Civil Status Registration Systems in Europe and in Russia


Principles of Civil Status Registration System

Each State has its own idea of civil status registration linked to its history, its geography, its level of economic development and its political organisation.  However, certain principles form the basis of any civil status registration system:

1) The principle of universality, according to which the civil status registration covers all residents of the country and all events/facts that take place in the territory of the country.

2) The principle of territoriality, which includes two possible criteria for drawing up a civil status act:

–  the place of occurrence an event/fact (event-based system)

– the place of residence of the person concerned (person-based system)

These two criteria are not mutually exclusive.

3) The principle of updating the civil status record, which consists in entering information about events/ facts giving rise to the modification of the civil/marital status of a person or its elements. Civil status records updating processes are vastly different in different countries.

4) The principle of the limited availability of civil status acts means that only persons with a legal interest have access to civil status registers  (in Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland, Russia). On the contrary, in England and Wales, the principle of accessibility of civil status registers applies. So everyone has a right of access and obtaining a copy  by paying a fee.

The List of Events/Facts Subject to Registration

The list of events /facts subject to registration varies from one country to another and can be divided into two groups.

  • The first group covers events/facts constituting the civil status and family status of persons such as records of birth, marriage, and death. In a number of countries, a new family status – a registered partnership (in Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Switzerland), solidarity pact (in France) – came into existence.
  • The second group consists of events/facts modifying the elements of the civil and family status of a person (adoption, establishment of paternity, incapacity, marriage contract, separation of spouses, deprivation of parental rights, presumption of death).

The Probative Value of a Civil Status Act

The probative value of a civil status act can be understood both in a narrow sense (stricto sensu) and in a broad sense (lato  sensu).

The principle of probative value stricto sensu means that a civil status act must correspond to the documents (proofs) submitted (Russia). The principle of probative value in a broad sense means that a civil status act must correspond to biological reality.

In this regard, in many countries a registrar is charged with the task of verification of proof confirming the occurrence of an event/fact. The proof may consist of legal documents, medical certificates, testimony, a personal statement or a combination thereof. In some countries, the heads of institutions (maternity hospitals, hospitals, etc.) are responsible for notifying the occurrence of an event (birth, death) (for example, in Switzerland) ex officio. In other countries,  the production of a medical certificate is required for registering the birth of a child while witnesses declaration is not allowed (in Germany, Belgium, Spain, Greece, Turkey, France).

In contrast, in Russia, a witness’ declaration may be the proof of maternal filiation (art. 48 of the Family Code,art. 14 of the Federal Law On Civil Status Acts).

Updating the Civil Status Record

The grounds and methods for entering the information of the second group, as well as the form of recording (additional notes (annotations), marginal notes, transfer of the details of court decisions (transcriptions)) and its content are different. Certain systems are centralized, others proceed by adding marginal annotations. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, never update any civil-status records.

In a number of countries, the birth record reflects all subsequent events in a person’s life: marriage/ divorce, incapacity, presumption of death, death (in Belgium, Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland).

Court registries of marriage contracts operate in Germany (Güterrechtsregister) and the Netherlands (Article 166 of the Civil Code). In the Netherlands, the Court of First Instance of The Hague maintains a register of court decisions establishing incapacity, relevant court decisions are also published in court bulletins (Art. 390, 391 of the Civil Code). In Italy, there are also court registries of decisions on incapacity  (Art. 455, 432 of the Civil Code). In Spain, the civil status registry includes a separate book of incapable persons (Art. 214, 218, 219 of the Civil Code; Art. 1.5, 8 of the Regulation on Civil Status).

Examples of Countries

The Russian Civil Code specifies the registration of only 7 civil-status records: birth, marriage, divorce, establishment of paternity, adoption, change of name, and death.

In Germany, the civil registry consists of the following books:

  • birth books (Geburtenbuch),
  • deaths (Sterbebuch),
  • marriages (Heiratsbuch),
  • the book of registered partnerships (Lebenspartnerschaftsbuch), maintained only in a part of the land (Bavaria, Berlin, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Pomerania, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein).

There are two types of registries in Turkey: family registers and special registers. Special registers include registers of births, marriages, deaths, divorces, change of residence, corrections, and other events (which include, for example, paternity, adoption, change of sex).

In England and Wales, there is a special registration system whereby the records associated with each legal fact are entered in a separate register, namely:

  • registers of births
  • registers of marriages
  • registers of civil partnerships
  • registers of deaths
  • registers of still-births
  • abandoned children register
  • parental order register
  • adopted children register
  • gender recognition register
  • adoption contact register

Except for the register of still-births which are sent to the Registrar General once they have been filed, the original registers of births, deaths and marriages are kept by local registration services. However, copies of the entries held locally are sent electronically to the Registrar General. The registers of abandoned children, adopted children, the gender recognition register and the adoption contact register are kept and maintained by the Registrar General.

The Form and Content of the Birth Record

For each person, the birth certificate is the most important document proving identity and civil status. It consists of various elements:

  • places, dates (in all countries), and sometimes the exact time of birth (Germany, Greece, France, Turkey, Switzerland);
  • the sex of the child ( in Germany in  2017, the German Federal Constitutional Court held that the Personal Status Act is incompatible with the German Basic Law, to the extent that it only allows the registration of a female or male gender at birth or no gender entry at all);
  • the name, surname of the child (consists of different components in different traditions);
  • the name, surname of the parents of the child, sometimes their address, profession (Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland), nationality (Germany);
  • parents’ religions (Germany, Austria, Greece, Turkey);
  • marital status of a child’s mother (Austria, Spain, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic);
  • name, surname of grandparents (Spain);
  • name of the registration officer.


The legislation regulating the registration of civil status contains, above all, the rules of administrative law, but they are closely related to family law and the law of persons. The list of events/facts subject to registration and their classification is of fundamental importance, as a person’s status is what makes that person exist in legal terms.

It seems that the systems of civil status registration of all the states of Europe are more dynamic in nature than in Russia. Hence, they reflect more information relevant to the legal and marital status of citizens than the system of civil status registration in Russia, where the number of events subject to registration, is still seven. Thus, conclusion of a marriage contract, restriction of a person’s legal capacity, recognition of a person as missing are not mentioned as a civil-status record. Registered  partnerships are also absent  in Russian legislation.

Besides, the fact that a Russian registrar is not competent to verify events, which is in clear contrast with other countries, is a major drawback.  It means that false declarations may be registered even when a registrar has suspicions about the factual occurrence of an event/fact.

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