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Elternzeit – what you need to know

Parents with their baby lying on a bed

Welcome to our blog post on Elternzeit, the German parental leave – your ultimate guide to understanding your rights and options as a new parent in this country. Elternzeit is an essential benefit provided by the German government to support working parents in balancing their family and career responsibilities. However, navigating the complex regulations and paperwork associated with this benefit can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the system. In this article, we’ll provide a comprehensive overview of Elternzeit in Germany, including eligibility requirements, duration and the necessary application process. Let’s get started and discover everything you need to know about Elternzeit in Germany.

What is Elternzeit in Germany?

Elternzeit is the parental leave that employed parents are entitled to by law. It‘s really important to make the difference between Elternzeit (the parental leave) and Elterngeld (the parental allowance). A lot of parents get confused between the two but they are different things entirely.

With Elternzeit we‘re only talking about the leave employed parents can take from her employment. It‘s another form of leave, in the same way that employed parents can have sick leave, sabbatical leave etc but has nothing to do with money, just time off. Elterngeld on the other hand is a financial benefit, it is the money side of things.

If you’re looking for more information on Elterngeld,

  • don’t want to read further? Book your Elternzeit / Elterngeld consultation with me

  • have a look at our article here

Who is entitled to Elternzeit?

  • Be a parent (either biological, foster or adoptive parent) in employment or in
  • Be living together with the child in one household
  • Be the primary carer for the child, that doesn’t mean that the child cannot be going to childcare or school

How long are parents entitled to Elternzeit?

Each parent is entitled to 3 years of parental leave per child until the child’s 9th birthday. So if the parents have two children in Germany, each parent is entitled to a total of 6 years of parental leave.

The entitlement expires when the children each reach 9 years of age. Parents can be on Elternzeit simultaneously or separately. Parents make use of their parental leave in one go or in up to 3 separate instalments for each child.

Elternzeit can be claimed in days, weeks or months.

Example: Joanna and Alex have 1 child. Joanna takes Elternzeit for 6 months after the child was born, then another 3 weeks when the child is 3, and another 4 months when the child is 6. Alex takes Elternzeit for a year after the child is born, 1 week when the child is 3 and 5 days when the child is 7.

Notifying your employers about Elternzeit

Parents have to notify their employers minimum 7 weeks before the start of Elternzeit of when they want their Elternzeit to start and end.
Since employed mothers always have 8 weeks of maternity leave after birth, their parental leave starts only at the end of the maternity leave. Therefore, they need to notify their employer at the latest 1 week after birth of when they intend to take Elternzeit.

Partners who want to take parental leave right after birth, will need to notify their employer 7 weeks before the due date.

I really recommend you tell your employer in writing, not by email, but with a proper letter sent with proof of delivery or hand-delivered.

If you want to take parental leave later on down the line, when the child is older than 2 years, the notice period gets extended to 13 weeks before the start of Elternzeit.

Elternzeit is legally binding for the first two years

A lot of parents aren’t aware of this but there is a so-called binding period (in German „Bindungszeitraum“) of 2 years when requesting parenting leave. This means that when you send your first request for Elternzeit, your application should contain the start and end date of all of your planned Elternzeit for the next two years.

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Employers have the right to refuse extending, shortening or amending in any way your parental leave within that timeframe.

It’s a difficult decision, as a lot of parents cannot foresee what the next two years have in store for them. However, it’s important not to get stuck with an Elternzeit plan that doesn’t align with your goals.

Working part-time on Elternzeit

In Germany you have the option to work part-time on Elternzeit. This means that instead of total parental leave, you can work up to 32 hours / week for a limited period of time and at the end of your Elternzeit you go back to your normal working conditions.
You are eligible to work part-time on Elternzeit under certain conditions:

  • Your employer has more than 15 employees
  • You have been with the company for more than 6 months


I recommend to discuss this with your employer in advance and have a plan in place on how you will split these hours (how many hours per day, which days etc). The last thing you want is to work full-time and be paid for part-time work.

How to go about planning and requesting Elternzeit

I always recommend the following to my clients:

  1. Get your head round the possibilities and the constraints (e.g. in a lot of Germany it’s
    difficult to find daycare for your child before they turn 1 or even 2)
  2. Discuss as a family your wishes: how much time would each parent like to stay home
    after birth? Are there any other wishes that you need to take into account (e.g. a vacation to your home country, Christmas holidays, some professional training or anything else)? Talk to your employer about your potential plans before sending your official request. Most employers are relaxed about amending the parental leave even if they don’t have to, this is your chance to find out.
  3. Then send your final official request in writing within the legal notice period

About Baby in Berlin

Baby in Berlin is a concierge service for international families in Germany offering assistance with the organization of their pregnancy and the paperwork (Elterngeld, Kindergeld etc) related to baby and birth. We have assisted thousands of families so far (read their testimonials here).

We offer services to help you feel confident and relaxed through your parenthood journey in Germany. Don’t know which services to choose? Just get in touch and we’ll give you a call back! 

Need more details? Book your Elternzeit / Elterngeld consultation with me!