Divorce proceedings and legal costs

To file for a divorce, you need to be represented by a lawyer. The same is true, if you take the matters of support / alimony or the equalization of marital gains to court.

If it is only about getting divorced, the other spouse is not required to have legal representation.

Contrary to what you might have heard, you do not need your spouse´s consent to the divorce. A year of separation is usually enough proof that the marriage has failed.  The court also does not need any specific reasons for the divorce.

After your lawyer has filed for the divorce, the court sends the divorce papers to your spouse (or his lawyer).

If the court is not required by law or otherwise not asked by one of the parties to equalize the pension claims, it then sets the date for the divorce hearing. Otherwise it informs the pension companies of the procedure and asks them to provide information on pension claims which have been acquired during the marriage. The gathering of information on that usually takes several months and the spouses have to participate in the process.

During the ongoing proceedings it makes sense to decide, if other matters (Folgesachen) should be introduced into the divorce procedure. If there is a dispute concerning the postmarital (after divorce) spouse support / alimony, it makes sense to ask the court for a ruling on that, together with the divorce decision. You should contact your lawyer and discuss that question with him or her at the very latest when you are informed of the date of the divorce hearing. If you apply for postmarital support after the divorce in a separate court procedure you will face much higher expenses.  The same is true for the equalization of marital gains. 

Speaking of the cost: 

Most legal costs in Germany are tied down to the "value  of the matter" (Streitwert,  Verfahrenswert). Different matters of the (divorce) proceedings have different values.

In the most basic divorce procedure you only have the "value" of the divorce itself. The "value" is set by law to the combined income of both parties, multiplied by three.

An example:

Monthly net income husband                     2.000,00 €

Monthly net income wife                             2.000,00 €

The "value of the matter" would be 4.000,00 x 3 = 12.000,00 € in this case. This sum is not to be confused with the cost, it´s just a calculation basis.

What legal cost result from this?

There are tables in which you could look that up:

Court fees (share for each spouse)                 267,00 €

Your lawyer´s fees                                           1.820,70 €

Now let´s say you also have applied for spouse support to the monthly amount of 1.000,00 €. The "value" of this claim is also 12.000,00 € (1.000,00 x 12 in this case, i.e. the yearly value of support payments).

So you would have a combined value of 24.000,00 €, leading to these legal costs:

Court fees (share for each spouse)                 371,00 €

Your lawyer´s fees                                           2.368,10 €

Your lawyer´s fees may be higher in that case, if you settle the matter of alimony in court.

Germany has a state help system for individuals who cannot afford to pay the legal fees. In family law it is called Verfahrenskostenhilfe (VKH).  Your lawyer will apply for that, if it is obvious that your income or your assets are not sufficient to pay for his work. The German state will then initially pay for all your legal expenses. But there is some chance that the state will want to have its money back, if your income or your assets improve during four years after the divorce. The court will write to you several times during this period and ask to provide proof on current income and assets.  

What else to do after the divorce?

First, the divorce decision needs to gain legal validity (Rechtskraft). This happens automatically after a month, if none of the parties appeal  the divorce decision (this is quite rare) or any of the court´s decisions on related matters, like postmarital support. If both parties have legal representation in the divorce hearing, they can waive their right to appeal and make the divorce take effect immediately.

There is nothing like a "divorce certificate" in Germany. The only proof of the divorce is the court´s written ruling on it, which you get from the court or your lawyer, if you had one.

If you are a foreigner and your marriage has been registered in your home country, you will probably want to have the divorced legally recognized in your home country.  Usually you will need an apostille (Apostille) for that. This is an internationally accepted proof of the authenticity of a legal document. You get the apostille (it is a piece of paper that is physically attached to the divorce ruling) from the higher court (Landgericht), which often but not always is located in the same court building as the family court that has handled your divorce. After that you need to present the divorce decision with the apostille  to the authorities of your home country.