Recognition of Foreign Judgments in Germany

There is no standard procedure to acknowledge judgments from other countries. It all depends. It depends on what the judgment was based on. Depending on the content, different motions are to be applied so a foreign verdict can take effect.

German law follows the principle of automatic recognition of foreign judgments. This effect comes by law without any further acknowledgement. Recognizing foreign divorces is a major exception to this rule (§107 FamFG).

This automatic acknowledgment does not automatically mean that it is enforceable. In order to make use of such judicial decision, it has to be declared as enforceable. This is true for German as well as foreign judgments. In many cases, a judgment will be declared as enforceable in special acknowledgement proceedings. These proceedings will test if grounds for recognition of a foreign judgment exist.

Judgment in Civil and Commercial Matters

Pursuant to §722 ZPO, a court judgment to pay a certain amount of money can be acknowledged in a special procedure in court in order to later execute it. Also judgments for actions or forbearances (e.g. to hand over a certain object or not to approach somebody) will be acknowledged and later executed in this manner.

As an alternative to acknowledgment proceedings, you could consider a normal suit in court to demand payment. Inside such proceedings, the grounds for an acknowledgement of a foreign judgment will be considered. This is practical nonsense because the opposing side can defend him-/herself and have the complaint dismissed.

Requirements for Acknowledgement

In all cases for recognition the merits of the judgment will not be retested again. Only a formal testing will take place whether this foreign judgment violates relevant principles of German law. This is only seldom the case. A practical example is punitive damages as known in the States. Such damages will never be rewarded in Germany because it violates fundamental constitutional law: rule of law (art. 20 GG). It cannot be that the competence of criminal and civil judges be interwoven. Criminal court punishes, while a civil court awards damages – no more, no less.

Subject to testing during acknowledgement proceedings are whether:

1. the foreign court had international venue,

2. the defendant received the writ of complaint on time (provided that he/she did not communicate in this foreign proceedings), and

3. a domestic case had been opened in the past, or

4. a differing domestic or foreign judgment to be acknowledged exists,

5. reciprocity exists. The foreign country, having issued the judgment to be acknowledged, will generally acknowledge German judicial decisions.

The required documents vary from one case to another. In any and all cases, the foreign judgment must be submitted in original copy showing that it is final. This copy must have an apostille affixed by a German consulate. This decision has to be translated by a certified translator – best is a German one.

All other details depend on the individual case and your lawyer ought to inform you.

Costs

The costs for acknowledging a foreign decision differ greatly in Germany, because the fees are based on the value in dispute. For more information on this topic, please click this sentence!

Special Regulation in the EU

Many areas have many special regulations. Inside the EU, judgments among member states are acknowledged inside simplified proceedings pursuant to art. 38 to 52 Directive 44/2001 and so become instruments for execution. The practically, most important advantage of such expedited proceedings is that the declaration of enforceability comes upon application and without any testing of the decision’s ability to be acknowledged. The debtor / defendant will not be listened to during these proceedings – his/her chance comes afterwards when suing to prevent execution. Denmark und the UK provide the main exceptions as they have made reservations.

If the issue is about an uncontested claim in terms of Directive 805/2004 or European Small Claims Procedure Regulation 861/2007, execution can be initiated immediately with a special notification from the original court. European enforcement orders from the European proceedings for uncontested claims are also eligible for immediate and unacknowledged executions.

Court decisions on support and alimony from other EU-States are, pursuant to Council Regulation No. 4/2009 on maintenance obligations,directly executable in Germany – without any further formalities. The same is true for divorces. Changes in vital records can be directly made.

Special Regulations in Family Law

As so very often, relationships pertaining to the family have special regulations. Special administrative proceedings (§107 FamFG) will acknowledge a foreign divorce and only a divorce. Any other decisions next to the divorce, e.g. alimony, support, care of children, have to be acknowledged through the normal court proceedings.

Non-monetary judgments around the family will be acknowledged via another special procedure (§108 II FamFG). Non-monetary concerns are not aimed at receiving / paying money. Such proceedings are custody, contesting paternity as well as appointing custodianships or guardianships.

The acknowledgement via Act on Effects of Adopting a Child pursuant to foreign Law determines the cases where a child’s adoption took place abroad. Adoptions pursuant to Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption actually makes a special acknowledgment legally superfluous but it can be a good idea just to be on the safe side.

Decisions on money (e.g. alimony), surrendering things, claims for cease and forbearance or declaration of intent will be acknowledged per §110 FamFG.

Certificates of Inheritance

Foreign certificates of inheritance, even when issued from foreign courts, will never be acknowledged in Germany. A German certificate of inheritance is to be applied for in Germany.