Divorce in Germany: All You Need To Know as a Foreigner

Divorce in Germany: All You Need To Know as a Foreigner titlecard

Like most other European countries, Germany’s divorce rates have steadily increased for the last five years. According to the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis), in 2020, 143,801 married couples divorced in Germany, whereas in 1977, this number was only 32,462. However, the German divorce rate has been decreasing since 2003, which is definitely positive.

You can get a divorce if one or both of you are German residents. If both of you are foreigners, you can get a divorce, but the German court will apply the divorce law of your home country. Before the divorce, you must live apart for one year or three years if only one partner wants a divorce.

What do you need to know about divorce in Germany as a foreigner? We got you covered. This article goes through everything you need to know regarding divorce in Germany as a foreigner.

It looks into the reasons and processes for divorce in Germany and how it affects your residence permit. The article highlights what happens if you marry in Denmark and want to get a divorce in Germany.

Reasons for divorce in Germany 

Until 1977, married couples in Germany had to provide a reason for divorce (Schuldprinzip). However, today, you don’t need to present any specific reason for the lawyer to file the divorce application.

The most common causes of divorce in Germany include:

1. Infidelity

One of the most common reasons for divorce in Germany is infidelity. It not only applies when there is repeated unfaithfulness; a one-night stand can ultimately cause one to file for divorce.

2. Domestic violence

A definite reason for divorce in Germany is spousal violence that can be physical, emotional, or psychological. 

In the case of spousal violence in the marriage, you can file for a hardship case divorce. In this situation, you don’t need to live separately for a year due to the particular hardship.

If you are affected by domestic violence, as a woman, you should go to the nearest women’s shelter as soon as possible and report the case to the police.

If you are a man, you can visit one of the few men’s shelters in Germany that offers a refuge. You can also stay with a family member or friend and then contact the police.

3. Listlessness in marriage

Listlessness refers to a lack of energy or interest in the marriage, which is mainly accompanied by the absence of sex or tenderness, which are essential in marriage. This can be seen in both partners or only in one.

Before considering divorce due to listlessness, you can view other helpful ways, such as discussing the issue and possible solutions with your partner. Additionally, you can talk to a trained therapist who will address your situation and discuss possible solutions to the problem with you.

4. Spouses no longer have a common denominator

If you realize that you and your spouse have nothing in common after a short-term marriage, German law allows you to file for divorce. 

In this situation, however, you should not rush the breakup. You can have conversations to find common ground to help you revive your marriage.

Residence permit after divorce in Germany

In Germany, losing or retaining your residence permit after divorce depends on your current permit. If it’s based on a work contract, your divorce doesn’t influence it. However, if it’s based on your marriage, how long you retain it depends on how long you’ve been married.

If your marriage is more than three years old, you’ll get an extension of one year. In case you have been married for less than three years, you’ll need to leave the country within a short period.

However, you can keep the residence permit if the separation took place before the end of three years in the following cases:


Hardship exists in cases where a foreigner can’t stay in the union due to a life-threatening reason. For instance, if your husband is a foreigner in the marriage, you can leave the marriage immediately without the fear of having to leave the country.

For the law to identify your case as a hardship, you need to have filed criminal charges in such cases or have gone to a women’s shelter.

Common child

You can have your residence permit extended if you have a child or children together. The extension is due to the assumption that the foreigner who has moved to Germany has joint parental responsibility.

The process of getting divorced in Germany

Woman leaving house while man looks at him in contemplation

Getting divorced is relatively straightforward in Germany. On average, it takes four to six months to complete the divorce process in Germany if you have no financial claims or child custody. If you have child custody and support, children’s visitation, and alimony, the process can take a few years. 

 If your spouse lives in another country, this can drag the process. For example, it can take a month or two if you need to serve your spouse in North America or the EU.

The process of getting a divorce in Germany involves the following steps:

1. One year of separation

In Germany, you can only start the divorce process after at least one year of separation (Trennungsjahr). This year of separation begins immediately after a couple has separated physically and economically, for example, when you no longer have joint bank accounts or live in the same house.

  • If you can’t move out of the house, you can still live together, but you should have separate rooms.
  • If your partner refuses to agree to the one-year separation, send him a letter (Einschreiben) communicating your intention for divorce and keep the postal receipt.

There are exceptions to the one-year separation rule, such as:

  • Your spouse being certifiably violent against you
  • You or your partner having an extramarital relationship for months 
  • One of you expecting a child from an extramarital relationship
  • Your partner does not agree to a divorce with justifiable reasons why your marriage has not ultimately failed. In this case, you’ll have to live separately for three years before you can officially get a divorce.

2. Divorce petition

After one year of divorce, one partner must file the divorce application. A lawyer can only file this application at the family court; the lawyer must be present and available to attend the divorce hearing.

There are two ways to apply for a divorce petition: hiring a lawyer yourself or using online services. The most common process is hiring a lawyer, but finding one that’s affordable when on a tight budget can be tiresome. Nonetheless, if divorce is amicable, only a filing person needs to hire a lawyer.

When filing the petition online, you need to fill out an application form, and every other communication happens via email or phone. The company you choose to work with will have a reliable partner submit your application to the courts and accompany you to the hearing.

