Registration of child birth
If a child is born in a hospital, the hospital automatically informs the local civil registry office. If the birth of a child takes place outside a hospital, parents themselves have to inform the civil registry office. In both cases, parents or persons authorised by the parents have to formally register the birth afterwards and they have to collect the certificate of birth “within a reasonable timeframe” after the date of birth. This timeframe is defined as a period of up to 3 months.
The issuance of the certificate of birth is dependent on a number of documents which parents usually have to submit. These include, among other documents:
- Passport or identity card from the country of origin. Asylum seekers (for as long as the asylum procedure is ongoing) and people with refugee status are not obliged to submit these documents if this would involve getting in contact with the authorities from their countries of origin. Instead, they have to submit the asylum seeker’s permission to stay (Aufenthaltsgestattung) or the residence permit respectively. However, these documents do not necessarily serve as evidence for “proof of identity”;
- Birth certificates of parents in original document and an officially certified translation;
- If the parents are married, a marriage certificate or marriage contract in original document and an officially certified translation.
If one of these documents cannot be submitted, the civil registry office may accept a declaration “in lieu of an oath”, but no general rules exist for this procedure, so acceptance of such a declaration is dependent on the individual circumstances and on the practice of the local civil registry office. An overview of the procedure in English has been published by the German Institute for Human Rights.
Problems occur in particular if the parents do not have a passport or birth certificate from the country of origin and if the authorities find that the identity of the parents has not been sufficiently clarified by other means. In these cases, many civil registry offices regularly refuse to issue birth certificates. However, they may issue other documents instead. A recent study by the Humboldt Law Clinic found that offices have various strategies to deal with these cases of “unclarified identity”:
- Most civil registry offices issue a confirmation that birth has been registered (“extract from the Birth Registry” / Auszug aus dem Geburtenregister) which is an official document that has the same legal effect as a birth certificate.
- Other civil registry offices issue substitute documents such as an “attestation” that the office has been notified of the birth. The legal effect of these substitute documents is unclear;
- There have also been reports that a few civil registry offices do not issue any documents in cases of “unclarified identity” of the parents, although this may include cases in which the parents refuse to accept an alternative document and legal measures for the issuance of a ‘proper’ birth certificate are pending. It is also possible that parents refuse a document if it does not refer to the father of the child but only contains the name of the mother; this happens in cases in which the parents cannot produce sufficient evidence that they are married.
Refusal by German authorities to issue birth certificates to new born children has frequently been criticised as a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In order to safeguard access to the health system and to social benefits for newborn children, the German Institute for Human Rights has repeatedly asked authorities to issue birth certificates or, alternatively, “extracts from the Birth Registry” as a “minimum obligation”.
The birth certificate is formally required to claim a number of rights and services, including:
- Registration with health insurance services, including family insurance i.e. extension of parents’ insurance on children;
- Child allowances of at least €204 per month available to all families staying in Germany, regardless of legal status;
- Parental allowances for persons in employment who stop working for a certain period after the child is born. Allowances amount to a standard 65% of monthly income and up to one 100% of monthly income for people with lower wages and they are provided for a period of up to 14 months if both parents divide these periods between them;
- Change of the parents’ tax status, in connection with registration at the (residents’) registration office.
- In cases of unmarried couples, recognition of paternity of the child’s father.
Failure to obtain a birth certificate from the civil registry office regularly results in difficulties with access to rights and services. In a study on difficulties with the registration of new born children, authors from the Humboldt Law Clinic refer to the following problems which have been reported in the course of their research: problems with health insurance and/or access to hospitals or medical practitioners; (temporary) denial of child allowances; problems with payment of parental allowances; problem with registration of new born children at local residents’ registration offices. These difficulties were apparently also encountered by persons who had been issued an “extract from the Birth Registry”, even though this document is supposed to replace the birth certificate officially. All of these difficulties were further encountered by persons who were issued other substitute documents instead of a birth certificate.
Registration of marriage
There is no obligation in German law for a marriage which has been concluded in another country to be registered again at a German civil registry office. Instead, marriage certificates from other countries are generally considered to be sufficient evidence of the validity of a marriage in legal affairs. However, German authorities and courts often ask for certificates of legalisation of marriage from other countries. This legalisation usually has to be carried out by the German embassy in the respective country.
An important restriction on the legal recognition of marriages concluded in other countries was introduced in 2017. The new Law on combating child marriages which took effect on 22 July 2017 contains the following measures:
- Marriages concluded in another country are considered invalid in all cases in which one or both of the spouses was younger than 16 years old at the time of marriage;
- The validity of marriages concluded in another country can be challenged by the authorities and nullified in cases in which one or both of the spouses was between 16 and 18 years old at the time of marriage. However, the marriage has to be recognised by the German authorities if both spouses have reached the age of 18 years in the meantime and both declare that they want to remain married. Furthermore, the marriage may also be recognised in exceptional cases in which annulment of the marriage would cause “serious hardship” to the minor involved.
Rights and obligations in connection with marriage are dependent on whether the competent authorities recognise the marriage certificates or other documents from the country of origin as sufficient evidence for the validity of the marriage in question.
Problems with recognition of marriages concluded in another country occur regularly in practice, in particular if the couple does not have an official marriage certificate or if the German embassy is unable to carry out the legalisation of a foreign marriage certificate. However, these difficulties do not occur in the context of the registration of such marriages in Germany, but in connection with other areas in which the formal recognition of the validity of a marriage is important.
 Humboldt Law Clinic Grund- und Menschenrechte, Geboren, registriert – und dann? Probleme bei der Geburtenregistrierung von Flüchtlingskindern in Deutschland und deren Folgen. Working Paper no. 16/2018, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2pw1DIn, 10-11.
 Humboldt Law Clinic Grund- und Menschenrechte, Geboren, registriert – und dann? Probleme bei der Geburtenregistrierung von Flüchtlingskindern in Deutschland und deren Folgen, Working Paper 16/2018.
 Ibid, 18.
 Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte “Keine Papiere – keine Geburtsurkunde? Empfehlungen für die Registrierung von in Deutschland geborenen Kindern Geflüchteter”, Position paper, December 2018, available at https://bit.ly/39Qtrxm, 2.
 Humboldt Law Clinic Grund- und Menschenrechte, Geboren, registriert – und dann? Probleme bei der Geburtenregistrierung von Flüchtlingskindern in Deutschland und deren Folgen. Working Paper no. 16/2018, 17-18.
 Deutsches Institut für Menschenrechte, Keine Papiere – keine Geburtsurkunde? Empfehlungen für die Registrierung von in Deutschland geborenen Kindern Geflüchteter, December 2018, available in German at: https://bit.ly/2FJynpL.
 An overview of the new law has been published by Terre des Femmes, ‘Die wichtigsten Änderungen im Rahmen des Gesetzes zur Bekämpfung von Kinderehen’, December 2017, available in German at: http://bit.ly/2DLyGgG.