Six years ago I stepped out of Schiphol airport onto the concrete walkway, its flowerpots ablaze with red flowers. When I arrived, my two and a half year old toddler in a buggy and four week old baby in my arms, accompanying my expat husband, I thought that the Netherlands and everything it represented was just a stop along the way to something else. An interlude perhaps, from which I'd return to my cute Victorian terrace house in Chelmsford, back to shopping at Tesco, maybe back to civil-unrest-filled Zimbabwe or back to glorious Cape Town, the bay spread before me and the mountains behind me.
I wouldn't have thought that six years later I'd be filing for divorce in a country which I initially thought I'd leave within a year. It's a common lament, the expat arrives in a foreign country, their relationship breaks down irrevocably and sooner or later someone is asking for a divorce after several years of misery. Most of the time, the party deciding to leave just goes home, unless the conditions for divorce are better in the Netherlands than they would be otherwise. I don't know any of the ins and outs of a court battle in the Netherlands, or what might happen if you are a foreigner married to a Dutch citizen, but as a Zimbabwean married to a Brit, I can tell you about my own experiences.
In the classic 'retreat from all conflict' manner which the Dutch seem to excel at in personal affairs, and which we seem to have assimilated, we decided that we would approach the idea of divorce in the Dutch way. We employed a scheidingsmakelaar - literally 'a divorce agent'.
Room in New York by Edward Hopper
I signed up at the website after hearing an ad on the radio and subsequently set up an appointment with the agent via email. Basically her role is to assist in setting up the paperwork but all of the discussion (and compromise) needs to be between the parties getting divorced, and this is where it can get sticky. She facilitates the divorce based on information from a team of lawyers based elsewhere, and sometimes the information communicated via the agent is imprecise or downright wrong. This means a lot of to-ing and fro-ing while information gets verified.
A scheidingsmakelaar is NOT a mediator, even though it's always translated as such. A mediator would help you come to an arrangement; a scheidingsmakelaar's function is merely to facilitate the paperwork that goes with a divorce. He or she will draw up a parenting agreement and work out how much alimony should be paid (partner and child support) based on gross salaries and the government guidelines. Note that if you are the primary earner and have the 30 percent rule, the difference in your net salary isn't taken into account using the government guidelines. So the person with the ruling wins. The pensions will be split; the household goods divided up and once a covenant is agreed upon your documents will go to the court. A few weeks later you receive a document of intention which you will sign, send back to the court and within a couple of months receive your divorce decree.
If your marriage is foreign you will need apostilled original documents, including your marriage certificate and birth certificates of your children. The agreements are very standard, but if you have no unusual requests the scheidingsmakelaar allows you the capacity to conclude your relationship civilly and more or less fairly without needing to engage a lawyer; and at a reasonable price too. If you intend to fight over every detail, have no room for compromise, or not be willing to relinquish your claims on house/pensions/etc then you are better off employing your own lawyer.
It's an odd pill to swallow, divorce in a country that isn't your own, even when it's at your own instigation. I think that this method offers the most non-confrontational manner of divorcing while maintaining a reasonable relationship which is really important if you have children. It also offers a reasonable result for a reasonable figure. The whole process costs less than EUR 3000, which, when you consider how much it costs to get married, isn't that out of the ordinary as a dissolution figure.
All in all, I think if you can get divorced for less than it cost to get married you’re winning!
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