As promised to fellow expat at Welcome to Germerica, I have decided to add this little educational segment on how does one get married in Germany…
In the U.S., you simply walk into the court house, sign some papers and wham, bam, thank you, ma’am – you’re married. (Unless you are marrying a non American – then you need to wait a whopping three days for results of a bloodtest your non American partner has to take. Sidenote: T thought the idea of taking a bloodtest was stupid but at least the U.S. trusts us when we say we are single – they don’t require a Ehefähigkeitszeugnis!!!) But I digress…
In other words: it’s not as easy in Germany.
Have I have mentioned how much the German government loooooooves red tape? I say German government because, from experience, Germans will be the first to tell you how much they hate the mountains of paperwork required to do much of anything in Germany. They aren’t quite as bad as Vogons, but sometimes when having to deal with all the requirements required of you – it kind of feels like this:
When I went to other well-known sites for expats living in Germany (specifically Toytown, Expatica, Expat Blogs, and InterNations), I kept seeing the same words over and over again:
“Get married in the States, and then have the marriage transferred to Germany.”
“The paperwork sucks!”
“Too much work – not worth it.”
I think you get the picture. I was looking through all of this right after my trip to the States in April. My first thought was “Shit, why didn’t we just do this in the states and be done with it?” But after some serious pondering, I came to the realization that I had survived getting a German Driver’s License – getting married shouldn’t be that hard.
Honestly it’s SOOOOOOO much easier than getting a German Driver’s License. But it does require of taking a lot of afternoons off from work for a bunch of meetings.
You see, getting married in a church doesn’t cut it for Germany. In fact getting married in a church is considered more symbolic than legally binding. But why? Germany actually doesn’t have a separation of church and state like the US so why take God out of marriage (so to speak). This actually comes from Martin Luther himself. He is, after all, the father of modern day Evangelisch (Germany), Lutheranism (US), or Protestantism (English). Whatever you want to call it, he believed that “marriage was a social estate of the earthly kingdom of creation, not a sacred estate of the heavenly kingdom of redemption.”¹
That being said – since it was considered part of this “earthly kingdom” then it belonged as a matter of civil law of the state and not canon law. This sort of thinking also made divorce possible (which came in very handy for a certain English king *coughHenryVIIIcoughcough*). Regardless – you want to get married in Germany, you must do a civil ceremony. This requires paperwork. And when you are not German – more paperwork. 😛
First things first – you have to make an appointment with the Standesamt (Registrar’s Office or equivalent to city/county building). As a non-German, I recommend choosing the one near where you live (and/or work). As a non-German, you will be required to get more paperwork together than the average German and this will require more meetings. Also, they are only open during weekdays and not even the whole day. So, keep the location as convenient as possible. This will mean that your civil wedding will also take place in the same city. This will also make things easier in figuring out everything that you need. You will meet with the person officiating the ceremony and they are very helpful in telling you what you need (they want this to go as smoothly as you do). They give you a list and it’s pretty straight forward:
- International Birth Certificate – The one issued through the State, not the county. It also has to have been issued within the last six months (this goes for you and your German partner who will also need a copy of their birth certificate) My parents and I learned this the hard way (concerning getting the county-issued certificate as opposed to the state). I was able to order mine online and have it sent to my parents’ house. This was necessary because the next part requires either you or someone representing you to be in the States for….
- The Apostille – This is an official seal performed by the Secretary of (your) State that authenticates your birth certificate. Without it, Germany will not accept it as they do not trust if the certificate is real or not. Either a family member will have to do this for you and mail to you in Germany, or you will have to travel home yourself and have it done….I recommend the former.
- An Official Translation of said Birth Certificate – Our dear officiate gave us a list of government approved translators and one happened to be our neighbor – she was really nice, too 😀
- Ehefähigkeitszeugnis – Essentially this is a Certificate of Free Status, or what Germany recognizes as you legally being single and therefore able to marry one of their citizens. This requires a little elbow grease. For this, you must travel either to the American Embassy in Berlin or the American Consulate in Frankfurt. This is a pain, I know; what’s an even bigger pain is that all you do is write your name (and sign) a form that says you are single, swear before the Consulate (or Ambassador) that you are single, he stamps and also signs, then you give them $50 (yes, dollars) for the honor not to mention the day off you needed to travel to one of these cities.
- A color copy of your American Passport
- Then wait……. – for about 4-5 weeks for the paperwork to get sent to the officials and you receive permission to marry. Oh yeah, you gotta wait for permission. Actually you are just waiting for the them to say that the paperwork is in order.
Those are the most basic requirements. If there are more, then they will tell you. Since I have a work visa – which is what got me to Germany to begin with – I had to also supply the last three month pay stubs. That was the easiest thing to obtain, besides the passport.
Another question (the ladies) will encounter is concerning what name will you take when you are married. The nice thing about getting married in Germany is that the office that officiates the ceremony is also in charge of the name change – convenient, no? I made the comment that I would like to keep my current last name but as a third middle name. I was met with a strange look from our dear officiate. Apparently this is a no-go in Germany. In Deutschland, women are given three options:
1. Keep your maiden name
2. Take your husband’s name
3. Keep both names and suffer having a dash (-) in between
Fortunately for my American ladies interested in marrying in Germany, you are allowed to do what I am planning to do. This is because we are American and adhere to American name changing laws. So if you are met with the same quizzical look as I, then simply direct them to this page from the US Embassy website as well as sending them a copy of the letter (that is available through this page) which explains American Name Changing Laws.
So what does this mean for wedding planning? T has known friends who have attempted the Standesamt wedding and church (Kirchliche) wedding on the same day. He doesn’t recommend it. For us, it will make things an even bigger headache because we had to organize our paperwork in Überlingen meaning the Standesamt will take place there and we are planning the Kirchliche in Thorsten’s hometown….which is about three hours away. Thus performing it on the same day is possible but honestly we don’t want that added stress. Sorry guys. But it is very common here in Germany to do the two events on different days.
So now the question on everybody’s lips: when’s the date? Well, sorry, my lips are sealed. It’s not meant in offense but the day we are counting on our anniversary is the church wedding. While the other day will make us technically married under the eyes of German law it is the church is where we will be celebrating with everyone and is, as a result, a more important day for us.
Anyway, I hope any of you expats interested in marrying in Germany find this helpful. It wasn’t difficult getting the necessary paperwork but it’s not something to wait until the last minute. It is definitely something that can be done to just “get it out of the way” for lack of better wording.
Tune in next week on how to keep your American dog cool during a hot European summer.
Bis nächste Woche!