How to Divorce in #Germany

In case you missed it on Twitter, my divorce finally came through. Well, almost.

Like everything in Germany, there was a boatload of paperwork involved and although I got what I thought was the official divorce document from the court (stamped and sealed and signed and all that jazz), the foreigner’s office where I’m trying to renew my visa says I’m still registered as married. It’s a formality, they said, but I have to take this document somewhere and show it to someone and that person will then make it official. But like most of German bureaucracy, the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing (and everyone wants their hands in your life), so just who this someone is and where that somewhere is remains unclear.

It figures. Although I tend to not care about the German state’s way of trying to know and control every movement made by its citizens — I’ve yet to be affected adversely by, say, them knowing my religion — sometimes the bullshit paperwork involved in proving these movements to heartless bureaucrats reaches critical mass. If I showed up in court and got a judge to sign off on the paperwork agreeing to the divorce, why can’t the judge just let the city know and they update my record tout suite? Because: Germany.

So although I started the divorce process over three years ago, the ex and I still officially celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary last month.

I wonder what anyone doing genealogy on us in 100 years will think when they see that the divorce hasn’t gone through before his second child arrives… is that child considered a bastard even though it’s technically Germany’s fault he can’t marry the mother? Maybe I need to hang on to the hundreds of pages of paperwork I had to fill out for the divorce hearing so our future ancestors so they can piece together just what the hell happened. Because seriously, I can’t figure it out myself.

In short, this is the legal process we’ve had to go through to get a divorce so far:

1. Move into separate addresses and register those with the city. Easy for me, not so much for him. In the US, where he lived when we split, no one has to register with anyone. In Germany, they didn’t accept his non-residency despite his being non-registered so they just had him listed as “unknown” for the better part of the first year of our split. This is important because technically, you cannot divorce if you are living together. You have to prove that you have lived apart for one year before a marriage is considered irreconcilable. So, for us, we had to wait for one year after he came back to Germany and registered before we could file the split. For anyone else doing this internationally, I’m told by a friend who had this experience that if the dude isn’t in Germany and is technically a “no-show” on their records, you actually can proceed with a divorce after a year but my lawyer advised me to wait, just in case.

2. After the year is up, you can file a request for a divorce hearing. I did this through a lawyer so the process was foreign to me, but here was the kicker of all the ridiculous paperwork I did confirming our assets: all alimony and splitting of belongings is determined based on the date of the divorce filing, not the first date of separation. So dude has a year to move all his funds to places out of reach of his future ex-wife. My lawyer says this is the absolute bullshit of the legal system but since Germany is a feminist country and alimony isn’t *really* considered necessary since men and women have equal rights to work and earn a wage (cough, hack, cough), it is what it is. Thankfully, I never married a millionaire but you better believe if I ever meet up with Til Schweiger or Count von der Geld, I’m either signing a pre-nup or divorcing him in the US.

3. Because I’m a foreigner, the next step was to sit back and wait. And wait. And wait. At some point, the court asked the pension office for files on us and when it came back that there were years missing from our working life, both the ex and I had to fill out reams of forms documenting our jobs/earnings from the time we were 16. Thoroughly. As in, to the month. Do you know how many second jobs I had at college? I don’t even remember them all. The good news is: I now know how many pennies I will get each month from the German pension system should I stay here for a minimum of 15 years and hit retirement. The bad news is: those holes in our Lebenslauf were to be filled by the US Social Security Administration who adamantly refused to hand over any of our records. Because: privacy. Funny that, isn’t it? America respecting our privacy about something. Despite three separate requests from the Deutsche Rentenversicherung to the SSA, those holes just went unverified. We should’ve just told the Germans to ask Facebook for that info since Zuckerberg seems to know everything there is to know about everyone but since my ex was a social media hold-out, it would’ve been lopsided. Instead they did something unheard of in German bureaucracy: they agreed to overlook the unverified years so we could proceed. 18 months later.

4. Finally, almost three years to the day our split should’ve been recognized officially, we sat across from each other in a drab courtroom on the 11th floor of Cologne’s ugliest building and told the judge that we didn’t want to be married anymore and he read some sort of formal document out loud and after five minutes, we were done.

Waited three blasted years for those five minutes. Ugh.

And then the not-so-official official-looking paper came in the mail. Now, to just figure out who needs to see it to recognize the divorce and I’ll be dancing with Beyonce…


3 thoughts on “How to Divorce in #Germany

  1. No Apathy Allowed June 10, 2014 / 1:06 pm

    Oh my god, what a nightmare! It’s so clear that Germany is a traditional family-oriented state, making it as difficult as it possibly can be to end a marriage. Good luck on the final step and hope you’ll be dancing soon!

    • Milly June 10, 2014 / 1:34 pm

      Thanks! I think it has something to do with the alt-modische Catholicism here in the Rheinland. It may not be so difficult elsewhere. Also, for another post is the totally respectable but also utopian idea that people are adults and should be able to handle their own issues without the help of a court. It’s why this posting is only about divorce and not custody. Custody, according to the Germans, is something to be handled by the parents, not the courts. Thankfully for me that’s the case, but I know a guy who’s been battling for custody for 14 years. AHHHH!!

  2. kindikat June 13, 2014 / 7:19 pm

    Wow what a huge process to go through. Did you find out where you have to go to get it finally all official? I wanna buy you a drink once its all final xxxxx

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