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December 2000

Baby Talk

Deciphering your rights as a parent

In Germany, parents and their children enjoy a wide range of benefits and rights, which apply to legal foreigners, too.
Pregnant employees are ensured legal protection (Mutterschutz<<7i>) during the six weeks before the expected birth date and eight weeks thereafter (12 weeks for multiple or premature births). During this period, they have the right not to work; indeed, they are forbidden to return to work for eight weeks after giving birth. During this Mutterschutz period, employees receive the same level of net earnings as they did before. For those who pay into a state health insurance fund (Krankenkasse), DM 25 a day (Mutterschaftsgeld) is paid by this fund, the rest comes from the employer. Employees with private insurance — or those insured via their husbands — receive the employer’s payment and usually a lump sum of DM 400 from the Bundesversicherungsamt in Bonn (Tel. [0228] 6190). Self- employed women can receive Mutterschaftsgeld from their health insurance if this is included in their policy.
After the Mutterschutz period, parents are entitled to take up to three years off work with the guarantee that they can go back. Up to now, this has been called Erziehungsurlaub — “holiday to bring up children.” From 2001, it will be called Elternzeit. You must inform your employer of your plans four weeks in advance. Parents of children born as of January 1, 2001, will be able to take time off together, and, with the employer’s consent, can take off one of the years between the child’s third and eighth birthdays. Also new from 2001 is the right of those who work in firms with at least 15 employees to do so on a part-time basis during Elternzeit.
Erziehungsgeld is payable for up to two years after the birth, irrespective of whether the parents had worked beforehand or not. The maximum is DM 600 a month per child. During the first six months, the income limit for receiving payment is DM 100,000 a year for couples (DM 75,000 for single parents). Thereafter, the limits fall drastically (e.g. DM 32,200 for a couple with one child in 2001). Parents of children born from January 1, 2001, can work up to 30 hours a week each (currently 19 hours) and still receive Erziehungsgeld — provided they are within the income limits. Also new is that parents can choose to receive DM 900 a month for one year rather than DM 600 for two. For more information, call the Amt für Versorgung und Familienförderung ([089] 130 620 for those living in Munich with surnames beginning with letters A-H, [089] 51 431 for surnames I-Z). In Bavaria, an additional Landeserziehungsgeld is paid in the third year for children of EU citizens and, from 2001, for children who take German citizenship.
Kindergeld is paid for all children up to the age of 18. Under certain conditions — e.g. when the child is in further education, unemployed or doing national service — it can continue up to 27, and, in exceptional cases, beyond. Current rates are DM 270 a month for each of the first two children; DM 300 for the third child; and DM 350 for each additional child. To apply, contact the Familienkasse at the Arbeitsamt (Thalkirchner Str. 54. Tel. [089] 51 54-95 67). When you file your annual income tax returns (Steuererklärung), tax authorities (Finanzamt) will work out whether you are entitled to further tax breaks.
Other benefits for families with children include tax-free payments from employers for childcare costs, and payments for working mothers toward childcare from the Jugendamt (Tel. [089] 233-23 762). <<<