• Germany's news in English

Traditional marriage challenged by new law

Elizabeth Press · 7 Feb 2008, 11:59

Published: 07 Feb 2008 11:59 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

A year of negotiations between the centre-right CDU and the centre-left SPD has led to the abandonment of German marriage laws supporting the “housewife marriage,” in which the man earns the money and the woman focuses her attentions on house and home.

The new law states that “After the divorce, it is incumbent on each spouse to provide for their livelihood themselves.”

The law represents quite a change for a country where around 40 percent of mothers with young children do not work. Only 20 percent of all mothers have a full-time job. This means that most German mothers are dependent on some type of financial support.

Around 25 percent of divorcing couples end their marriage in bitter disputes, characterized by squabbles over money, family heirlooms and children, as well as acceptable living standards for the newly divorced ex-wives.

Children and men are the winners in the new alimony reforms. Children win, because young children will determine the flow of money - child support payments- between ex-partners. The new law provides for child support regardless of whether the parents were married when the child was born. Under the new law, a family exists wherever there is a child.

Fathers are also winners, as they will not have to pay alimony to their ex-wives when their children are older than three, healthy and have found day-care. Critics of this new law have said that it supports “serial monogamy” and that fathers are usually in a better position to provide for their children than mothers, but those behind reforms say the changes reflect developments in society.

Ministers say the new laws represent a more modern approach to family policy.

Under old alimony arrangements, mothers could stay home full-time for the first eight years of their child’s life. Until the child turned 15, women only had to work part-time. For many women, especially those with several children, a return to the working world was almost impossible. Women thus lived off of their ex-husbands for their entire lives.

“The lawmakers have put the emphasis on personal responsibility, which is clearly more in accordance with the reality of our society,” Miriam Kummer-Sicks, a family lawyer in Frankfurt, told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Other lawyers are opposed to the changes, saying the law is badly drafted and will lead to more court action, which will ultimately harm children. Critics also say it is unfair to move the goalposts now, when many women have entered marriages with traditional expections.

The lack of day-care infrastructure in German towns is an obstacle to getting more women to work. In a society where the parenting responsibilities fall squarely on the mother, day-care has not been widely outsourced and schools run only half of the working day, women have difficulty making themselves available for a job.

The large-scale expansion of public day-care and paternity leave has been a hotly debated and contentious issue in Germany, where the traditional family – specifically the importance of full-time motherhood- is highly valued by significant segments of the population.

Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens and Youth, Ursula von der Leyen pushed controversial reforms, extending the amount of time families receive money for parental leave from 12 to 14 months if the father takes at least two months of paternity leave. She has been criticized by traditional members of her own CDU party, as well as high ranking officials in the Catholic Church, for her initiative to create 750,000 more public day care places by 2013.

Story continues below…

"Von der Leyen's proposal is destructive for children and families", Catholic bishop Walter Mixa said in a public response to von der Leyen’s reforms. He said that the reform is destructive to young women as well. "Those who entice women to give their children into state care shortly after birth degrade them to baby machines."

"We women have overburdened ourselves -- we allowed ourselves to be too easily seduced by career opportunities," wrote journalist-turned-housewife-author Eva Herman, who has been active in an anti-feminist revolution in Germany. Her writing has focused on criticism of feminism and glorification of the 1950’s housewife marriage ideal. Although she is regarded as an extreme figure, her words found resonance with traditional members of society.

“My clients can hardly believe it when I have to explain to them that the basis for my entire argument in their case has changed within a few days,” Berlin family lawyer Ingeborg Rakete-Dombek told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “Before, the alimony laws were made as if the marriage had never ended. Now people act as if it had never happened."

Elizabeth Press (elizabeth.press@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
German small arms ammo exports grow ten-fold
Photo: DPA

The government has come in for criticism after new figures revealed that Germany exported ten times the quantity of small arms ammunition in the first half of 2016 as in the same period last year.

14-year-old stabs 'creepy clown' in prank gone wrong
File photo: DPA.

A 16-year-old in Berlin decided he wanted to scare some friends, but his plot backfired in a violent way.

Four Ku Klux Klan groups active in Germany, says govt
An American member of the KKK at a gathering in Georgia. Photo: EPA.

The German government estimates that there are four Ku Klux Klan (KKK) groups currently active in the country, according to a report by the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) on Tuesday.

Ex-chancellor Schröder to mediate in supermarket row
Gerhard Schröder. Photo: DPA

Can Gerhard Schröder bring an end to the Kaiser's Tengelmann saga?

Outrage over ruling on 'brutal' gang rape of teen girl
The now convicted suspects, sitting in court in Hamburg. Photo: DPA.

A 14-year-old girl was gang-raped and left partially clothed and unconscious in freezing temperatures. Now prosecutors are appealing the sentences for the young men found guilty, most of whom will not set foot in jail.

Dozens of Turkish diplomats apply for asylum in Germany
Demonstrators holding a giant Turkish flag protest against the attempted coup in Istanbul in July. Photo: DPA.

Since the failed putsch attempt in Turkey in July, Germany has received 35 asylum applications from people with Turkish diplomatic passports, the Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

Hertha Berlin fan club criticised for 'anti-gay banner'
Hertha BSC beat FC Cologne 2-1. Photo: DPA

A 50 metre fan banner apparently mocking the idea of gay adoption has overshadowed Hertha BSC's win in the Bundesliga.

Germany stalls Chinese takeover of tech firm Aixtron
Aixtron headquarters in Herzogenrath. Photo: DPA

The German government on Monday said it had withdrawn approval for a Chinese firm to acquire Aixtron, a supplier to the semiconductor industry, amid growing unease over Chinese investment in German companies.

Politicians call for tough sentences for 'killer clowns'
File photo: DPA.

Now that the so-called 'killer clown' craze has spread from the US to Germany, elected officials are drawing a hard line against such "pranks", with some threatening offenders with jail time of up to a year.

Nearly one in ten Germans are severely disabled
Photo: DPA

New figures reveal that 9.3 percent of the German population last year were considered severely disabled.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd