Federal court nudges divorcees back to work

The courts have typically applied the 45-year-old rule whereby a spouse is not expected to return to the workforce if they divorce at the age of 45 and have not been working during the marriage. © Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

Switzerland’s highest court has clarified that each spouse should seek to support themselves financially after a divorce, a decision that particularly affects women.

This content was published on March 10, 2021 - 15:43

In a press releaseExternal link published on Tuesday, the federal court clarified important elements of divorce law for the payment of alimony and child support. This was based on a review of five landmark rulings in divorce cases.

One key clarification relates to the so-called “45-year-old rule”, under which a spouse was no longer required to earn a living if he or she did not work during the marriage and was over 45 years of age at the time of the divorce.

This has been common application of the law up to now. But in Tuesday’s decision, the court said that “the possibility of gainful employment must always be assumed, provided that such a possibility actually exists and there are no impediments, such as the care of small children”. Concrete circumstances, such as age, health, experience, and the labour market, are also considerations.

Markus Theunert from Mä, the umbrella organization of Swiss men's and father's organizations, praised the court’s decision, telling Swiss public television SRFExternal link that it was picking up on a social trend that he argued is good for both men and women.

The women's organization Alliance F also reacted positively to the court’s statements but noted that a discrepancy exists between the court’s modern image of marriage and everyday life in Switzerland.

“We welcome the thrust of these rulings. We would appreciate it even more if the right framework conditions were set beforehand so that women are not forced out of the labour market as soon as they have children," said Alliance F managing director Sophie Achermann. She hopes that the ruling will put politicians under pressure to do more in the way of childcare, parental leave and other areas of support to help women, in particular, balance work and family.


The court also clarified how alimony payments should be calculated, putting an end to the wide range of methods used in different cantons. This had made it difficult for lawyers to assess situations, wrote the court, and undermined legal certainty, especially in cases when people changed cantons.

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