Marriage and civil partnerships in Germany are both legal unions, but you will need to present certain documents to lawfully get married in Germany.
Marriage and civil partnerships are the forms of legal union in Germany. Marriage is protected under the Constitution while civil partnerships were introduced in 2001.
An overview of partnership options in Germany
Marriage in Germany
A legal contract between a man and a woman and protected under the German constitution. Marriage affords rights to couples in many areas including taxation, pensions and adoption.
The popularity of marriage in Germany has seen a reasonably consistent decline since 1960, in line with many countries in the EU. In 19060 the rate of marriage was 9.5 per 1,000 inhabitants, but had fallen to 4.7 in 2010.
Civil partnerships in Germany
A legal union between same-sex couples. It offers many of the same rights as marriage, including taking of names, pension and health insurance, immigration and pensions. There are also some aspects in which civil partnerships do not currently enjoy the same rights, specifically in the areas of taxation and adoption.
Civil partnerships were introduced in Germany in 2001 under the Eingetragene Lebensgemeinschaft (Life Partnership Act), which gave same-sex couples legal recognition of their status.
The number of same-sex households in Germany has grown from 38,000 in 1996 to 67,000 in 2011. Of these, 40 percent have registered as a civil partnership – an increase from 19 percent in 2006.
What they mean
Being married in Germany affords rights to couples that civil partnership does not. Part of the reason for this is because the institution of marriage is protected under the German constitution, which states that: “Marriage and the family shall enjoy the special protection of the state.” Married couples enjoy benefits in the areas of taxation, health and pension insurance, pensions and tenancy. In the area of tax relief married couples receive a benefit, while those in civil partnerships do not (nor do single parents and unmarried parents.
However, in the area of immigration a foreigner marrying a German citizen does not automatically attain German nationality, although they may apply for it. The duration of time for citizenship depends on the non-German bride or groom’s country of origin.
Civil partnership in Germany provides for many of the same rights as marriage. It affords key rights to couples such as in matters of adoption, tenancy and inheritance rights. The law is also important for foreigners who wish to live in Germany as civil partnership can guarantee an unlimited residence permit (unbefristete Aufenthaltserlaubnis) and may help when arranging a work permit. Couples may also take each other’s names, obtain a settlement in the event of a separation. They must also support each other financially.
Since the introduction of civil partnerships in 2001 there has been a gradual expansion of the rights enjoyed by same-sex couples, principally as a result of court rulings. In 2004 the German parliament extended additional rights to same-sex couples meaning that:
- Same-sex couples cannot be compelled to testify against each other in court;
- Surviving partners qualify for the state pension;
- Partners can adopt the biological children of the other partner (although they cannot adopt children as a couple).
Currently same sex couples do not enjoy the same taxation rights as married couples. However recent events have challenged this position. In July 2012 the First Senate declared privileges for married couples in respect to taxes on property purchase to be unconstitutional, while in August 2012 a German court ruled that homosexual couples in a civil union should receive the same tax benefits as heterosexual married couples.
Additionally, in 2010 the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that a portion of the tax code requiring gay couples to pay a larger inheritance tax than partners in heterosexual marriages was unconstitutional. Before the ruling the German tax code required gay couples to pay between 17 and 50 percent in inheritance tax upon the death of a partner, while heterosexual married partners were required to pay between 7 and 30 percent.
Finally, same-sex marriages recognised abroad are automatically recognised as registered partnerships in Germany.
The procedure for getting married in Germany
The procedure for either getting married or having a civil partnership is exactly the same. You and your partner must visit the local registry office (Standesamt) located in the Town Hall (Rathaus), and give notice of the impending marriage (Antrag auf Eheschlielung). You must have been living in the locality for at least 21 days. One partner may attend on their own if the other has given a power of attorney to act on their behalf. Check on the opening hours before you visit, as offices are often only open for a couple of hours during the week.
Documentary requirements vary by region but may include the following:
- Official Statement of Residency (Meldebescheinigung)
- Original long form birth certificate (with parents’ names)
- Birth certificates of any children that the couple have had together
- Certificate of No Impediment (CNI) (Befreiung vom Ehefähigkeitszeugnis)
- Affidavit confirming both parties are single (Ledigkeitsbescheinigung)
- Marriage questionnaire (from the registry office)
- Certificate of finality of divorce (if applicable)
- Marriage certificates from any previous marriages
- Death certificate of previous spouse (if applicable)
- Confirmation of name change (if applicable)
- Financial statement
All documents must be translated into German by a sworn interpreter. In addition, documents must have been issued within the previous six months. As a result you may have to apply for new versions of your documents.
For marriages where either the groom or the bride is not German, the documents are sent to the Higher Regional Court of Nurnberg (Oberlandesgericht Nurnberg), which verifies the legal status of the couple. This office then sends everything back to the Standesamt.
The period between submitting the documents and the wedding ceremony is quite short, usually between 2 – 6 weeks. However, once the registry office has processed the documents a couple must get married within 6 months. Otherwise the process must be started again. The registrar’s fee is approximately EUR 65.
It is mandatory for both spouses to attend the civil wedding ceremony, which is held in the registry office local to one of the parties. You may choose a registry office in another location, although two fees will be charged. If a religious ceremony is also being held this must follow the civil ceremony. Witnesses are not required at civil ceremonies, although it is possible to have them. If you are using witnesses you must notify the registrar of their names at least eight days before the wedding and any witnesses must be able to prove they are over 18. You must also have a translator or interpreter at the ceremony, unless both you and your witnesses speak German fluently. Also, the translator cannot be one of the betrothed.