KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — A recent court ruling could have implications for some foreign parents-to-be living in Germany under the NATO Status of Forces Agreement.
A German court ruled in March that an American woman, a SOFA-card holder married to a U.S. servicemember assigned to Germany at the time, should have received a federal income subsidy paid to working parents who choose to stay home or reduce their hours after the birth of a child.
But whether the decision means that all new parents covered by SOFA now qualify for the allowance — which ranges from 300 euros to 1,800 euros (or about $414 to $2,490) per month — remains unclear.
The American at the center of the more than four-year legal battle for the allowance was employed for almost 10 years by an international company in Germany and had paid for years into the German social insurance system, said her lawyer, Sandra Flämig.
The court emphasized those two circumstances in ruling that the woman should have been paid the parental benefit and is entitled to 20,000 euros retroactively for a period after her daughter was born in 2009, according to court documents.
Fläming thinks the court’s interpretation will narrow the pool of SOFA card holders eligible for the allowance to only those working on the local economy and paying for social insurance, which covers health and retirement benefits.
But Rupert Hassel, the presiding judge at the Baden-Württemberg state social court in Stuttgart, said he could not say how far-reaching the decision would be for other NATO SOFA members, since his court ruled on a specific case.
“But simply the fact that the federal social court accepted this case gives you an idea that there is some relevance,” Hassel said Tuesday.
The court’s decision is expected to be appealed before the highest court that can rule in the case, the federal social court in the city of Kassel. That process could take up to two years, Flämig said, during which time her client must wait to be paid.
The law creating Elterngeld — “parent’s money” — went into effect in January 2007. It’s designed to help support families with newborn children and to encourage parents to stay home longer after a child’s birth. It’s one of several social benefits provided to families in Germany, whose government is trying to promote larger families and boost the country’s low birth rate.
The parental allowance law, as it’s currently written, stipulates that, to be eligible, one must: look after and raise one’s child in the same household, work no more than 30 hours per week, and be a resident of Germany. Only one parent can receive the benefit at a time, though the money can be split by two parents over 12 to 14 months. The allowance is based on the parent’s income.
The woman who sued first applied for the allowance at a German state bank in October 2009, two months after her second child was born. The bank refused to pay, arguing that the woman did not have German citizenship or European Union membership, nor did she have a residence permit giving her legal authority to work in Germany, according to court documents.
The woman, now 43, claimed discrimination and argued that as a SOFA-card holder, she did not need a special working permit, according to court documents. The woman, whose name was not disclosed, left Germany in November 2011.
A lower court in Mannheim had ruled against her in March 2010. The Stuttgart court, which reversed the decision last month, said there was a gap in the allowance law and found that the woman, with her SOFA status, did not need a residence permit to work, and therefore would be eligible for the allowance.
The fact that the woman worked for years on the German economy and paid into the German social insurance system particularly qualified her to receive the allowance, the court found.
Flämig told Stars and Stripes the court’s ruling was more than fair and her client is entitled to receive some of the money back that she paid into the German social insurance program.