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Children’s rights

Citizenship


The child of a Swiss national obtains Swiss citizenship from birth on, ragardless of whether or not the parents were married at the time of the child's birth (Swiss Citizenship Act (BüG) art. 1).
Since 1 January 2006, a child acquires his father's Swiss citizenship even if the parents are not married, but only if the parental relationship is establiseh (BüG Art. 1, para 2).

Children who were born before 1 January 2006 and thus did not acquire their unmarried fathers's Swiss citizenship upon birth have the option to apply for simplified naturalisation (BüG art. 58).

Exception: The child of female Swiss national who became a Swiss citizen under prior law will not obtain citizenship upon birth but may apply for simplified naturalisation if he has close ties to Switzerland (BüG art. 58a).

Children from a binational relationship acquire Swiss citizenship through birth or adoption if their mother is a Swiss citizen or if their father is a Swiss citizen and is married to their mother or marries their mother later. (Swiss Citizenship Act (BüG) art. 1ff)

Exception: The child from the marriage between a foreign man and a Swiss woman who acquired Swiss citizenship through a previous marriage, does not acquire Swiss citizenship, but has the option of obtaining simplified naturalisation. (BüG art. 57a/58b)

If the parents are married, their child acquires the cantonal and communal citizenship of the father. If the parents are not married, their child acquires that of the mother (ZGB art. 271).

Switzerland recognises dual citizenship (www.bfm.admin.ch). Thus according to Swiss law, a child can have the citizenship of the mother and that of the father. In each individual case, it is important to clarify whether the other state involved also recognises dual citizenship.
The appropriate consular representative will clarify whether the child also receives the citizenship of the foreign parent and how this can be requested.
In Switzerland, child law is governed by the Swiss Civil Code (arts. 252-327).

Naming

According to Swiss law, children take the family surname (ZGB art. 270). This can be the surname of the man or that of the woman, depending on what the couple decided when they got married (Matrimonial Law). 
It is not possible for children to have a double surname in Switzerland. According to Swiss law, the children of unmarried parents acquire the surname of their mother.Code (arts. 252-327).

Custody
 (new since 1.7.2014)

It is important to a child’s harmonious development that he or she be able, as far as possible, to maintain a close relationship with both parents. As of July 1, 2014, separated or divorced parents as a rule will share (in the case of separated parents, continue to share) custody for children they have together. There are exceptions in cases where joint care would conflict with the child’s welfare. Priority is given to children’s welfare. And a child has the right to an independent relationship to each parent, but that is not all. A child also has the right to stable and dependable conditions of care and the right to financial security.

Joint custody also applies for unmarried couples. For this, a joint statement is required; this is most easily provided at the same time as acknowledgment of paternity at the civil registry office. The joint statement can also be provided at a later time at the Child and Adult Protection Authority (KESB, Kindes- und Erwachsenenschutzbehörde, formerly Vormundschaftsbehörde, Guardianship Authority). Without a joint statement, the mother continues to have sole parental custody. If the mother refuses to provide a joint care statement, the affected father may call the KESB in the child’s place of residence. If there is no rationale against joint care, the KESB will issue an order in that regard. The application must be done latest one year after the new law enters into force (application before July 1, 2015).

As of July 1, 2014, divorced parents who do not have joint care pursuant to the new law may contact the KESB in the child’s place of residence and apply for joint care. If only one divorced parent submits the application, there is a deadline of one year after the new law enters into force (application before July 1, 2015) and the divorce ruling may not have been more than five years before the law enters into force (divorces after July 1, 2009). 

Joint parental care means:

  • The parents decide together (as previously in a marital relationship), e.g. about names, general childrearing, education, medical matters, religion, other matters that set the course for or significantly influence the child’s life, the child’s income and property, etc.
  • New: The parent who is caring for the child may make decisions alone if:  1. the matter is a routine or urgent one, e.g..: food, clothing, recreational activities, contact with friends, etc or 2. the other parent cannot be reached with a reasonable amount of effort.
  • New: The concepts of caregiving and custodial care are not spelled out in the law. The concept of actual custodial care: The parent with whom the child lives most of the time. The concept of caregiving goes further: A parent who does not provide official custodial care is giving care when the child is with him or her within the scope of the law governing visits.
  • New: Parental care includes the right to determine the child’s domicile. In the case of joint parental care, either the other parent’s approval or a decision by the court or the KESB is necessary in order to change the child’s domicile if: 1. the new domicile is in another country or 2. the change of domicile has significant effects on the other parent’s ability to provide parental care and maintain personal contact. Requirement for consent only in the case of significant effects, i.e., if the move results in significant restriction of visiting rights. Legal consequences in the case of violation and of a move to another country: Repatriation proceedings due to international child abduction.

Responsibilities in the case of disputes:

For divorced parents, the KESB in the child’s place of residence is responsible. If a divorce judgment must be changed (custodial care, custody, child support), the court is responsible.

For unmarried parents, the KESB in the child’s place of residence is responsible. The court is responsible for new regulations concerning child support.

If the parents repeatedly cannot agree about important questions in the child’s life, such that the child’s welfare is seriously jeopardized, the question arises of whether parental care should be taken away from (both or just one of) them. Legal questions related to child support and caregiving are not addressed by the new law. Legal questions related to child support and caregiving should, like parental care, be arranged in such a way that no disadvantages to the child arise from the parents’ marital status.

Recognition of paternity


In the case of married couples, the mother's husband is considered to be the child's father. Paternity needs to be regulated for children of unmarried parents (ZGB art. 260). In addition, a maintenance contract (ZGB art. 279 ff) needs to be concluded and - if the parents do not live together - visiting rights need to be regulated. Parents can do this of their own accord, i.e. they inform the responsible registry office of the paternity. Otherwise, the guardianship authority will establish a declaration of legal support in the interest of the child with the aim of regulating paternity and maintenance (ZGB art. 309). The interests and rights of the child are the main objective here. If a mother keeps the paternity a secret and/or forgoes maintenance, this damages the interests of the child. Keeping paternity secret and/or renouncing maintenance by a mother may be detrimental to the child's interests.