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Enforcement of Foreign Family Court Rulings in Germany

Nowadays, family issues don’t arise merely within state borders anymore. Relationships are becoming more and more international and so are conflicts resulting thereof. While family disputes are already certainly burdensome, particular problems can manifest if different legal systems are involved. Complications can arise if a judgment given in one country is sought to be enforced in another. Generally, a court ruling is an act of a certain sovereign state and thus merely binds the state’s subjects concerned. However, as legal issues often emerge between persons in different states, a ruling must bind other states’ citizens. This article will lay out under which circumstances a foreign family court ruling will be recognized and enforced in Germany.

If you find yourself in a situation where a foreign judgement needs to be enforced in Germany, do not hesitate to contact Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte.

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What Types of Judgements may be Recognised and Enforced?

For recognition and enforcement to be possible, first, there must be a judgement that falls under the geographical and temporal scope of the legal instruments concerned. The most relevant are Regulation 1215/2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (EuGVVO) and Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 concerning the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility (Brussels II).

‘Judgment’ means any judgment given by a court or tribunal of a Member State, whatever it may be called (Article 2 lit a EuGVVO). This means that the EuGVVO applies to judgements in a wide sense, irrespective of whether or not they would be considered as such under national law. It is crucial that it represents a writ of execution in its country of origin and is enforceable in that country. Furthermore, so long as it is enforceable, the foreign judgement does not need to be final and legally binding according the national law of the state where it was given.

The EuGVVO as well as Brussels II binds all EU Member States. The EuGVVO applies to judgements given after 10 January 2015. However, it does not apply to maintenance obligations arising from a family relationship, parentage, marriage or affinity (Art 1 para 2 lit e EuGVVO). Judgements concerning these matters are governed by Brussels II if they are given after 1 March 2005. The rules on recognition and enforcement of foreign family  court rulings laid down by the two regulations are similar. The main differences will be presented throughout this article.

When will a Foreign Family Court Ruling be Recognized by a Domestic Court?

Essentially, a judgment given in a Member State must be recognised in the other Member States without any special procedure being required (§ 36 EuGVVO, Art 21 Brussels II). Thus, there is an automatic mechanism of recognition of judgements within the EU. This illustrates the trust that every Member State places in the legitimacy of the legal system of the others.

When will a Foreign Family Court Ruling not be Recognized?

Firstly, it must be stressed that recognition may not be refused on the basis of the ruling’s content. Under no circumstances may a judgment given in a Member State be reviewed as to its substance in the other (§ 52 EuGVVO, Art 26 Brussels II). It is particularly noteworthy that the recognition of a judgment may not be refused because the law of the Member State in which such recognition is sought would not allow divorce, legal separation or marriage annulment on the same facts (Art 25 Brussels II).

However, certain grounds of non-recognition are established. Please note, that these grounds are only considered on application of the interested party.

According to § 45 EuGVVO, recognition of a judgement will be refused:

  • if such a recognition is manifestly contrary to public policy in the Member State addressed (lit. a)
  • where the defendant’s right to a fair hearing was violated, unless (s)he failed to challenge the judgment when it was possible to do so (lit. b)
  • if the judgement is irreconcilable with a judgement given between the same parties in the Member State addressed (lit. c) or a third State (lit. d)
  • if the judgment conflicts with certain rules on jurisdiction (lit. e)

These grounds of non-recognition also apply to judgements relating to divorce, legal separation or marriage annulment (Art 22 Brussels II). In case of judgements relating to parental responsibility, however, additional grounds are given (Article 23 Brussels II):

  • if the judgement was given, except in case of urgency, without the child having been given an opportunity to be heard, in violation of fundamental principles of procedure of the Member State in which recognition is sought (lid b)
  • on the request of any person claiming that the judgment infringes his or her parental responsibility, if it was given without such person having been given an opportunity to be heard (lid d)

Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that partial recognition and enforcement is possible. For instance, this can be the case if certain parts of the judgment would violate German public policy whilst others would not. However, separation is possible only if the part meeting the requirements for enforceability is clearly separable from the inadmissible part.

If you consider one of these grounds applicable, an application of refusal may be filed. Our lawyers will gladly examine your case. We will then let you know whether a refusal is possible and together we will take the necessary steps to prevent enforcement!

How is a Foreign Family Court Ruling Enforced?

The EuGVVO fundamentally changed the way foreign judgements are enforced. While it was previously necessary to undergo a specific procedure to that end, things are considerably easier. According to § 39 EuGVVO, a judgment given in a Member State which is enforceable in that Member State must be enforceable in the other Member States without any declaration of enforceability being required. Thus, the enforcement procedure applied to foreign judgments may not differ from the one applied to judgements given by domestic courts. This means that not only is a system of automatic recognition created, but also of automatic enforcement.

While Brussels II also facilitates enforcement of judgements falling under its scope, in certain cases, additional steps have to be taken. To enforce a judgment on the exercise of parental responsibility regarding a child, an application for a declaration on enforceability has to be filed in the Member State addressed. The underlying procedure is governed by the law of the Member State where enforcement is sought. Once the judgment has been declared enforceable, it will be enforced without any further requirements (Art 28 ff. Brussels II). In contrast thereto, if you seek to enforce an enforceable judgement granting rights of access or return of a child, no declaration of enforceability is required (Art 41 ff. Brussels II).

Please note that the court addressed may stay the proceedings if an ordinary appeal has been lodged against the judgment in the Member State of origin or if the time for such an appeal has not yet expired (Art 51 lid 1 EuGVVO, Art 27 Brussels II).

Which Documents are Required for an Application for Recognition and Enforcement?

To file an application for recognition and enforcement, the original foreign judgement or a copy issued by the same authority which rendered the foreign judgment is required. The enforcement authority may also require a translation of the judgement and certificate concerned. This requirement serves the purpose of informing the court as well as the other party. The documents will be served on the person against whom the enforcement is sought prior to the first enforcement measure.

While the procedure of enforcing foreign judgements has been considerably facilitated, it may still be overwhelming for a layman. Make sure you have an experienced and competent family lawyer at your side taking care of all relevant legal steps.

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Practice Group: German Family Law

Practice Group:
German Family Law

Dr. Tim Schlun

Lawyer | Managing Partner

Maria Ivanova


Patricia Zeuß



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