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Living together as an unmarried couple

Two partners living together without being married do not enjoy the same social and legal rights as a married couple. You can, however, ensure your rights as a couple by signing a cohabitation agreement.

As cohabitation is not recognised in law, you and your partner are to a large extent treated as individuals and not as a married couple.

Name

Cohabitation has no effect on the surname of either partner. Children from previous relationships keep their original surnames. Any children you have together take the mother’s surname. From 1 January 2013 onwards, joint custody of the children means they can be given their father’s name (the parents must submit  a joint application to the civil register office).

Nationality

Cohabiting has no effect on citizenship applications.

Old-age and survivor’s insurance and occupational pensions

The old-age and survivor’s insurance of each partner is calculated separately. A partner who does not work can make minimal payments to retain their right to old-age and survivor’s insurance. For more information on old-age and survivor’s insurance contribution gaps.

If you break up with your partner, you have no right to claim half of the contributions paid into pension funds and old-age insurance.

Buying property

There are different types of property ownership: individual ownership, ownership of part of a multi-floor building and shared ownership. The financial participation of both parties is recorded in the land register. Before you buy a property together, you should draw up a written agreement saying who will move out if you break up.

Taxes

You are taxed individually when you and your partner live together as an unmarried couple. You each complete your own tax return.

Children

When the parents are unmarried, they must make a joint declaration in order to establish joint parental authority. The parents must declare that they:

  • agree to share responsibility for the child;
  • have agreed on residence for the child, on personal relations or each parent’s share of childcare duties and on child maintenance contributions.

The declaration can be made at the civil register office at the time of recognition of the child, or at a later date at the Child Protection Authority.

Death of a partner

  • Inheritance: When your partner dies, you will not automatically inherit anything. There are limits on the provisions your partner can make for you in their will because Swiss inheritance law reserves certain proportions of an individual’s estate for close family members such as children and parents.
  • Inheritance tax: If your deceased partner leaves you something in their will, you do not have access to the beneficial tax rates offered to close relations in most cantons.
  • Widow/widower’s pension: Unmarried partners do not receive any widow/widower’s pension from the old-age and survivor’s insurance or accident insurance.
  • Many pension schemes only offer a limited right to a survivor’s pension to unmarried partners.

Cohabitation agreement

Registered partnership is only open to same-sex couples. Heterosexual couples who do not want to get married and same-sex couples who do not want to enter a registered partnership, but who still want to ensure legal rights for their partner can draw up a cohabitation agreement.

Form of the agreement

The cohabitation agreement is not regulated in law. It is advisable to draw up a written agreement. This does not need to be witnessed by a notary as long as it does not contain any provisions relating to inheritance.

Content of the agreement

The agreement should include the following points:

  • What belongs to whom (make an inventory).
  • Property purchases: Are you buying the property together as a joint purchase?
  • Who gets to stay in the home you shared as a couple if you break up, and what is the notice period?
  • How are you going to split the costs of running the household?
  • How high are the monthly maintenance contributions that the higher earner will pay to the other person if you split up? 
  • How will you split your assets and how will you divide up contributions paid into old-age and survivor’s insurance and pensions schemes?
  • Death: Are you going to take out a life insurance policy that will benefit the surviving partner if the other partner dies?
  • Children: Decide who will have parental authority and decide on maintenance contributions for the children.
  • etc.