If you’re planning on getting married in Switzerland, this guide explains the processes and documentation required to legally wed in Switzerland.
Once you’ve decided to get married in Switzerland, then the paperwork begins. Getting married or entering into a civil partnership in Switzerland is relatively straight forward. Unlike buying a house or starting school, getting married follows a similar procedure everywhere in Switzerland, although there are some variations by canton.
Throughout this document, translations are listed in the following format: English (German/French/Italian).
Paperwork for getting married in Switzerland
In Switzerland, both heterosexual and same-sex marriages are legally recognised. A heterosexual marriage is called heart / mariage / matrimonio and the ceremony a ‘civil wedding’ (standesamtliche Trauung / mariage civil / matrimonio civile), while same-sex marriage is referred to as a ‘civil partnership’ or a ‘registered partnership’ (in eingetragener Partnerschaft / lié par un partenariat enregistré / in unione domestica registrata) and the ceremony ‘registering a partnership’ (Partnerschaft eintragen / enregistrement du partenariat / far registrare la loro unione).
Both relationships are treated almost the same way and the procedure is nearly identical. You must be over 18 and not already married or in a civil partnership in order to marry or enter a civil partnership.
You and your future spouse need to present the same documents to the local civil registry office (Zivilstandsamt / l’office de l’état civil / l’ufficio dello stato civile) to apply for authorisation for the ceremony. Only a civil ceremony at a registry office creates a legally binding union. Find your local civil registry office in Switzerland to apply.
Processing the application typically takes five weeks, as it includes the publication of the bans. Publication of the bans is a formality where your intention to marry is made public, to allow anyone who might have knowledge of a legal impediment (eg. an existing marriage) time to notify the registrar. The ceremony must take place no less than 10 days and no more than three months after authorisation is granted.
The ceremony will typically cost CHF 300–400 for a heterosexual couple, or CHF 400–500 for a same-sex couple. There may be additional fees for a Saturday service. Documentation, translation, religious ceremonies and any other celebrations, including those held at the registry office, will also cost extra.
Documentation for Swiss weddings
You will have to prove your civil status (ie. that you have never been or are no longer married or in a civil partnership), as well as your identity and residential status. This typically involves sourcing official documents from your birth country or country of nationality. Your foreign documents may also require an ‘Apostille’ stamp in order for them to be officially recognised in Switzerland. This needs to be obtained from the same country as where the documents originated (eg. your home country) – so give yourself plenty of time.
All documents proving marital status (birth certificate, divorce certificate and so on) must be less than six months old. They must also be original copies from the issuing body in the relevant country. Please note, a notarised translation is typically required for any documents not in French, German or Italian.
Expect to provide:
- proof of Swiss nationality or proof of residency if neither of you have Swiss nationality;
- birth certificate;
- proof of marital status (e.g. divorce certificate) plus an affidavit or other documentation from your home country proving you are free to marry.
Family record document
Traditionally the primary official document in Switzerland is the family record document (Familienausweis / le certificat de famille / il cosiddetto atto di famiglia). You may be asked to produce that of your parents during pre-wedding preparations. If you do not have one, additional documentation will be required.
After the wedding ceremony is complete, you will be presented with your own family record document.
Wedding ceremonies in Switzerland
All Swiss weddings must include a civil ceremony – which takes place at a registry office – in order for the marriage to be legally valid. This means that for all faiths the religious ceremony is separate from the legal proceedings. As a result, there are no limitations on what religious ceremonies you have, nor are there any requirements.
The civil service will, by default, take place in the commune in which one or both of you live, or the associated administrative area. You may request a change of venue when you submit your paperwork. Many of the registry offices are in beautiful, old buildings and have limited space for guests so ensure you ask for a tour before you commit yourself. Weddings cannot take place on Sundays or public holidays.
For heterosexual couples, the ceremony must be witnessed by two adults. You may choose your own witnesses. If not, the registrar’s staff will usually step in. Same-sex couples are not required to have any witnesses.
The ceremony will be performed in the local language (German, French or Italian). If either of you do not fully understand this language, you will need to supply a translator. They do not usually have to be a certified professional but must be competent.
Swiss marriage certificate
There is an additional charge if you want a copy of your marriage or partnership certificate. Request it in advance if you wish to collect it at the end of the ceremony. Otherwise your family book will serve as adequate proof of your marriage.
Since 1 January 2013, spouses keep their original surnames by default, which is a dramatic reversal of previous conventions. You may choose to share a surname, in which case it must be either hyphenated or one of your original surnames, not a new invention.
Swiss visas and permits
Once you’re married to an EU/EEA or Swiss national, you can apply for a Swiss visa or permit to join your partner and live in Switzerland. Read more about moving to Switzerland to join a relative or partner.
Marrying a Swiss citizen does not automatically grant you Swiss citizenship, however, it does make the path easier. You may only apply for citizenship after a minimum of three years of marriage (six years if you are not resident in Switzerland). Read more on getting citizenship in Switzerland.
Children of unmarried mothers must take their mother’s surname and are considered a part of her family (appearing on her family document). If the mother is married at the birth, her spouse is considered the father, unless proven otherwise. If marriage takes place after the birth of a child, that child will normally have to be adopted by the new spouse if they wish to have the full rights of a parent. In 2014, this traditional situation has been contested in parliament so if you have children who may be affected, be sure to check the details before making a decision.
Property ownership and taxes
It’s no surprise that getting married affects your tax liabilities and the details vary from couple to couple. However, it’s worth noting that Switzerland has a very strict inheritance system and simply making a will is not enough to change how property is divided. Consult a lawyer if you have, for example, children from a previous relationship who need to be taken care of.
By default, each spouse retains ownership and management of any property they bring to the marriage or that is given to them individually during the marriage. Joint property is divided equally when the marriage ends.
Prenuptual and post-wedding agreements are valid in Switzerland. They must be signed in the presence of a notary and comply with Swiss law. Be aware that your ability to alter the standard inheritance and matrimonial property situation is limited.