Parental leave in Germany [Elternzeit] 2023 English Guide

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by Jen



Germany is a big supporter of families and provides many perks to allow parents to take care of their small children. The social benefits don’t only apply to new moms, but they apply to both parents. They range from paid maternity leave to parental leave for up to three years! How cool is that?

Related Guide: Maternity Leave In Germany [Mutterschutz]

What is parental leave in Germany? 

Parental leave is an unpaid break from work offered to new parents to look after their children. The parental leave can be up to three years, and the time can be split between the two parents. A parent can decide not to work at all or only work part-time (up to 32 hours a week).

Even though parental leave is an unpaid break, new parents can apply for parental allowance (Elterngeld). This state-funded program pays up to 1.800 euros a month to compensate for the lack of salary.

Related Guide: Parental Allowance in Germany [Elterngeld]

The cool thing is that your job is protected during parental leave. In most cases, you can even return to the same position you had before your leave.

Who can take parental leave (Elternzeit) in Germany?

You can take a parental break if you fulfill the following conditions:

  • You are employed – full-time, part-time, or mini-job.
  • You and your child live in the same house.
  • You raise your child – meaning you do not send your kid to daycare.
  • You work in Germany or have a German contract abroad. You don’t necessarily need to live in Germany.

You can request parental leave to take care of:

  • Your biological child
  • The biological child of your wife or husband or your life partner
  • Your stepkids – If you have applied for adopting them, even though the application is still being processed
  • Your foster child
  • Your adopted child – even if the process is not complete
  • Your grandchild – under certain circumstances

If the parents are unable to take care of their kids for some reason, any family member is eligible to apply for parental leave.

Who cannot take parental leave in Germany?

If you are a school or university student, intern, self-employed or unemployed, you cannot apply for parental leave.

How long can I go on parental leave in Germany?

You can take up to three years of parental leave per child. You don’t have to take all three years. You are free to decide how much time you take – days, weeks, or months.

If you have not taken the three years before your kid’s 3rd birthday, you can take the remaining time between your kid’s 3rd and 8th birthday (if your employer allows it).

If you are the mom, keep in mind that the time you take after the birth as maternity leave (two months) counts as part of your parental leave. So you have two years and ten months left as parental leave.

When can I start my parental leave in Germany?

The earliest you can take parental leave is when your child is born. Your parental leave, however, does not have to start when your child is born. You can start your break anytime before your kid’s 3rd birthday.

Now, how do you apply for parental leave in Germany? You need to inform your employer in writing at least seven weeks in advance that you are planning to take parental leave. You can find a sample letter for your employer at (in German). Your employer should provide you a letter confirming that they have accepted your request.

If you are planning to take parental leave after your child’s 3rd birthday, you must let your employer know at least 13 weeks in advance.

How can I split my parental leave in Germany?

Before your child’s 3rd birthday

You can take all three years in one go or split it up into several periods. The amount of periods you are allowed to take depends on when your kid was born:

  • If your child was born after July 1st, 2015, you are entitled to a maximum of 3 time periods.
  • If your child was born before July 1st, 2015, you are entitled to a maximum of 2 time periods.

As long as your employer agrees, you can always request to get more time periods.

Between your child’s 3rd and 8th birthday

If you decided not to take all of the three years before your child’s 3rd birthday, you could use the remaining time between your kid’s 3rd and 8th b-day. The amount of time you can carry over depends on when they were born:

  • If your kid was born after July 1st, 2015, you can transfer a maximum of 24 months.
  • If your kid was born before July 1st, 2015, you can transfer a maximum of 12 months.

Can I work during parental leave in Germany?

You can work part-time during your parental leave as long as you don’t exceed an average of 32 hours per week in a month.

If you had a part-time job before your child was born, you can continue with that job or even ask your employer to reduce the hours.

If you have a full-time job, you can request your employer to allow you to work part-time. Where it gets interesting is that if your employer cannot allow a part-time job, you can ask to be allowed to work part-time for another employer or as self-employed.

However, after your parental leave is over, you need to go back to the number of hours you were working before your break. According to German law, you can always request your employer for part-time employment as long as you have been working there for more than six months and the employer has more than 15 employees. You can read more about this law on the official German website (in German).

Can I get fired during parental leave in Germany?

While you are officially on parental leave, your job is protected. The protection actually starts the moment you request the parental leave, although a maximum of eight weeks prior to starting your Elternzeit is protected. The employer can only fire you under some very special circumstances like the company went bankrupt or you violated your contract somehow.

This special job protection also applies if you take parental leave while still being in the probation period. Whether the probation period will be extended for the time you are on parental leave depends on your work contract, as there is no general rule.

Your employer can end your employment at the end of your parental leave while respecting a three months notice period.

Firing an employee during parental leave is not such an easy process, as the employer needs to get approval from the regulatory authority.

If you are unlucky to get fired during your parental leave, and you believe this was not a fair dismissal, you have up to three weeks to appeal to your region’s regulatory authority.

Can I quit during my parental leave in Germany?

Yes, you can! You still need to abide by the notice period written in your contract.

Parental leave in Germany experienced by an Expat

Melina, an entrepreneur and expat living in Berlin, tells her story in the YouTube video below. After her maternity leave, she explains how she wanted to take seven months of parental leave and the struggles she faced.

In Melina’s experience, mothers in Germany are expected to take at least one year off after their child has been born. She also talks about how hard it is to balance a full-time job with child care in Berlin.


Parental leave in Germany is a great opportunity for both parents to be with their children during their early years.

A parent has the freedom to choose how much time they want to be on parental leave (up to three years). How a family decides to split the parental leave is totally up to them and the agreement they have with their employer. A mom can stay on parental leave even after her maternity leave is over.

Related Guide: Maternity Leave In Germany [Mutterschutz]

Remember that parental leave is a voluntary unpaid break. If you wish to receive financial help from the government, you should apply separately for the parental allowance (Elterngeld).

Related Guide: Parental Allowance in Germany [Elterngeld]

We hope you enjoy your time with your kids!

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About the Author
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Jen is originally from Guatemala and moved to Germany in 2012 to start a new job without any knowledge of German or life in Germany. Jen’s mission is to help fellow expats beat bureaucracy and to have a smooth time while they settle into their new life in Germany.