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Marriage, divorce and inheritance for expats in Switzerland

As an expat living in Switzerland, a lot can happen in your personal life. Do you want to get married? Are you planning a divorce? What laws apply to foreign nationals?

  • The purpose of the Federal Code on Private International Law (CPIL) is to regulate certain aspects of private law with at least one foreign feature (whether the parties are of different nationalities, reside in different countries, or are bound by commitments made in a country other than their country of residence).
  • The Federal Act on Foreign Nationals (FNA) determines the conditions for the right to family reunification if the spouse is a foreigner.

Marriage in Switzerland

Wedding

Conditions

A marriage may be celebrated by the Swiss authorities if one person is domiciled in Switzerland or has Swiss nationality. If one of the future spouses is not a Swiss citizen, he or she must provide proof that he or she is authorised to stay in Switzerland until the marriage ceremony.

The celebration of the marriage may be refused if there are suspicions of a ‘sham marriage’, i.e. a marriage intended to circumvent the provisions on the admission and residence of foreigners.

During the marriage, the rules of Swiss law apply to spouses domiciled in Switzerland.

Surname

Options

The name of a foreigner domiciled in Switzerland is generally governed by Swiss law.

Two options are given during the wedding ceremony:

  • Both spouses choose to use the same name (one or the other)
  • Each spouse keeps his or her name

However, a person may request that his or her name be governed by his or her national law.

Matrimonial regimes

Choice

Spouses domiciled in Switzerland may choose the matrimonial regime offered by Switzerland or offered by a country in which one of them is a national. This choice, must be made in writing and may be amended at any time.

If no choice is made (including the absence of a marriage contract), the matrimonial regime is governed:

  • by the law of the country in which both spouses are domiciled at the same time or, if this is not the case;
  • by the law of the country in which the two spouses were last domiciled at the same time;
  • if the spouses have never been domiciled at the same time in the same country, their common national law is applicable;
  • spouses who have never been domiciled in the same country and do not have a common nationality are subject to the Swiss system of division of property.

Residence permit

Permits

Marriage to a person of Swiss nationality or in possession of a B permit entitles you to the B permit and an extension, provided you live together. The right to a C permit is obtained after five years of uninterrupted legal residence. After this period, a foreigner married to a Swiss national may apply for facilitated naturalisation.

The marriage will be annulled if it appears that one of the spouses does not want to found a conjugal union but rather circumvent the provisions on the admission and residence of foreigners.

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Registered partnership

In Switzerland, same-sex couples can enter into a registered partnership that puts them on an equal footing legally with married couples in all areas, with two exceptions: partners may not adopt or use medically assisted procreation.

Divorce in Switzerland

When both spouses are domiciled in Switzerland, divorce and legal separation are governed by Swiss law.

Where the spouses have a common foreign nationality and only one of them is domiciled in Switzerland, their common national law shall apply.

The Hague Convention is applicable to alimony issues during and after divorce.

Residence permit

Divorced spouses may - under certain conditions - remain in Switzerland following a divorce.

Inheritance in Switzerland

When a foreign national domiciled in Switzerland dies, the Swiss authorities are entitled to take the necessary measures to settle his or her estate, unless it is indicated in the will that his or her national law should apply.

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