Written by solicitor Thomas Meier-Bading 2023-09-28 at 21:19

German debtors - how to get the money?


In Germany, law-suits are more effective and more common than in other countries. They should be done by a German lawyer, because otherwise you run into the risk of having to reimburse the opponent’s lawyer-fees. For claims of 5.000 € or more you need a “Rechtsanwalt”, for claims below you want one.
Ø Reading time: 3 min.
table of contents:
  • How to find a German debtor?
  • Things to consider
  • What needs to be in a law-suit?
  • How not to get eaten by the court?
  • Rating for this site

How to find a German debtor?

Unlike in other countries, Germans are relatively easy to find in order to make them pay their bills (not like in the picture). Therefore the most important questions you would pose abroad does not really arise here. That is because everyone has to register at the authorities when moving to or inside Germany.
For this reason, in Germany a law-suit or even threatening with one, is usually quite effective - provided the debtor has the money to pay. Some don’t though, but they tend to pay the most urgent debts at first, so a letter by a lawyer can make much more sense than in other countries. Otherwise a court will „explain” it again to them for much higher costs. The legal court costs and lawyer-fees have to be reimbursed by the looser of a law-suit. So debtors will think twice about paying and preventing the court.
But how to settle a law-suit in Germany?

Things to consider

picture: ai, prompt: Thomas Meier-Bading

Having now had 20 years of experience I would say: actually it doesn’t take much to file a case at court. But when I remember my first law-suit, it was not easy at all.

German courts are quite considerate though towards foreigners, provided their German is good. Nowadays you could solve that part with an AI-translator. For very simple and plain claims you may even try it yourself without a lawyer, provided the claim is under 5.000 €.

Most of the cases are not very simple and plain, so you should hire someone who knows the German law. Even lawyers from other countries should at least consult a German Rechtsanwalt.

What needs to be in a law-suit?

I cannot squeeze many years of law-studies at University into a few sentences, but shortly said, every law-suit needs to provide:

  • The parties involved. If companies, their representatives.
  • The request what the court shall decide, like „to condemn the defendant to pay 4.000 € to the plaintiff”. Or „to decide that the plaintiff is not obliged to pay 4.000 € to the defendant”.
  • The amount in dispute.
  • The relevant facts in chronological sequence, supported by proofs like for instance papers or witnesses. You may not assume that the court knows any fact not explained in the story. It has to be comprehensive out of itself. Also, the claim must follow conclusively from the story if the opponent had nothing to object.
  • A signature. Lawyers have to sign electronically with a qualified signature complying to the European ETSI-standard.

All persons and companies are to be provided with their full name and address. Juridical explanations are not required, not even your argumentation, because: „the court knows the law”.

Pls. pay attention if the opponent replies. Usually even German amateurs know the German law better than a foreigner does.

Attention: Unlike in other legal systems, in Germany you have to reimburse the other party’s lawyer-fees if you loose the case. Likewise if you win, your opponent has to pay your lawyer-fees. But the fees to be reimbursed calculate differently from what many lawyers take, so there might be a gap. So keep in mind that there might be extra-costs.

How not to get eaten by the court?

Actually, if you want to prevent mistakes, don’t think much and hand your case over to a German lawyer - a „Rechtsanwalt”. A „Rechtsanwalt” is something like in Britain a solicitor and a barrister in one. We can settle contracts as well as we can go to court for our clients. We can speak and write proper juridical German, we know the German law and we can sign electronically with the ETSI-standard. For claims of 5.000 € or above, you are legally required to have a Rechtsanwalt.

The lawyer-fees are not very high. See my extra article on lawyer-fees.

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