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The introduction of Swiss federal law on registered partnerships for same-sex couples came into force on 01 January 2007 and states that same-sex couples with registered partnerships should be treated equally to married persons. Today 82% of Swiss people want marriage to be open to everyone. And with the country’s parliament poised to decide on the issue, here we provide an overview of the most important rules and regulations to be aware of for those in a same sex partnership in Switzerland.

Civil Status and Name

Provided that they are aged 18 or more and are not blood relatives, two people of the same sex (“partners”) may officially register their partnership either federally or in some cantons, at a cantonal level.

  • Federal partnerships are exclusive for same-sex partnerships, while cantonal registered partnerships can be for both same-sex as well as heterosexual couples. There are legal differences between federal and cantonal registrations.
  • Federal registered partnerships are recognised throughout Switzerland, while cantonal registered partnerships may only be recognised within the canton or possibly in another canton that also offers cantonal registered partnerships.
  • A foreign partner of a Swiss citizen does not have automatic rights to a Swiss passport or quicker naturalisation however they are entitled to a residence permit from the Swiss immigration authorities.
  • A registered partner of a Swiss citizen is eligible for naturalisation if he or she has been resident in Switzerland for at least five years and at least one year prior to application, and has been in the registered partnership with the Swiss citizen for at least three years
  • A same-sex partnership registered outside of Switzerland will be recognised if it meets Swiss legal requirements. And same-sex marriages formed in countries other than Switzerland will be acknowledged as registered partnerships in Switzerland.

Around 700 same-sex couples register their life partnerships in Switzerland each year. Under Swiss law, marital and life partners are obligated to support each other and jointly provide for their family members. Once the partnership is officially registered, the civil status is recorded as “in a registered partnership” and should the partnership be dissolved, the ex-partners would have a “dissolved partnership” status.

Although the name of the partners does not change, it is possible for one partner to take the name of the other, as a shared family name.

Assets, debts, contracts

Below are some financial guidelines:

  • Each partner has the right to access information from the other regarding income, assets and debts, although partners are responsible for their own debts and may ultimately dispose of property as they choose.
  • Each party can have a certified inventory of their assets created prior to registration of their partners. Swiss law applies to separation of property for registered partnerships with each partner retaining the responsibility for his or her own property and debts.
  • If the partnership is dissolved, the amount paid into old-age and survivor’s insurance and occupational pension schemes during the length of the partnership, is divided equally between the two former partners.
  • Partners are taxed jointly like a married couple. Where couples do not live together, the Canton will decide on the place of residence for tax purposes.
  • Upon death, the survivor has the same rights as a married couple:
    • if there are children under 18, the survivor receives a widow or widower’s pension.
    • If the survivor is supporting a child, they are entitled to receive they are entitled to support from the occupational pension scheme
    • This is also the case if the surviving partner is over 45 and assuming the registered lasted at least 5-years
  • With regards to inheritance laws and inheritance taxes, registered partners are treated like married couples and so become each other’s main heir. Depending on Canton, the survivors pay little or no inheritance tax. The same applies to gifts and gift taxes.

The issue of same sex marriage has been before the Swiss parliament, the Federal Assembly, for around a decade. But in August 2020, the Upper House Legal Commission decided to postpone the vote again, saying it needed further clarification regarding the constitutionality of the bill. Until the legal wrangling is sorted and the bill can move forward, the above guidelines should help all those in same sex relationships to understand the current law and how it relates to their partnership.

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