When can I get a divorce?

When a person assumes his/her marriage has ultimately failed, he or she may think of divorce. To prevent couples from prematurely ending their marriage, in Germany, there is a so-called "year of separation" ("Trennungsjahr") couples need to go through before the official divorce; i.e. you cannot be divorced until you live separately from your spouse for at least one year.

However, there are exceptions to this general rule:

You need to prove that you have actually been living separately for one (or three) year(s). The year of separation begins immediately after the couple separate economically and physically, i.e. when your bank accounts are not joint anymore and you no longer live in the same apartment. If moving out is not possible and you still have to live together during the year of separation, you must have separate bedrooms and live independently from each other. If your partner does not agree with the separation, it is recommended to send him a registered letter ("Einschreiben") declaring your decision for divorce and to keep the postal receipt.

Important: You can submit the divorce application shortly before the end of the year(s) of separation, as it usually takes a few months before the court issues a divorce decree.

How can I apply for a divorce?

A divorce must be applied for at the Family Court at your place of residence or that of your partner. However, you cannot apply personally, as you are obliged to be represented by a lawyer in the court ("Anwaltzwang"). In other words, you have to hire a lawyer who can submit your application to the court. On this Lawyers Database, you can find a lawyer in your area.

It suffices if one of the partners hires a lawyer to submit the divorce application to the Family Court. The other party will then be informed about the application by the court and can decide whether he or she agrees. It is also possible for both partners to apply for a divorce, but, in this case, they will each need to hire a lawyer.

What costs should I expect?

In a divorce process, the court's and the lawyers' service fees should be covered by the couple. The court fees usually amount to 450- 800 €; i.e. you and your partner each have to pay between € 225 to € 400.

To apply for divorce at the Family Court, you also need a lawyer. In case there are many unresolved issues which you and your partner cannot agree upon outside the court, your lawyer can help you find the best attainable solution for you. If you do not have a lawyer while your partner does, ultimately, the court's decisions may not be in your favour, when it comes to financial issues and custody rights.

A divorce lawyer’s service costs an average of € 1,500 to € 2,000. If there is a dispute between partners, the costs rise accordingly. When choosing a lawyer, make sure that he/she specialises in the subject of family and divorce laws. If your right of residence has been obtained through marriage, it may be helpful to hire a lawyer who is familiar with the topics of residence right and international law.

If you have little or no income, you can apply for state assistance to cover your legal costs ("Verfahrenskostenhilfe"). Your lawyer can help you to apply for it- and if your application is approved, the state will cover the legal fees of your divorce process.

What issues do I need to settle for a divorce?

Important: If you and your partner disagree on your rights and obligations after divorce, you can try mediation before taking matters to the Family Court. Mediation can save you a great deal of time and money. Mediation means you and your partner try to find a solution to all disputed issues regarding childcare, custody, etc., with the help of a consultant. You can negotiate and agree on everything- however, the court is the only authority which calculates and decides the portion of pension rights to be shared. Here you can search for a divorce mediation service in your district.

What is the divorce process like?

The first step is to hire a lawyer who can submit the divorce application to the court. The Family Court reviews your application and sends it to your partner asking for his/her response. At the same time, the court will send you and your partner some forms you must fill out, so that your pension rights will be checked to calculate the amount of pension rights which must be transferred. The calculation process can take up to six months. When everything is resolved, the court will give you an appointment for an official divorce.

You, your spouse, and your lawyer(s) must be present in the Family Court on the designated date. You and your spouse must present your ID cards, passports and (if applicable) family register. If you have married in Germany, you can ask the relevant Civil Registry Office ("Standesamt") for a copy of your family register. The Family Court sessions are not public, which means spectators or guests are not allowed in the courtroom. The court will settle any unresolved problems between you and then formally declare you divorced; i.e. issues you a "divorce decree" ("Scheidungsbeschluss").

The length of your divorce process depends on the duration of your marriage as well as your wealth. In general, if you and your spouse agree on all issues, are neither very wealthy and have not been married for long, at least four to six months can be expected before you can officially dissolve your marriage. If there are disputes over assets, maintenance payments or custody rights, or in case you have been married for a long time, the divorce process may take a year or more.

Can I lose my residence permit because of a divorce?

If you have obtained your residence permit due to your marriage, you may lose your right of residence after the divorce. If you have come to Germany through family reunification and have not applied for family asylum, your residence permit depends on the continuation of your marriage. That is also the case when your marriage is the only reason you have been issued a residence permit in Germany. The decisive factor here is the length of your marriage: If you have been married for more than three years, your residence permit will be renewed for another year after the divorce. After one year, you can apply for the right of residence in Germany independently. If you have been married for less than three years, your residence permit will usually not be extended and is often even shortened if you separate from your spouse. In other words, the Immigration Office can ask you to leave Germany after the official divorce. However, you can file a lawsuit against the shortening of your original residence permit. To do so, you need to hire a lawyer. To find a lawyer in your area who specialises in advising refugees, you can check websites like www.rechtsberaterkonferenz.de.

In certain circumstances, your residence permit will be renewed even after less than three years of marriage:

What other consequences might a divorce have?

What is an annulment of marriage ("Aufhebung der Ehe")?

The annulment of a marriage is not equivalent to a divorce. If annulled, a marriage is terminated by a court order because it was not registered according to the marriage regulations in Germany. A marriage may be annulled when: