Go Dutch for novel weddings and divorces
The Dutch often complain about their country's bureaucracy, but when it comes to marriage and divorce, the reality proves to be relatively simple compared to other countries.
No one attended the wedding of 31-year-old Janneke van den Berg and 32-year-old Bart Loman. They signed their marriage certificate at the public counter of the Utrecht municipality in the Netherlands with two civil servants serving as witnesses.
Behind them, was a line of people waiting to apply for a passport or driver's license. Wedding costs: 100 euro.
By contrast, Loes Hal, 26, and Maarten Rijnsma, 33, did have guests, 67 to be precise. Rijnsma was dressed in a tuxedo, a white rose in his breast pocket.
Hal wore a classic white wedding gown and held a beautiful bouquet of white roses in her arms. All guests were likewise dressed in festive attire - at 9 am on Monday morning in the Amsterdam city hall. Wedding costs: none.
Miranda Baan and Jaap Duiveman, both 56, got divorced within weeks two years ago.
At their request, a notary transformed their 30-year marriage into a "registered partnership," enabling them to terminate the legal contract without court involvement. Costs: just below 500 euros.
The Dutch often complain about their country's bureaucracy, but when it comes to marriage and divorce, the reality proves to be relatively simple compared to other countries. The Dutch like legal affairs to be speedy, without hurdles and hassles.
In the Netherlands' highly-individualized society, a legal contract like that of marriage gets to be filled in according to individual taste.
On average, a daytime civil ceremony will cost you several hundred euros.
Out-of-office hours and expensive locations - a Saturday afternoon wedding at Amsterdam's 5-star Krasnapolsky Hotel costs around 2000 euros - will cost you more.
By contrast, early morning weddings in the city hall tend to be low-cost or even for free.
"We did not want to waste any money on the ceremony," van den Berg and Loman, who signed their certificate at the municipality's counter, tell Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
"We had different plans to celebrate our wedding," van den Berg continues. "I lost my sister in a traffic accident last year. We wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to celebrate our wedding and to commemorate her at the same time.
"She introduced us to each other. We will celebrate our wedding in southern France, the place we and also my late sister loved. We rented a big villa for a week, for the whole family."
Hal and Rijnsma, who married early Monday morning for free, say they would have loved a big wedding, but "simply had no money."
"Loes got pregnant and we decided to get married. We have been together for a few years but never planned on having a family now. Our financial situation is not great at the moment," Rijnsma says.
"However, once you do decide to get married, better mark the occasion. So this is ideal for us. We rented our wedding outfits to look our very best for the pictures, got married for free on a Monday."
Dutch municipalities do not know exactly how many people get married for free or at low-cost.
"We do not keep such statistics," a spokesman of the Amsterdam city hall says, "but as far as I know, it happens quite regularly."
Speaking about their divorce, Baan and Duiveman say they "wanted to part ways amicably but quickly."
"A blitz divorce was the cheapest way to do it. Our marriage was transformed into a registered partnership which we subsequently dissolved ourselves," Baan says.
Two years after the divorce, Baan is happy they spent neither time nor money on the divorce. But she admits she inadvertently gave up a lot of financial rights.
"In a blitz divorce, you basically draft your own divorce agreement. But without involvement of lawyers and the court, issues like pension rights often don't get to be settled properly," she explains.
"In hindsight, I realized we divided our assets equally, but failed to make a proper arrangement for the division of Jaap's pension. Under Dutch divorce law, I would have been entitled to an equal share."
Lack of protection for the weakest party in the marriage - often the wife - and a lack of international recognition of the Dutch "Blitz divorce", moved the Dutch parliament on June 7 to abolish the quick divorce procedure.
A new divorce law, that should tackle all problems, is now in the making. Under the new law, only couples without children can file for a quick divorce procedure without court involvement.
Couples with children who want to divorce, are from now on obligated to present the court with a "parenting plan", specifying exactly which parent is responsible for what following the divorce.
Legal scholars are still working on the details of the new law.
28 August 2007