Most importantly, perhaps, that parents can expect a lot of governmental support—both financially and in the form of legal rights. In the next few weeks at YG we’ll be looking at the culture of parenting in Germany, and to start the ball rolling, we’ve compiled a list of “parenting vocabulary” to introduce some of the concepts that make the experience here unique.
Kindergeld is an allowance paid to parents by the federal government in order to ensure the livelihood of their children. In 2010 the amount paid for a couple’s first child was raised 20 euro to a sum of 184 euro per month per child. For a second child, parents receive an additional 184 euro per month and for a third or fourth child, 190 and 215 euro respectively.
Parents or guardians are eligible to receive Kindergeld at least until the child’s 18th birthday. Children who pursue further education after high school may receive Kindergeld until they are 25, while children with unemployed parents may receive payments until they are 21 years old. Though it is generally the parent or guardian of the child who receives payments, in the case of orphans or missing parents, the money may be paid directly to the child.
Taxpaying expatriates who legally reside in Germany are also eligible to receive Kindergeld for their children, while children receiving money from child support, a trust fund, or employment totaling more than 8,004 euro annually are not.
Payments and registration are handled by the Agenturen für Arbeit (labor office). Registration usually involves a trip to the labor office with an original copy of the child’s birth certificate (as well as a translation if the document is not in German), a parent’s passport, and cash to cover the small processing fee.
For more detailed information (in German), visit www.kindergeld.net.
Another federal government program, Elterngeld is a limited income subsidy for new parents covering the first 12-14 months of a child’s life. Payments total 67% of the applying parent’s income for a maximum of 1,800 euro per month, with 300 euro per child paid for each additional birth.
Eligibility is based on whether: you have a residence permit that allows you to work in Gremany, you and your child reside together, you personally care for your child, and you work more than 30 hours per week during the time in which Elterngeld is paid. Though only one parent may receive payments at a time, the payments can be split between mother and father throughout the 12 month eligibility period.
For information about Elterngeld in your area, visit the Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend website and click on your state of residence.
Many English-speaking expats are surprised to hear about the Mutterschutzgesetz, or Maternity Protection Act, as it offers much more extensive support for mothers than is common in most English-speaking countries. This law, instituted in 1968, was created to ensure that mothers are not the target of workplace discrimination, as well as ensuring time-off and job security when and if a mother decides to return to work once her maternity leave is complete.
The Maternity Protection Act goes into affect as soon as the expecting mother has notified her employer of the pregnancy and the child’s due date, though expecting mothers applying for jobs are not required to make the pregnancy known before being hired. A pregnant woman may not be dismissed from her job the beginning of pregnancy until four months following childbirth. This is called Kündigungsverbot. However, expecting mothers may cancel employment contracts regardless of the contracts’ cancellation provisions at any time.
Mothers are also protected in any number of other ways under the Act: from limitations on daily and weekly hours to the provision for adequate break rooms for both expecting and nursing mothers. Expecting mothers are not required to work during the last six weeks of their pregnancy (though they may do so if they wish) and are not allowed to return to work until at least eight weeks after the birth.
Expecting mothers deemed unable to work for medical reasons are also protected from financial penalty during the Schutzfrist. In this case Maternity Protection Pay must be issued by the employer and must be at least the equivalent of the average of 13 weeks’ wages.
Elternzeit—literally “parent’s time”—refers to the right of parents in Germany to take up to three year's time off from work to care for a new child. Both parents are entitled to Elternzeit, and employers are legally compelled to keep the position open for the parent’s eventual return to work. If the employer is in agreement, 12 of these months may be carried over to any time between the child’s 3rd and 8th birthday. Parents may not be dismissed from the job during the Elternzeit.
In the case of custody rights—in German, Sorgerechte—unwed fathers in Germany recently gained more protection. Previously, shared custody was only possible with the express consent of the mother. This meant, in effect, that if the mother said no to joint custody, the father had no legal recourse. But a court case in 2010 overturned this law, declaring that unwed father’s had the right to sue for custody or joint custody of their children, although the mother will still automatically receive initial custody of the children after a splitt.