We provide a step-by-step guide on how to go about getting a divorce in Switzerland, including how this affects your residency and citizenship status.
The procedures and paperwork involved vary from canton to canton in Switzerland. Swiss separation and divorce consultancy Only1life AG, which provides guidance to its clients throughout all phases of a divorce, gives a step-by-step guide of divorce proceedings in Switzerland below.
Translations for various terms are listed in the following format: English (German/French/Italian).
Only1life AG, headquartered in Pfäffikon (SZ) with a subsidiary in Munich, is a divorce and separation consultancy offering full-service support during a divorce, such as obtaining a lawyer, psychological counselling and more.
Conditions for divorce in Switzerland
In order to get a divorce (Scheidung/divorce/divorzio) in Switzerland, either you or your spouse must be a 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 in Switzerland.
In principle, the same processes apply for same-sex and heterosexual divorce and the dissolution of a marriage or a civil partnership. In practice, many cantons in Switzerland are very small; as same-sex registered partnerships (eingetragener Partnerschaft/lié par un partenariat enregistré/in unione domestica registrata) have only been recognised since 2007, some courts may not have encountered a same-sex divorce before.
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 must be given. Most courts require an agreement regarding any issues that commonly arise, such as joint property and custody of children. Getting professional legal advice on these issues is always preferable.
If one spouse files for divorce without the agreement of the other, divorce can only take place after two years of separation, i.e. physically living at different addresses. This minimum separation period may be waived in certain circumstances, e.g. domestic abuse.
Processing a divorce in Switzerland
It typically takes two months from the time the documents are submitted to the court for the case to come before a judge. At any time during this process, the court may request further information.
Documents for a divorce
The court may request whatever evidence it deems necessary. You may be expected to provide a number of documentation in order to proceed with the divorce:
- residency permit information;
- family record document (Familienausweis/certificat de famille/certificato 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 marital assets and/or children;
- prenuptial agreement, if one exists;
- income, property and tax information; and
- information about any children.
Standard division of property
In Switzerland, many spouses manage and maintain his or her own financial affairs. In this case, property brought into the marriage (e.g. savings, gifts, inheritance) and individual debts remain with the individual. Any joint property obtained or purchased during the marriage, such as furniture, real estate or securities, is divided equally.
A prenuptial contract, which must be certified by a notary, can transform this to joint ownership, where some, most or all property is owned jointly and the partners may maintain separate estates. Rarely do married couples have completely separate estates with no joint assets.
Under certain circumstances, a spouse may be expected to pay maintenance (also known as alimony) to his or her ex.-partner. This is assessed based on relative incomes, financial needs and roles in the household. This typically ends when their financial situation changes, e.g. upon remarriage, getting a job or when children become adults.
Residency and citizenship status after divorce
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 permit B and a job in your own name, permit C, or already have Swiss citizenship, your residency and that of any minor children will not be affected.
If your residency is through your spouse and you are not from the EU/EFTA states, you can apply for an extension of your residency provided you fulfil one of the following requirements:
- you have a job in Switzerland;
- you can otherwise support yourself (e.g. in retirement);
- you are integrated into the community (i.e. you can speak the language and/or are willing to work);
- 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.
Custody agreements and child support in Switzerland
Joint custody has been the standard decision for parental responsibility in Switzerland following a divorce since 1 July 2014. Sole custody may be granted in certain circumstances, e.g. if it is requested by both parents or in cases of abuse.
Any maintenance and child support payments 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 (e.g. completes education or training that allows he or she to enter paid work). As of January 2017, children of unmarried parents have the same rights as children of married couples, i.e. the custodial parent would receive child support.
Failure to pay child support is taken seriously. Each Swiss canton provides free support to help those whose former partners have failed to make payments, going so far as to make advance payments before the funds are recovered from the partner. In some cases, you may ask the court to have the outstanding payments taken directly from the wages of a noncompliant parent or ask the court to file a criminal charge.
Keeping or changing your name after divorce
You may keep the name you were known as during your marriage, but you may also change your name to the one used before your marriage at any point after the divorce. Inform your local civil registry office to begin the procedure. Note that if you remarry, you must keep your previous name.
Children keep the name they had during the marriage. It may only be changed with a valid reason, completed by filling out a name change application.