In accordance with the general principles of constitutional and international law, court judgments and similar sovereign acts only have direct legal effect within the territory of the state in which they were passed or performed. Every state is free to determine whether and under which conditions it will recognize foreign sovereign acts, insofar as it is not bound to do so by treaty.
The dissolution of a marriage is thus basically only valid in the state in which it was dissolved. In Germany a marriage dissolved abroad continues to be viewed as still in existence. For example, the man and wife continue to be listed as such in German civil status records and registers of residents until the foreign divorce has been recognized (a “limping marriage”). It is thus not possible to enter into a new marriage in Germany before the divorce has been recognized, as it would be bigamous.
Only once the foreign judgment has been recognized by the competent Land Department of Justice, the marriage can be considered as truly dissolved. If none of the spouses ever had a place of residence in Germany, the Senate Administration of Justice in Berlin (Senatsverwaltung für Justiz in Berlin) will be responsible for processing the divorce recognition.
When is a recognition of a divorce decree not necessary?
Orders in matrimonial matters which were made in an EU state (other than Denmark)
Only in exceptional cases, formal recognition of foreign judgements in matrimonial matters is unnecessary, for example, divorce judgments from Member States of the European Union. These decisions will be recognized in the other Member States without requiring any separate judicial proceedings for recognition. The nationality of the parties is not relevant. Nor are any special proceedings now required for amending German civil status records, provided the judgement is absolute and final and not subject to any appeals in the Member State in which it was passed. Recognition proceedings are thus not necessary for judgements from EU Member States (with the exception of Denmark).
For a divorce to be recognized, you must provide the divorce decree and a special certificate obtained from a court or authority in the Member State where the divorce was obtained. This certificate must take a certain form (see Articles 37 and 39 in conjunction with Annex 1 to the EU Regulation).
Decisions taken by the parties' state of origin
If the divorce was decreed by a court or authority of the state whose sole nationality the parties had at that date, and neither of them was subject to an alternative civil status regime (e.g. as a stateless alien, asylum seeker or foreign refugee), then formal recognition is unnecessary. Insofar as there is a particular legal interest in having a divorce recognized, formal recognition may be applied for. A legal interest is given if for example they need to submit a binding declaration of their civil status for a case arising from the divorce or for registration or taxation purposes.
Please note that if you were a dual citizen at the time of the divorce, this exception does not apply and a formal recognition is necessary.
Which documents do I have to complete?
It is the department of justice of the Land where one of the spouses has his/her habitual abode that has jurisdiction. If neither of the parties is resident in Germany and the new marriage is to be entered into abroad, the Senate Department for Justice in Berlin has jurisdiction.
On the website of the Senate Department for Justice in Berlin you will find the application form and helpful information on the recognition procedure and the documents to be enclosed:
Please note that the foreign divorce decree must be submitted as a complete copy or as a certified copy with a “certificate of no appeal”, stating the facts and reasons for the decision. You can either have the copy certified by a U.S. notary public (please see information lealfet), by the German mission abroad responsible for you or by an honorary consul. Other necessary documents do not need to be certified.
The Citizens' Service of the Federal Foreign Office also answers questions on the subject of divorce with an international dimension on its website.
Please note that the surname of a German citizen does not change automatically through divorce, but requires a name declaration.
Which German Consular Mission serves my U.S. home state?
To find out which of the nine German Consular Missions in the U.S. serves your U.S. home state, which is the correct mailing address or whether you need to schedule an appointment to submit the application in person, please use our interactive consulate finder