Marriage and civil partnerships
Non-Swiss couples can get married or enter into a civil partnership in Switzerland provided that at least one of the partners is resident in the country. The conditions and procedures are set out in articles 94 and onwards of the Swiss Civil Code (CC) and in the Same-Sex Partnership Act (SSPA).
Note that all references on this page to marriage or weddings should be understood to apply equally to civil partnerships, unless explicitly stated otherwise.
You and your partner must:
- be of opposite sexes in the case of marriage or of the same sex in the case of a civil partnership;
- both be aged 18 or over;
- both consent to the marriage;
- not be related to one another (first-degree relatives or siblings);
- not already be married or in a civil partnership (i.e. a previous marriage not annulled, divorced or dissolved).
Furthermore, the registrar can refuse to authorise your marriage if they believe that you are trying to circumvent rules governing entry to or residence in Switzerland. An existing marriage can be annulled for the same reason.
Marriage and civil partnerships in Switzerland are fairly lengthy procedures. Before the ceremony itself, you have to take a few steps with the registry office (office de l’état civil / Zivilstandsamt) in the place of residence of the bride or groom. The purpose of these preparatory steps is to verify the couple’s identities, make sure that they are eligible to get married and check their residence status.
Having completed these preparatory steps, you have three months to get married from the date on which you receive authorisation (if the wedding doesn’t take place within these three months, you will have to start the process from the beginning again).
The wedding takes place in the registry office or other designated venue of the district where you choose to marry (which does not necessarily have to be your place of residence). The ceremony is officiated by the local registrar, and must be witnessed by two adults capable of discernment (exccept in the case of a civil partnership, for which witnesses are not required).
In Switzerland, the official wedding is a purely civil affair; the newlyweds can, if they wish, have a religious ceremony later, but the civil ceremony must come first.
Recognition of foreign marriages or civil partnerships
A marriage between partners of the opposite sex celebrated abroad will almost always be recognised in Switzerland, provided it does not violate Swiss law. If you live in Switzerland but go abroad to get married, you can ask the Swiss embassy in the country of your marriage to register the marriage in Switzerland. This isn’t obligatory but it may make life easier in the future when undertaking procedures in Switzerland as your marriage will already be on record.
Same-sex marriages celebrated in a country that allows it are considered as civil partnerships in Switzerland, i.e. the partners have the same rights as registered partners but will not, for example, have the right to facilitated naturalisation on the basis of marriage.
Civil partnerships concluded abroad may or may not be recognised in Switzerland – for example, the French PACS is not recognised, so a PACSed couple would have to conclude a new partnership or marriage in Switzerland in order to benefit from the same rights.
Matrimonial property regimes
Swiss law defines three different types of matrimonial regime dictating what happens to the your assets in the event of divorce or death:
- Contribution to jointly acquired property
- Joint estate
- Separate estates
You can choose which regime to use during the marriage application procedure with the registrar. If you don’t indicate which regime you want to apply, “contribution to jointly acquired property” applies by default.
If you choose one of the other two regimes (joint estate or separate estates), you will need to draw up a contract certified by a notary. You can either stick to the standard provisions of the regime that you choose or customise it to suit your wishes.
Contribution to jointly acquired property
This matrimonial regime, set out in articles 196 and onwards of the CC, is the most common matrimonial regime and the one applicable by default. It separates the estate into property acquired during the marriage on the one hand, and each spouse’s personal property. This means that each spouse possesses two sets of assets: their personal estate and their half of the acquired estate.
How to determine which is which? As a general rule, anything that is not part of one spouse’s personal estate must be jointly acquired property. So, for example, household property is part of the joint estate. Some examples of each are given below.
Your personal property includes:
- personal items used exclusively by you, e.g. clothes, musical instruments;
- assets that you owned before the marriage or received as part of an inheritance or gift, e.g. a house or flat purchased before marriage;
- damages awarded to you personally in a civil case;
- assets acquired in place of other personal assets, e.g. if you sell your clothes, which are considered personal to you as noted above, the money that you receive in exchange remains part of your personal estate.
Other personal property can also be specified in a prenuptial agreement.
Jointly acquired property covers assets earned by one of the spouses during the marriage, such as:
- both of your salaries;
- pension, insurance or social benefit payments;
- compensation for an incapacity to work;
- income from personal property
- assets acquired in place of other jointly acquired assets.
Any debts associated with jointly acquired assets are the responsibility of both spouses, while debts associated with personal property are the sole responsibility of that spouse.
Under this matrimonial regime, set out in articles 221 and onwards of the CC, each spouse has their own personal property and they share a joint estate.
The joint estate includes all assets and earnings that are not considered personal property by law and is completely shared by the spouses – neither one can use joint assets unilaterally.
Personal assets stipulated by law are those for exclusively personal use as well as damages awarded in a civil case. It is therefore much more limited than personal property under the “contribution to jointly acquired property regime” as it doesn’t include assets that each spouse owned before the marriage. Existing assets and inheritances are part of the joint estate.
If one spouse dies or the couple changes to a different matrimonial regime, the joint estate is split equally between the two spouses.
Under this matrimonial regime, set out in articles 247 and onwards of the CC, each spouse retains full ownership of their own assets and takes them with them in the event of divorce. If one spouse dies, his or her assets will be liquidated according to the rules on inheritance only.