A.) Spousal Support during the marriage (“Familienunterhalt”)
According to s 1360, 1360 a, b of the German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch) spouses in Germany are legally obliged to support each other while the marriage persists.
This means, that both of the spouses are obliged, each in relation to their own means and their own ability to work outside or inside the home, to contribute to the needs of the family. This obligation generally exists until the spouses separate in preparation for a divorce (the “year of separation” described below).
Each spouse is obligated to support the family by paying housekeeping allowance, pocket money and under special circumstances the education costs and the special needs of the other spouse:
1.) Housekeeping allowance (“Haushaltsgeld”)
Part of the family maintenance is the housekeeping allowance. Each spouse has to support the other (and the children) to meet basic needs (accommodation, food, clothes, medical support, health and pension insurance) regardless of how long they are married. If one of the spouses is unemployed, he is obliged to do the housekeeping.
There is no set formula for the amount of the allowance owed and therefore each case has to be assessed individually, based on the specific circumstances.
2.) Pocket money (“Taschengeld”)
The employed spouse is also obliged to pay the not working spouse an adequate amount of so called “pocket money”.
Unlike the housekeeping allowance, which is earmarked for the purposes described above, the pocket money is free to use by the unemployed spouse.
According to the courts, the employed spouse should pay pocket money of about 5-7% of his net income to the unemployed spouse. However, the unemployed spouse is not entitled to get pocket money if the entire income of the employed spouse is needed to pay the housekeeping allowance.
3.) Education costs (Ausbildungskosten”)
According to the German courts the employed spouse is also obliged to pay the educational costs of the unemployed spouse if the unemployed spouse started his education before the marriage started.
4.) Special needs (“Besondere Kosten”)
Special needs of one spouse, like costs for medical treatment etc., are generally not covered by the payment of the housekeeping allowance and the pocket money. Thus, if any additional expenses arise, the employed spouse might be obliged to cover these expenses.
If the employed spouse is not willing to pay either the right amount of housekeeping money or other expenses described above, the other spouse can take legal action to recover the money owed.
B.) Spousal support during the year of separation (“Trennungsunterhalt”)
In Germany a married couple can generally only file for divorce if the couple were separated for at least one year before (“Year of separation”, “Trennungsjahr”) the couple files for divorce.
During this “cooling off period” spouses are legally obliged to pay each other spousal support, again in relation to their own means and their own ability to work and to earn money.
If one spouse doesn´t want the divorce, he is not able to stop it from happening. After three years of separation the marriage is generally considered to be „irretrievably broken.“
The spouses are not automatically obligated to pay spousal support in the year of separation. Thus, the receiving spouse has to claim the spousal support from the other spouse.
Generally the spouse with the lower income is entitled to receive spousal support during the year of separation.
Spouse A is having a net income of EUR 2.300 and spouse B is having a net income of EUR 2.100. Spouse B is entitled to get 3/7 of the difference of EUR 200 (2.300 – 2.100) = EUR 85, 71.
If spouse A is not willing to pay the spousal support, spouse B can take legal action to recover the money owed.
C.) Spousal support after the divorce (“Nachehelicher Ehegattenunterhalt”)
After the divorce spouses may be obliged to pay post-marital spousal support to the other spouse.
Since this obligation is different from the obligation to pay spousal support during the year of separation, a new claim has to be made by the spouse in need.
However, after the divorce generally the principle of personal responsibility applies.
In the last years the courts in Germany became very strict to apply the principle of personal responsibility. Thus, each spouse is generally responsible for his own maintenance and cannot rely on the spousal payments for very long.
However, in many situations there is still a chance to get post-marital spousal support.
D.) Compensation for the increase in communal property (“Zugewinnausgleich”)
If no notarised marriage contract has been set up by the spouses, each party is entitled after the divorce to be compensated for half of the capital value of the assets acquired by the spouses during the marriage.
This procedure is called “Zugewinnausgleichsverfahren” The “Zugewinn” (gain) is the positive difference (gain) between the value of the property of each spouse before the marriage and its value and at the end of the marriage.
If Spouse A has more “Zugewinn” than Spouse B, Spouse B is entitled to receive the amount of money that equals half of the “Zugewinn”.
Information about the recognition of foreign divorce judgments and the enforcement of foreign alimony judgments you will find here.
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