3. Consensual divorce

After filing a petition, you and your partner need to decide whether you want a divorce. If you both agree, you’ll undergo an amicable divorce, and you only need to hire one lawyer and then share between the two of you. 

In an amicable divorce, you and your spouse can agree on the consequences of the divorce out of court. An amicable divorce is the best route, as it saves you money and time.

If you and your partner disagree, you’ll have a contentious divorce and need separate lawyers. Additionally, you’ll have to settle the dispute consequences of the divorce in court, which increases the costs and time taken for the divorce.

4. Declaration of the divorce date

The family court determines the date for the verbal declaration of the divorce, and you two must be present in person. The event is not public; therefore, only you and your partner, the attorney, and the judge are present.

The divorce date is usually straightforward if you mutually agree on the divorce. The judge only asks if you both want a divorce and if your answer is yes, there are usually no consequences to be settled. Therefore, the judge decides on the divorce and sends the response by mail.

If you both declare a waiver of appeal, the divorce is final immediately. However, a lawyer can only declare the waiver, so both partners need a lawyer for this.

If you don’t declare a waiver, the divorce becomes final one month after the delivery of the divorce decree.

Procedures at the German court

The procedure for a divorce hearing in court is pretty uncomplicated. Both spouses and their lawyers must be present at the hearing, which usually lasts only 30 minutes.

The main goal of the hearing is to confirm existing agreements, e.g., the consequences of divorce, and to clarify open divorce issues and reasons. You need to be prepared for the judge to ask specific questions about the disputes if there are any.

If spouses cannot agree, the judge will try to find alternatives. The divorce hearing usually ends with one of two possible outcomes:

  • disputes are resolved, and agreements are established
  • or a notice to schedule another court appointment to continue the proceedings

Necessary documents for divorce in Germany

In Germany, you need to submit the following documentation to start the divorce proceedings:

  • Divorce application
  • Marriage certificate 
  • Identification card
  • The birth certificates of any children you have together

All the documents must be translated into German by a certified interpreter.

How long does it take?

A typical divorce process in Germany often takes between 4 and 6 months. Here all depends on your case’s complexity and both partners’ willingness to cooperate.

Divorce alternative in Germany

Instead of going through a divorce in Germany, you can choose to annul your marriage. Annulling your marriage means that the court has terminated it due to a lack of proper registration according to the marriage regulations in Germany. 

A marriage may be annulled when:

  • The marriage is a “marriage of convenience” (Scheinehe).
  • The union has happened in the face of a marriage restriction.
  • One of the partners was not of legal age at marriage.
  • One of the partners was not legally capable of entering a marriage contract at the time of marriage.
  • The union is a result of deception or threat.

Things to consider when getting a divorce in Germany

As with any country, they are essential factors to consider when undergoing a divorce in Germany. They include:

Child custody 

If you have children in Germany, your divorce will affect them. Generally, both parents will have joint custody of their children, even after the divorce. They make decisions together about things like the children’s school, religion, and medical care.

In Germany, the court can only grant one parent sole custody of a child in special instances; for instance, the other parent has been abusive towards the child.

Child support

The parent who doesn’t live with the child must pay child support. It’s payable from the birth of a child until they turn 18 or earn their own money.

Spousal maintenance

The court may decide that one partner is eligible to receive spousal maintenance, which is separate from child support. A spouse qualified for spousal maintenance if they:

  • Cannot earn a living due to their weakness, age, or illness
  • Need maintenance for further education
  • Lost a job and can’t find another one
  • Have been taking care of the children

You are married in Denmark and want to divorce in Germany

Any married spouse can file for divorce in Germany after marrying in Denmark. However, one spouse has to have some ties to Germany through citizenship or residence. This is per the bilateral agreement concluded between Germany and Denmark in 1936.

If you both live in Germany, the marriage will be dissolved according to German law. Therefore, you must fully follow the divorce process in Germany and observe the critical steps, such as making a divorce application and completing a year of separation.

Cost of the divorce in Germany

In Germany, a divorce costs not less than €254 in court fees and €663,50 in legal fees, which is €917,50 together if the value of the proceedings is €4,000. The final expenses depend on the procedural value “Vefahrenswert” which is measured based on your and your spouse’s income.

Other factors influencing the cost of divorce in Germany include, for example, the individual circumstances and the number of children the divorce will affect.

The minimal value of the proceedings is €4,000. Hence, the minimal cost of the divorce is €917,50.

How is the value of the proceedings calculated? The following criteria are considered when estimating the procedural value of divorce in Germany:

  • the income of the spouses
  • the wealth of the spouses, e.g., properties
  • the scope of the legal proceedings

The base of direct costs for divorce in Germany is usually three times the monthly net income of you and your spouse.

Let’s say you both earn a monthly income of €5,000 (together). In this case, the base for lawyer and court fees will be around €15,000. This comes to €2,314 in lawyer fees and €706 in court fees.

If your divorce involves alimony, child custody, and other issues, the divorce’s costs will be higher. 

You may choose to represent yourself in court to lower the cost of a divorce. Nonetheless, if the divorce involves a lot of paperwork and money, it’s wise to allow a professional to deal with your case.

Do you ask who pays for all these? In Germany, both partners contribute to the costs of the divorce.

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