More and more couples now live together without marrying or entering into a civil partnership. This does not mean that ending your relationship is without its own legal problems. Ending cohabitation can involve many of the same issues as an actual divorce.

Cohabitation agreements

Many couples enter into an official cohabitation agreement when buying a home together or when they have children. In some cases the cohabitation agreement is similar to a prenuptial agreement in its provisions. A cohabitation agreement can be drafted by a notary, but parties can also write their own. When buying a house together, couples will generally have an official agreement drawn up by a notary.

Parties are free to make their own financial arrangements in an agreement. You can decide on how each partner contributes to household costs, whether you want the household contents to be joint etc.. You can also go so far as to provide a financial settlement in advance in case the relationship ends. Unless you specifically agree on maintenance in the cohabitation agreement, neither spouse is entitled to maintenance after the relationship has ended. So far the Dutch courts have held strictly to this rule.

Termination of cohabitation

If there is a cohabitation agreement, then parties have to officially terminate the agreement, usually by sending a registered letter. Once the agreement is terminated, parties must divide any joint property according to the provisions of the cohabitation agreement.

Some couples never enter into an official agreement. They just move in together. Even so, it can be necessary to terminate the relationship in writing. For example, to determine the end balance of a joint bank account or the value of joint property. All joint property must be divided at the end of the relationship. Without a specific agreement the standard legal rules apply, so a 50/50 split is the norm.

One party may claim to have contributed more financially to the relationship and demand repayment on separation. In that case it is important to determine whether the contribution was a specific investment or was money that you would normally spend on each other in a relationship anyway.  In the last case, the courts rarely award compensation.


If you have children together, you may need to assess if both parents officially have custody. If not, then you may need to arrange this together. You can apply for joint custody together online if you live in The Netherlands. The forms (in Dutch) are available here. Registering as the a parent at the birth of the child does not automatically mean you have custody of  your child unless you are the birth mother. Parents that do not have custody can also request the courts for joint custody of their children.

Even if a parent does not have custody, they will still be liable for child maintenance. In principle, exactly the same rules apply regarding custody and visitation as with married couples (see our article on children).

We advise that you draw up a parenting plan together for the future care and financial support of your children.

If you have any questions regarding cohabitation, please contact us.