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Financial consequences of marriage – matrimonial property regimes

The matrimonial property regime sets out what belongs to whom during the marriage and how assets and debts will be divided up in the event of divorce or death. In Switzerland, there are three different property regimes: Contribution to jointly acquired property, joint estate, separate estates

Contribution to jointly acquired property

This regime applies to married couples who have not expressly arranged another type of regime.

  • During the marriage the property of the spouses remains separate.
  • They each retain ownership of their own estate, i.e. the property which they contribute on marriage or which they personally inherit or receive as a gift during marriage, and manage their own estates separately.
  • The savings made during the marriage (‘acquêts’, e.g. salaries, interest) can be used and managed independently by each spouse.
  • On dissolution of the matrimonial property regime (divorce, death or new marital property regime), the jointly acquired property is divided equally between the two spouses.
  • The spouses are in principle only liable to pay their own debts with their own estate, unless the other spouse agreed to share the financial burden or the debt arises from every-day expenditure.

Joint estates

A marital agreement (marriage contract) must be made if you want to have this type of marital regime. Marital agreements must be certified by a notary. It allows for three types of property:

  • The wife’s property (separate estate);
  • The husband’s property (separate estate);
  • Joint property (joint estate).

 The joint estate includes the spouses assets and income, with the exception of objects classed as belonging to separate estates in the law or marriage contract. The joint estate is jointly managed by the spouses and divided equally between them when the marital property regime is dissolved. 

The husband or wife are in principle only liable for the payment of their debts with half of the joint estate and their own separate estate. In certain cases one spouse may have to pay debts with the whole of the joint estate, for example when they were contracted to pay for every-day expenses or when both parties agreed to take on the debts. 

Separate estates

There is no joint ownership of goods or liability for debts in separate estates. The husband and wife retain individual ownership of their own property and manage it themselves. Nothing is divided up between the ex-husband and wife if the marriage ends. Separate estates can be established by a marriage contract. Marital agreements must be certified by a notary.

Dissolution of the matrimonial property regime

Matrimonial property regimes are dissolved when:

  • the spouses divorce or separate;
  • one of the spouses dies;
  • it is replaced by another marital property regime;
  • the marriage is annulled.

When a matrimonial property regime is dissolved, property that was brought to the marriage or  property acquired during the marriage (furniture, real estate, money, securities) is divided up between the two people. The couple must clarify and record who is to take over any debts.