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Marriage in Switzerland: The Rules & Regulations

Dr. Heidi Pfister-Ineichen, Attorney at Law and Partner at Studhalter & Pfister Rechtsanwälte AG explains the rules and regulations behind getting married in Switzerland.

Marriage or Cohabitation

Marriage, as a traditional form of living together, is regulated by law in Switzerland as opposed to cohabitation, which is not. Many couples prefer living together, without marrying, for tax reasons. In contrast to married couples, cohabitating partners have neither a statutory right to maintenance nor a statutory right of inheritance.

Marriage

A wedding ceremony in Switzerland must take place in accordance with Swiss law. A marriage is only possible if the foreign spouse can prove that he or she has a residence permit which is valid at the time of the marriage.

An engaged couple must personally register their application at the civil registry office, document their personal details, their free will to marry and their legal residence in Switzerland. Sufficient time should be allowed for this, especially in the case of spouses from non-EU/EFTA countries.

The marriage is entered into before the civil registrar and two adult witnesses who are of legal age. The place and time of the marriage maybe chosen freely within the framework of the legal provisions. A religious ceremony may only take place following the civil ceremony.

Names

Each spouse may keep his or her own name. Combined surnames are permitted. The couple may choose the surname of either one of the spouses as their family name. In this case, the children also receive the family name.

Finances

The spouses care for the family together and decide, based on mutual agreement , who will contribute what to the marital expenses, who will look after the children and who will take over which duties in the household. There is no legal regulation on these matters. Those who are not gainfully employed are entitled to appropriate pocket money.

Residence

A rental agreement must be signed and terminated by both spouses. If the landlord terminates the rental agreement, the notice of termination must be sent to both spouses in a separate, registered letter. This is to ensure that neither spouse can unilaterally terminate a rental agreement or in cases of ownership, sell the property against the will of the other spouse, even if he or she is the sole owner of the property.

Joint Marital Property

People living in Switzerland are generally subject to Swiss law with regards to marriage and the implications of marriage, in terms of property.

The spouses may, by written agreement or public deed, subject their personal assets to the laws of the home country of one or the other spouse. Such contracts should be drawn up a by a specialist on the matter. The advantages and disadvantages of such regulations must be examined, as must the right of domicile of both spouses.

Those who do not specify otherwise are subject to Swiss law.

The Statutory Matrimonial Property Regime: Joint Ownership of Acquired Property

The statutory matrimonial property regime is the joint ownership of acquired property. Each spouse is the owner of his or her own property. Premarital savings, what a spouse receives during the marriage free of charge such as gifts and inheritance as well as any objects of personal use are considered to be personal property. Wages, income from one’s own business, income from assets and pensions are considered to be acquired property. In the event of divorce or death, the net gains of the acquired property are to be divided equally between the spouses. Anyone who claims property as his or her own must prove this.

The statutory matrimonial property regime may be amended by a marriage contract. The law therefore allows for married couples to agree, by means of a marriage contract, that the business operations and / or the income therefrom belong to one of the spouse’s own property and therefore do not have to be divided in the event of disagreement or death. The spouses can, however, also favour each other with regards to death and state that the surviving spouse receives the entire inheritance of both spouses. Common descendants cannot contest such contracts. In such cases, they only receive their inheritance following the death of the second spouse. It should be noted that Swiss law provides for a statutory right of inheritance for the descendants and the spouse.

Married couples may also choose an alternative property regime such as the separation of property or joint property. Regardless of type, all marriage contracts must be publicly certified.

Family Reunification

Spouses from EU and EFTA countries are entitled to relocate family members to Switzerland (children up to the age of 21 and parents), provided that they were regularly supported by them prior to the marriage.

For non-EU/EFTA spouses, family reunification rights only exist if the concerned parent has a residence permit C.  As a rule, children under the age of 12 can be reunited; for children between the ages of 12 and 18, an application must be submitted within one year.

Dr. Heidi Pfister-Ineichen is an Attorney at Law and Partner at Studhalter & Meier Rechtsanwälte AG, hpi@stu-law.ch

For further information regarding our services: www.stu-law.ch

charlie.hartmann@livinginluzern.swiss

Charlie Hartmann is the managing director of the Livingin organisation which focuses on helping international residents connect, grow and thrive in Switzerland.

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