Questions and Answers on the recognition of foreign divorce
Does the divorce have to be recognised in Germany if I divorce abroad?
Divorce in another EU country is recognised in Germany without further ado, regardless of the nationality of the spouses (Attention: This does not apply to divorce in Denmark!). In addition to the divorce decree itself, the certificate according to Article 39 of Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 (of 27 November 2003 concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility), which is issued by the court in the other EU state, must then be submitted in Germany; the form is attached to the text of the regulation as Anlage I.
What are the consequences of the missing recognition of the foreign divorce?
This can lead to serious consequences, especially in the law of succession, which often links the legal right to inherit or (as far as is known) the right to a compulsory portion wholly or partly to an existing marriage. In Germany, the surviving spouse's legal share of the inheritance amounts to one quarter or, in the case of a community of gain, even half of the estate. Even in the case of testamentary disinheritance, the spouse is still entitled to half of his or her statutory share of the inheritance. This can lead to the former spouse becoming the sole heir because the foreign divorce was not recognised before the death.
It is clear that a lack of recognition restricts freedom to enter into a new marriage. As long as a divorce requiring recognition is not formally recognised in the other state, a new marriage is excluded there if the fiancé is registered there in the civil status register as "married". But even if there is no conflicting entry in the register of civil status, the marriage is then liable to prosecution for bigamy; in Germany, § 172 StGB provides for a penalty of up to three years or a fine for double marriage (§ 172 StGB).
The new marriage is considered invalid by the legal system of the State in which the divorce of the previous marriage should have gone through the recognition procedure. Under inheritance law, this can result in the new spouse's legal right to inherit, as explained above, not occurring. Because of these often unforeseen and drastic consequences of a lack of recognition, the need for recognition of a divorce should always be examined particularly thoroughly for all the states concerned.
Is it necessary to recognize the divorce that took place in the country of origin of both spouses?
It is not important how long they have been living in Germany. If one of the spouses or both have dual nationality, an entitlement to asylum or the status of a foreign refugee as well as statelessness, this so-called home-country privilege is excluded.
M and F, who are both Russian citizens, got married in Russia in 2005. They have been living in Germany since 2010 without taking German citizenship. They will divorce by mutual consent in Russia in 2020. The divorce is legally valid in Germany even without a recognition procedure.
Where can I apply for recognition of the foreign divorce?
For all other cases, jurisdiction in each federal state lies with a higher regional court (exception: in Lower Saxony with all three higher regional courts) or in Hamburg with the Hamburg judicial authority (Justizbehörde) and in Berlin with the Senate Administration for Justice:
In Baden-Württemberg ist das Oberlandesgericht Karlsruhe für die Anerkennung ausländischer Ehescheidungen zuständig:
What should be taken into account in the recognition procedure?
The procedure is in writing. The above linked websites of the State Justice Administrations mainly contain a link to a PDF document, which can be filled out on the computer, printed out, signed and sent by post to the State Justice Administration, and a list of the documents to be attached. The foreign documents are to be enclosed in the original with German translations. The translations must have been made by a translator authorized by a German state justice administration. The Landesjustizverwaltung writes to the former spouse to give him/her a legal hearing.
How long does the recognition procedure take?
If the documents are submitted in full immediately, it takes an average of 10 to 12 weeks from the application to the final decision according to the state justice administrations' own information. Delays may occur if the file of the immigration authorities or other procedural files are consulted.
Do I need to have the divorce that took place in Germany recognized in the other country?
A recognition procedure is not necessary. The nationality of the parties is irrelevant. An exception is again made for Denmark, where recognition of the divorce that has taken place in the other EU state is required in any case. The certificate under Article 39 of Regulation (EC) No. 2201/2003 (see above) for presentation in the other EU country is issued by the family court that decided on the divorce at the request of the person concerned, for which no lawyer is required (Anlage I).
In countries outside the EU, the German divorce decree will accordingly be recognised without further ado if both spouses have exclusively German nationality (home-country privilege - see above) and have, for example, conducted the divorce proceedings at the Berlin-Schöneberg District Court due to the special jurisdiction there for German nationals without a domestic residence. In this case, however, one should always additionally obtain information from the local registry office about any recognition requirement.
In some countries the recognition procedure has a scope that is equivalent to a separate divorce proceeding, e.g. in Turkey. This circumstance should be taken into account when deciding where to divorce.
Rechtsanwalt Wolfgang Sattler, Fachanwalt für Familienrecht und Fachanwalt für Sozialrecht
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