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Marriage and Divorce

Switzerland - Marriage and Divorce

If you live in Switzerland legally you will be permitted to get married. As of 1 January 2011, illegal immigrants and asylum seekers can no longer marry in Switzerland, in a move to cut down on sham marriages with Swiss citizens. You can however marry in Switzerland if you have legally entered the country as a tourist, and there are a number of English-speaking tourism operators and wedding planners who will arrange your wedding for you. You will need to submit certain documents which include newly-issued, certified copies of your birth certificates (i.e. issued within the last 6 months) and to pay fees. The process to obtain approval to marry in Switzerland can take time and you are advised to allow for at least a couple of months. Once you have been given the go-ahead, you will have 3 months in which to marry.

You are required to have a civil ceremony to be married under Swiss law, but this can be followed by a religious ceremony if you wish. You cannot have a religious service if you have not yet completed the civil marriage as it is the Registrar who issues the marriage certificate. Some of the registry offices are located in attractive and historic buildings and often efforts are made to make the room in which you are married look a little more romantic with floral decorations. Some of these rooms are on the small side so check first before bringing more than a handful of guests along. The legal age for marriage in Switzerland is 18.

If you are planning to marry and are already resident in Switzerland, you would begin by contacting the Registry Office (G: Zivilstandsamt, F: Office d'état civil). If you are marrying a Swiss citizen, they will issue your future spouse with a certificate of civil status (G: Personenstandsausweis, F: certificat individuel d'état civil). As a foreign national you will be asked to obtain similar proof of your civil status from your home country. For US citizens, who do not have a suitable equivalent document, you will be required to sign a notarised affidavit testifying that you are marrying without impediment according to the laws of your home country. You will also need a recently-issued copy of your birth certificate, legal proof of any divorce or the death of a previous spouse, and your passport. You will be advised of fees which may include additional charges for translation of your documents.

Once you have the necessary documents you must personally visit the registry office where you wish to be married. They will then consider whether you may be married there and will later give you permission in writing. You may be issued with non-legally binding guidelines on your responsibilities as a spouse which include such issues as a joint obligation to care for any children and to be a loyal, helpful and non-violent spouse.

You will not be able to marry on a Sunday or public holiday, and Saturday ceremonies are only available in a number of registry offices. The marriage ceremony required two witnesses. The bride and groom normally dress smartly for their civil ceremony and can wear traditional bridal wear if they wish. The first proceeding will be to check the identity of the couple, then guests and the wedding party will be seated and your officiant will give a speech. Following this, the couple will say "I do" and may kiss, and then will sign their names. The officiant may give a further short speech and there will be time for congratulations and photos. In busy venues, this may need to be kept short. You will need to check beforehand if you need an officiant who speaks English. Women may choose to retain their pre-marriage surname.

Your religious ceremony would need to be arranged with your place of worship and they will be able to advise on their requirements and what is and is not possible.

With regard to divorce, if you are living in Switzerland at the time you will be dealing with Swiss courts. The court will consider the divorce application and, after a 2 month consideration period and reaffirmation by both parties, will issue the decree. Division of property and making arrangements for access to and maintenance of any children can be complex and legal advice is recommended. You will not be permitted to share a lawyer. Generally women will retain the right to personal assets acquired before marriage plus an equal split of those acquired since, and the primary carer of children will retain custody. If you are a non-EU/EFTA national, your right to remain in Switzerland after divorce will depend on how long you were married (i.e. a duration of 3 years or over entitles you to greater consideration) and how well-integrated you are considered to be.

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