joint property obtained is divided equally.
A pre-nuptial contract can transform this to joint ownership, where some, most or all property is owned jointly – otherwise the default situation will apply.
Under certain circumstances, a spouse may be expected to pay maintenance to their ex. This is assessed based on relative incomes, financial needs and roles in the household. This typically ends when their financial situation changes, eg. upon remarriage, getting a job or when children grow up.
Residency and citizenship status
If your residency permit is in your spouse's name and tied to their job, divorce may affect your right to live and work in Switzerland.
If you have a B permit and a job in your own name, a C permit, or already have Swiss citizenship, your residency and that of any minor children will not be affected.
If your residency is through your spouse, you can apply for an extension of your residency. Common grounds for an extension are:
- that you have a job in Switzerland;
- that you can otherwise support yourself (eg. in retirement);
- that you are integrated into the community;
- that you cannot return to your country of origin.
Claims are less likely to succeed if the marriage lasted less than three years or you were primarily resident outside of Switzerland during your marriage.
As of 1 July 2014, joint custody is now standard in Switzerland. Sole custody may be granted in certain circumstances, eg. if it is requested by both parents or in cases of abuse.
Any maintenance and child support should be agreed upon by the couple and approved by the court. Typically, child maintenance payments are around 10–15 percent (one child) or 20–25 percent (two children) of net income of the parent without custody, or less if they undertake childcare and do not apply in joint custody cases. Responsibility ends when a child reaches age 18 or becomes self-supporting (eg. enters paid work).
Failure to pay child support is taken seriously, and it can be taken directly from the wages of a non-compliant parent.
You may keep the name you were known as during your marriage. You can revert to the name used before your marriage at any point after the divorce by informing the civil registry office.
By default, children keep the name they had during the marriage. If the parent with sole custody has or reverts to a different name, they may apply to have the children's names changed to this one.
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Updated from 2011.
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