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Marriage and registered partnership

The registered partnership vs marriage: What is the difference?

Since 2019, homosexual couples can marry in Austria. Since then, heterosexual couples have also been able to marry. In contrast to some other European countries, the opening of marriage for all was not a political decision. The Constitutional Court had to be called in. In practice, a trend can be seen that heterosexual couples are now also deciding not to marry, but to partner up. What are the differences between marriage and registered partnership?

What is a registered partnership?

A registered partnership is essentially about two people entering into a permanent cohabitation, with mutual rights and obligations. A registered partnership can be entered into by two persons of the same or different sex. The partnership takes place either at the registry office of choice or at another place appropriate to the occasion. In Vienna, for example, it is possible (if both persons live in Austria) to reserve an appointment at a registry office online (Begründung einer eingetragenen Partnerschaft – Anmeldung (wien.gv.at)). The costs for a registered partnership can vary. In Vienna they range between EUR 70-170. In order to enter into a registered partnership, you have to answer “yes” in person to a registrar’s office when asked whether you want to enter into a registered partnership with each other.

Can a registered partnership be converted into a marriage and vice versa?

Even if this is not uncontroversial: If you are already married or partnered with each other, it is not so easy to change to the respective other legal institution.

Attention to this, however, there is an exception: If it was not yet possible to marry at the time when one entered into the registered partnership, this couple can marry in Austria even without dissolving their registered partnership.

What are the similarities between marriage and registered partnership?

In many cases, a registered partnership has the same or at least very similar effects as marriage. For example, the registered partners are obliged to live together as partners and to maintain a relationship of trust, especially to live together, to meet each other in a decent way and to support each other.

Differences between marriage and registered partnership?

At first glance, registered partnerships and marriage are very similar. But there are differences, here are a few examples:

In order to marry in Austria, you must be of legal age. Under special conditions it is possible to marry at the age of 16. There are no exceptions for a registered partnership. In order to establish a registered partnership, the partners must be at least 18 years old.

You can only get engaged before you get married. This is not insignificant because under certain circumstances, after a broken engagement, it is possible to demand compensation for expenses that have become pointless. A classic example is the request to return the ring.

Sexual fidelity in the institutions

Especially when comparing the obligations that exist in marriage and also in a registered partnership, one difference is particularly striking: In marriage there is a (sexual) duty of fidelity. This means that if you cheat on someone or commit adultery, it is still – despite all misunderstandings – a serious breach of marriage. This can be expensive. In the worst case, it means either paying maintenance for a very long time for the other person after the divorce or not getting any maintenance at all. In the law on registered partnerships, however, one looks for the word “fidelity” in vain. There is, however, a duty of mutual trust. But it still seems unclear whether this includes sexual fidelity. It depends on what one understands by a relationship of trust. Especially with regard to the financial ones after a dissolution of the partnership, this raises questions.

Ending of the relationships

Dissolving of the Marriage

There may also be differences between the end of a partnership and marriage: In Austria, divorce by mutual consent is the rule. However, this requires an agreement on the essential consequences of the divorce. If there is no agreement and the spouse has committed serious marital misconduct, one can also sue for divorce. This is basically similar in the case of a registered partnership. However, if you cannot accuse the other person of anything and if you are perhaps the reason for the failure of the relationship, you must first exercise patience. After three years of (domestic) separation, divorce is usually possible. In cases of absolute hardship, a divorce may only be enforceable after six years. In this type of divorce, there may be financial benefits for the “blameless” person who has “held out” for so long. Sometimes this is cynically called a “holding-out bonus”. In the case of a registered partnership, such hardship cases are not provided for and this means that after three years of (domestic) separation, dissolution takes place in any case.

Dissovling of a registered partnership

In the event of an agreement, the dissolution of a registered partnership by mutual consent may be considered. In principle, the district court of the place of residence is competent. However, if no agreement can be reached, an action for dissolution of the registered partnership must be brought. This is especially relevant if the registered partnership is so deeply disrupted by a serious misconduct of one person that the restoration of a cohabitation corresponding to its nature cannot be expected. Examples of such behaviour could be, for example, physical violence or severe emotional distress.

Is there maintenance after the registered partnership?

Essentially, the consequences of a registered partnership under maintenance law correspond to those of a marriage. However, there are small differences (see also above). The division of the partnership’s assets is analogous to the rules under marriage law.

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