Family Alimony: an overview

Alimony payments provide financial security for your partner and child. This article addresses all you need to know about alimony. 

by UBS Women’s Wealth 09 Aug 2021
Alimony payments provide financial security for your partner and children should you get divorced.

“Marriage is no longer a life insurance policy for women,” announced the Swiss media in spring 2021, referring to recent decisions made by the Swiss Federal Court relating to alimony payments for divorcees.

Alimony provides financial security for your partner and children should you get divorced. When is a spouse entitled to alimony and how much can they receive? What about child support? How do the latest Federal Court decisions affect a spouse’s right to claim alimony?

This article addresses precisely these questions.

Living costs between spouses

Even under the previous legislation, divorced spouses were generally expected to finance their own living costs following separation. However, there were different mechanisms in place.

Criteria for alimony payments

If one spouse could not afford to pay for their own living costs after a divorce, the other was required to support them financially for at least a given period. But how were alimony claims assessed?

  • It used to be the case that divorced women – as women tend to be the partner responsible for childcare – were not expected to return to work if they were not employed during the marriage and were over the age of 45 at the time of the divorce.
  • Spouses could maintain their previous standard of living even after a divorce, provided that the marriage had lasted more than 10 years or the couple had had children together.
  • Until now, there has been no consistent method in Switzerland for calculating alimony payments, as this was partly dependent on different cantonal requirements.

How the recent court decisions affect the right to alimony

As mentioned above, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court has introduced a series of successive decrees intended to modernize family law. Divorced spouses will thus be increasingly responsible for financing their own living expenses.

While some decisions will continue to be made on a case-by-case basis, the court has specified that greater deliberation is now required before a marriage can be considered “of long duration (German: “Lebensprägung”).” The following decisions were made:

  • The so-called “45 rule” no longer applies. It is now considered reasonable for one spouse to take up employment or work longer hours following divorce, even after they turn 45.
  • Marriages lasting longer than 10 years are no longer automatically considered to be of long duration (German: “lebensprägend”).
  • Even if the couple has one or several children together, this also no longer qualifies the marriage as one of long duration (German: “lebensprägend”).

According to the new legislation, a marriage can be viewed as one of long duration (German: “lebensprägend”) if one spouse has given up financial independence to provide for the household and look after the children, and can no longer return to their former occupation. Even in such cases, alimony payments may only be temporary, and the spouse may have to take up employment at an advanced age.

To calculate alimony payments between separated or divorced spouses, the “two-stage method” is used, whereby a minimum living cost amount and surplus allocation are calculated. This means that the calculation of alimony payments is standardized throughout Switzerland. The marriage partners’ financial circumstances and needs, i.e., the minimum subsistence level income under family law, are what matter here.

Child support

In principle, children have a right to financial support, regardless of their parents’ marital status. This applies until they are either of legal age or complete a degree or an apprenticeship, enabling them to begin employment.

If a couple divorces, the question arises as to who will pay child support and how much the payments will be.

Calculating alimony payments

Child support is determined by the court and comprises financial support and a childcare allowance.

  • The financial element covers the costs of a child’s basic needs, e.g., food, clothing and education. The parent looking after the child can provide their share of support as “support in kind,” while the other parent will pay a larger share of the financial support or even the full amount.
  • The childcare allowance is intended to compensate for the lost earnings of the parent providing care. However, this only applies if the parent cannot work during normal working hours due to childcare obligations. If the children go to school during working hours, the parent is considered capable of going out to work and is only entitled to partial compensation, if at all.

The standard of living of the parent providing financial support can also impact how child support payments are calculated. If the parent’s income and standard of living are high, they may be required to pay more, though this is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Start planning your finances early – so you are also prepared for the unexpected

Nobody wants to think about subjects like alimony when getting married or planning a family. However, the recent Federal Court decisions have underlined the importance of taking matters into your own hands and planning your finances over the long term.

It is also beneficial to address the more unpleasant topics, such as separation and death. 

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