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Getting married in Germany—what is a prenup?

In Germany, each new milestone seems to come with its own particular paperwork—so, what is a prenup? Find out what benefits they have, how much it might cost, and how to get one.

7 min read

A prenup—practical yet unromantic? Not so fast. Whether you’re a young couple or marrying later in life, it can actually make a lot of sense to set up a prenuptial agreement in Germany. But what exactly is a prenup? And what do you need to bear in mind if you want to draw one up? Our guide is full of helpful tips and key information, including what a prenup costs in Germany. No need for cold feet—let’s jump in!

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What does a prenup mean in Germany and when does it make sense to have one?

A prenup is a civil agreement between two spouses that regulates important matters in case you divorce. That’s exactly why many newlyweds don’t like thinking about prenups. Especially if you’ve just said “I do,” it’s hard to imagine that your marriage could end one day. Not all things in life are meant to last forever, though—in fact, more than a third of marriages in Germany end in divorce.[1]

If that happens, it can be helpful to have a prenup agreement to fall back on.

There are some state regulations that apply to your marital finances in the event of a divorce. In other words, a prenup isn’t a prerequisite for you to be able to get divorced. That said, the standard provisions could put you or your partner at a disadvantage, depending on your situation. So, what does a prenup need to include in Germany?

Separation of property during marriage

When you get married, your assets don’t get combined—anything that belongs to you individually remains yours. But over the course of your marriage, you might acquire more assets: a car, salaries, stocks and shares. If you don’t have a prenup, you’ll create what’s called a “community of accrued gains.” If you later get divorced, these accrued gains are divided between partners. This means that even if one person contributed more financially during the marriage, the other partner is entitled to an equal share of the assets (with the exception of inheritances or gifts). And it’s important to know that the share is calculated based on the difference between what the two partners have contributed individually. 

Let’s look at an example. Say you saved €60,000 during your marriage, and your partner put aside €10,000. The difference between your contributions is €50,000. Under the community of accrued gains, each partner would be entitled to €25,000—half the difference—in a divorce. If it’s just you who’s been saving, you’ll have to give up €30,000—the equalization of accrued gains says that both partners are always entitled to the same amount.

It’s a different case with “property separation,” which specifies that your assets remain yours after you’ve gotten divorced. If you take out a prenup in Germany, you can exclude the equalization of accrued gains and agree on property separation during your marriage instead. This is one of the main reasons why people take out a prenup in Germany—because there’s a significant difference between their assets or earning potential. If you don’t own your home or any large property, earn roughly the same salary, and aren’t planning on starting a family, property separation probably isn’t relevant for you. If you divorce, the equalization of accrued gains wouldn’t really disadvantage either of you. However, if you have sizable assets, property separation during your marriage could go a long way to protect you. You can also use a prenup to modify the community of accrued gains—for example, by agreeing that equalization only applies in the case of death or if the marriage has existed for a certain length of time.

Pension rights equalization in retirement

From a legal perspective, marriage isn’t a romantic commitment—it’s financial. When two people get hitched, they’re financially responsible for each other, even after they’ve gotten divorced. An example of this is “pension rights equalization,” which involves pensions being divided fairly between divorced spouses. This is particularly relevant for families where one parent earns money and the other looks after the children or doesn't work for some other reason. Unless you’re employed or self-employed, you likely won’t be paying into a pension fund in Germany. For women in particular, this can be a major disadvantage. It’s (still) women who typically take a step back from their careers to take care of children or elders and keep the household running. Plus, women tend to earn less anyway because of the gender wage gap, so they’re not able to put aside as much money for retirement—if any at all. Pension rights equalization is intended to ensure that both partners receive a decent pension in their retirement years.

That said, you can exclude pension rights equalization in a prenup. This could be sensible if you’re both earning money or get married later in life. However, if you want children and are planning to divide up domestic duties along traditional lines, foregoing pension rights equalization could be considered unethical if you later divorce. Why? Because regardless of any exclusions, a prenup is not supposed to disadvantage the wife (or her spouse—depending on who’s handling childcare).

Prenups in Germany: costs and how-tos

So, you’re thinking about taking out a prenup in Germany? Now that we’ve covered the background information, here’s an overview of the process, costs, and the right time to get one.

How do you take out a prenup in Germany?

You’ll need a notary if you want to take out a prenup in Germany. In your first meeting, you’ll discuss what you want the contract to cover. Do you want your assets to be kept separate? What about pension rights equalization? You can also bring along a draft you’ve written yourselves. Plus, you need to disclose your financial situation: Do you own property? How much do you earn? Do you have any stocks or loans? Generally, you’ll need to show your tax assessment or proof of income as well. If everything lines up, the notary will draft your prenup for you.

Once you’ve read it through carefully and approved the terms, the notary will read the contract out loud, item by item, and everyone present (namely, the marriage partners and the notary) will sign it. Then, the notary will stamp it and keep the original, with each spouse receiving a certified copy.

How much does a prenup cost in Germany?

It’s impossible to say exactly how much a prenup in Germany will cost. Like a divorce, the calculation is based on your financial situation. The more there is at stake (specifically, your assets), the higher the notary fees for your prenup will be. If neither of you earn very much and you don’t own any property, the prenup will likely cost a couple of hundred euros. Unfortunately, like divorce costs, the costs of your prenup aren’t tax deductible.

Can I take out a prenup retrospectively in Germany?

You can take out this type of contract at pretty much any time in Germany: before you get married, after you’ve been married for several years, or when you separate (when it would be called a “divorce agreement”). Still, it’s worth taking out the agreement as early as possible. It’ll probably help you cut costs on your prenup if you get it at the start of your marriage, as you might have fewer assets that need to be taken into consideration. Besides, it can be difficult to come to an agreement if things in the marriage have already started to sour—contract negotiations could get a little heated.

One more thing: you can retrospectively amend or supplement your prenup at any time. After all, lots can happen over the course of a marriage. Of course, both sides need to approve the change, and in certain circumstances, you’ll need a notary to notarize it, which will lead to additional notary fees for the prenup.

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