Marriage and divorce in the Netherlands

16th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

Some expats come for a short stay and end up falling head over heels in love. Here's an updated guide to marriage, other kinds of partnerships - and divorce.

Regulations and restrictions for those wishing to come to the Netherlands to marry or form a relationship are tightening. If you’ve fallen head over heels - here’s a short guide to marriage, other kinds of partnerships — and divorce, as well as what happens to the kids.

Dutch law recognises three sorts of “official” couples: marriage, registered partnership and cohabitation agreement. The Netherlands became the first country in the world to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry with the same rights as heterosexual couples. In the same way, gay couples may enter into a registered partnership.

To register for marriage, registered partnership or a cohabitation agreement, the law requires that one of the partners is a Dutch citizen or holds a valid residence permit to stay in the Netherlands (for exceptions, see below), and have a minimum income of 120 percent of the minimum wage level. If you wish to immigrate to live with, or to marry, you will have to be over the age of 21, have no “anti-social” or criminal record, and usually will have to take a language and integration test (see IND website for more information).

You must register (ondertouw) at least two weeks before the planned wedding day at the municipal registration office. Once granted, registration for marriage is valid for one year. Be aware that for the marriage to be legal it must always occur first in a civil ceremony; religious ceremonies traditionally take place anywhere from a few hours – to a couple of weeks later.

Conditions and exceptions:

  • One of the partners must be Dutch or legally resident in the Netherlands on a long-stay permit, those on certain forms of temporary residence permits are not eligible (see IND site for details)
  • The couple can be gay or straight
  • Above the age of consent

Persons entering to marry of form a partnership with Dutch residents, holders of long-stay residence permits, or with asylum status, must pass an integration test. Granting of a visa (MMV) or leave to enter the country may depend on completion of this test before entering the Netherlands (see “Residence Permits”).

To prevent marriages or partnerships of convenience, non-Dutch nationals must have a long-stay residence permit or asylum status, and may need to apply for permission from the IND.

You will always need to provide documentation that you are free to marry.

Married or registered partners may use each other's surname, or in combination with their own if they choose to do so.  However, official documents have to show the person's own name as well.

There are major differences between the types of relationship agreements when it comes to having children. In law, a child born of the marriage between a man and a woman has both spouses as its parents. This is not the case where two women or two men are married, or the couple - either same sex or different sexes - has entered into a registered partnership.

If not married the father can request, with the permission of the mother, to officially recognise the child as his and request this be entered into registration. If this is not done officially, the mother retains all rights.

In the case of non-Dutch fathers, this can depend on the nationality and legislation of his home country (i.e. in some countries they do not recognise the fatherhood of children born out of official wedlock). More information may be found through the “Citizen’s Affairs” (Burgerzaken) department of your local municipality.

Love is supposed to be eternal but sometimes relationships can become untenable for a range of reasons. Often difficulties can be overcome when the couple discuss their problems openly and honestly. Assistance may also be of use; your doctor may be able to provide information on counselling options, and ACCESS (, an organisation with information in English for the international community in The Netherlands, can help with information on counselling, childcare and a range of other topics.

In the event the partners decide to end the relationship, a marriage can only be dissolved by court while a registered partnership can be terminated by the partners themselves. Legal separations are also possible. When the split is amicable, the couple can hire a lawyer to act as a neutral mediator to divide joint property; otherwise both sides must engage lawyers.

In the case of children in divorce, both parents retain parental rights and courts prefer in cases where there is no question of abuse that parents come to an agreement on how they will split parental duties. Currently, there is discussion as to whether a special form of prenuptial agreement may be developed to aid couples with children on the difficult subject of parenting after the divorce.

Updated 5 June 2007

[Copyright Expatica 2006]

Subject: Getting married in the Netherlands, registered partnerships in the Netherlands

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