Air Force Staff Sgt. Blake Smalley and his German girlfriend, Donata Odenwaelder, plan to get married in Germany and are wading through the necessary paperwork. Smalley is with the European Mission Support Squadron in Stuttgart.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Blake Smalley and his German girlfriend, Donata Odenwaelder, plan to get married in Germany and are wading through the necessary paperwork. Smalley is with the European Mission Support Squadron in Stuttgart. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

Thinking about getting married in Germany?

Don’t think it’s like getting married in Las Vegas, or even by your local justice of the peace. Couples should plan for the process to take weeks, or even months, because it’s the German way and it’s mandatory.

“I’ve read the first page of the packet so far and that’s it,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Blake Smalley of Hixon, Tenn., and the European Mission Support Squadron in Stuttgart, Germany, who’s planning to marry his German girlfriend. “They said there’ll be a lot of running around and going back and forth.”

No matter whom an American in Germany is marrying — another American, a German citizen, or someone from a third country — he has to get married by Germans at a German town hall under German law.

The process is like assuming the deed to a piece of real estate; couples must provide birth certificates, passports and other documents to German authorities.

A church ceremony can follow, but only after the civil ceremony makes everything legal.

Army Col. Sherrill Munn, chaplain of the Stuttgart-based 6th Area Support Group, said plenty of couples come to the chapel on Patch Barracks to ask about getting married. Though he can give premarital counseling and conduct a blessing ceremony, Munn said he has to refer couples to the base legal office for legal details.

People who have been divorced or widowed must be prepared to give a full accounting of their marital histories by using marriage, divorce and death certificates, according to Werner Sukup, a German lawyer with the 21st Theater Support Command in Kaiserslautern.

“The chain shouldn’t be interrupted at all,” Sukup said. “If they’ve never been married or divorced, the process can be pretty simple.”

Sukup said prospective brides or grooms could pick up a marriage packet at their base’s legal services office. The required paperwork includes passports, residence certificates and other documents, depending on the couple.

“You have to be very adamant,” said Kara Haass, a former Army Entertainment Division employee in Stuttgart who married a German man on Dec. 31, 2002. “In the [United States] it is very easy to get married and very easy to get divorced.

“In Germany, they make it a little more difficult to get married and a lot more difficult to get divorced, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.”

Munn said most chaplains require a couple to receive premarital counseling before the chapel would host a blessing ceremony.

Munn also did not have a problem with the waiting period that is necessitated by filling out German paperwork. It gives the prospective bride and groom a little more time to think.

“There’s something to be said for that,” Munn said. “It’s also one of the reasons we have premarital counseling, so people don’t rush into something, especially something as important as a lifelong commitment.”

Military members also have to work through their commands to get their tour extended, if needed, to get a spouse under command sponsorship, and to make sure the housing office blesses the new housing allowances and requirements.

Smalley’s intended, Donata Odenwaelder of Stuttgart, said she would consider applying for dual German-U.S. citizenship after they get married. “I think it would be easier to get a job,” she said.

Smalley said he thinks that when it comes to getting married in Germany, experience helps — someone else’s experience, that is.

“Get help; ask around,” Smalley said. “Definitely try to find somebody who’s been through it before.”


Here is the process for getting married in Germany:

Go to the local registry office (Standesamt) in the town hall (Rathaus) and file a notice of the impending marriage (Antrag auf Eheschliessung). Unless both the bride and groom speak German fluently, they need to bring a translator.The clerk provides a list of needed documents. After the documents are filled out and filed (there is a filing fee of about 50 euros, or about $65), the paperwork is sent to a higher court for verification.The registry office usually receives the approved packet back in about two weeks. Another fee, this one of 30 euros or less (about $40), is required for the higher court’s work.If the American is marrying someone other than a German or U.S. citizen, he should check on what’s needed by phoning the U.S. Embassy in Berlin at 030-8305-2585.

SOURCE: 21st Theater Support Command, 6th Area Support Group

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