Divorce

Divorce in the Netherlands

Dutch divorce proceedings commence by filing a petition with the relevant family court in the Netherlands. Representation by a lawyer is mandatory in all divorce proceedings, whether the divorce is contested or not. The divorce can either be petitioned jointly by both spouses or unilaterally by one spouse.

If the divorce is contested, then after written submissions from both parties a hearing will be held. Often the court will grant the divorce decree quickly, while adjourning other matters until a later hearing or further submissions from parties.

When is the divorce final?

The court order itself does not make the divorce official. To complete the divorce, the divorce decree must be registered in the Dutch civil marriage register. Registration must take place within nine months of the decree being granted or the decree becomes void. If you married abroad, registration in the foreign marriage register in The Hague finalises the divorce.

If both parties do not mutually agree to register the divorce, then one party can unilaterally register the divorce after the appeal period of three months has lapsed, thereby completing the divorce.

Grounds for divorce in The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, divorce can be petitioned on the grounds that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. There is no blame apportioned to either spouse in Dutch law. Who is to blame for the divorce does not affect the divorce settlement. The court does not examine whether the marriage has actually broken down or not. Appeal against a divorce on religious grounds is not accepted.

Jurisdiction

In international cases involving foreign nationals or when one or both spouses are living abroad, the Dutch courts are not always competent to hear proceedings.

The Dutch courts have jurisdiction to hear divorce proceedings, irrespective of the nationality of parties or where they were married, in the following circumstances:

  • Both parties are of Dutch nationality, irrespective of where they live now;
  • Both parties (officially) live in the Netherlands;
  • The Netherlands was the last place of co-habitation and one of the spouses is still living in The Netherlands;
  • The defending party lives in The Netherlands or, in case of a joint petition, one of the spouses lives in The Netherlands;
  • If the plaintiff has lived in The Netherlands for at least one year prior to the petition;
  • If the plaintiff is of Dutch nationality and has lived in The Netherlands at least six months prior to the petition.

Foreign nationals can therefore generally get divorced in the Netherlands. However, if only the plaintiff still resides in the Netherlands, there is a short time bar of up to one year before proceedings can be brought before the Dutch courts. This can only be bypassed by a joint petition by both parties.

No jurisdiction

The Dutch courts do not have jurisdiction in the following circumstances:

  •  Parties were married in The Netherlands, but neither party now resides in The Netherlands, unless both parties are Dutch Nationals;
  • Only one of the spouses is of Dutch Nationality, but neither party now lives in The Netherlands.

The Dutch courts always have jurisdiction if both spouses are of Dutch nationality.

In cases where one of the spouses has moved abroad, more than one national court may have jurisdiction. It is then important to determine where it is most advantageous to bring proceedings. Would a settlement in another jurisdiction be more advantageous or easier to carry out? The country where the first petition is filed will have priority to hear the divorce proceedings.

Just because the Dutch courts have jurisdiction to hear the divorce petition itself doesn’t automatically mean that the court can decide on all matters regarding the divorce. For example, any custody measures regarding children can only be granted in the country where the children have their permanent residence. If your children are living outside the Dutch jurisdiction, then separate proceedings must be initiated in their country of residence.

Applicable law

Competence to hear the divorce proceedings does not mean that Dutch law is automatically applicable to all aspects of your divorce. Under European and international treaty law, which law is applicable to the marriage and your marital property will depend on the nationality of parties and the place of your first marital home. Your may have concluded a prenuptial agreement fixing which law is applicable to your marital property. To complicate matters, parties may also disagree on which law is applicable, for example if they have moved around a lot or are now in different countries.

In general, the Dutch courts will try and decide on the divorce while respecting and, if possible, applying foreign law. This may require parties to submit legal opinions on foreign law. The court can also apply for independent expert advice.

Is a divorce in The Netherlands valid in your country of origin?

Not all countries outside of the EU will automatically recognise a Dutch divorce decree. Therefore, it is important get local legal advice in case the decree needs to be recognised in separate proceedings in your country of origin.

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