Legal matters in the Netherlands
What types of relationship contracts are there in the Netherlands for couples?
In the Netherlands partners can choose from two different official types of living arrangement that are regulated by law: they can marry or enter into a registered partnership with same or different gender couples. It is also possible to sign a cohabitation agreement and or to live together without signing any formal agreement.
Marriage and registered partnership
Huwelijk (marriage) and geregistreerd partnerschap (registered partnership) are very similar in this country. The partners have almost identical rights under the two systems and both relationships are formalised by law. To a large extent, the law specifies the partners’ rights and obligations, the conditions they must meet to formalise their relationship, and the procedures involved, including ending a relationship. There are no significant differences regarding children between marriage and registered partnership on the one hand but you do have them under cohabitation agreement on the other hand.
Cohabitation and cohabitation agreements
Even if a couple living together choose not to formalize their relationship, the fact that they live together still has legal consequences. There are implications, for instance, for income tax and social security deductions and benefits.
They may enter into a samenlevingscontract (cohabitation agreement) a written contract arranging a variety of matters related to living together and sharing a home e.g. a couple may agree to support each other financially and share the costs of running a household. They may also want to make arrangements about the use of each other’s bank accounts, or dividing or sharing their property. The couple may arrange these matters themselves, but it is often advisable to have an official cohabitation agreement drawn up by a notary. This is required in order to be eligible for certain benefits, such as the partner’s pension schemes and employment fringe benefits. You can learn more about the role of a notary on the links provided on the Legal matters introduction.
Since 2001 it has been possible in the Netherlands for two men or two women to enter into a marriage or a registered partnership. Both a registered partnership and a marriage between two persons of the same sex provide nearly the same rights as a heterosexual marriage and differ only with regards to children and adoption. Same-sex married or registered partner couples should be aware that their relationship and its legal consequences will not always be accepted in other countries.
Further information on types of relationship contracts and differences between the arrangements can be found on the Dutch Government’s website: www.government.nl/topics/family-law.
Who can marry in the Netherlands?
Anyone who has Dutch nationality can get married in the Netherlands, regardless of whether they live here and regardless of their partner’s nationality.
Two foreign nationals may marry in the Netherlands if one of them legally resides in the Netherlands. To prevent marriages of convenience, non-Dutch nationals who wish to marry or enter into a registered partnership must either have a permanent residence permit or obtain a statement from the Dutch police service for foreigners (vreemdelingenpolitie) regarding their status under the Aliens Act.
Couples of the same gender are also allowed to marry in the Netherlands.
The Dutch government’s website on marrying a foreigner in the Netherlands gives a good overview of the conditions that apply to various situations where two people want to marry under Dutch law.
What is the Dutch law on matrimonial property?
Unless stipulated otherwise with a prenuptial agreement, marriage automatically takes place in ‘general community of property’ meaning that that all property and debts are equally shared between the spouses, including assets obtained prior to the marriage, inheritances and gifts.
A prenuptial agreement may be made before the marriage. This must be drafted by a notary and entered in a matrimonial property register at the municipality where the marriage notice is placed. It is also possible to make a postnuptial agreement during the marriage.
What is the difference between marriage and registered partnership?
Marriage and registered partnership are both relationships formalized by law. The most important differences between the two kinds of arrangements were eliminated on 1 April, 2014, and what remains is primarily the absence of a religious ceremony in the case of a registered partnership, and the fact that a registered partnership and its legal consequences may not always be accepted in other countries. Furthermore, how to dissolve a marriage and a registered partnership differs in that a registered partnership can be ended without the involvement of the courts if you have no children under the age of 18. A marriage can only be dissolved by a court.
In principle, as in marriage, all possessions and debts are generally shared jointly in the registered partnership, but different arrangements can be made by instructing a notary to draw up a pre-partnership agreement, similar to a prenuptial one.
What are the steps to be followed and the costs to get married in the Netherlands?
If you plan to get married, you first need to notify the municipality. This is called ondertrouw (notice of intent to marry). This must be made at the gemeente (municipality) of residence of one of the partners involved. You need to do this at least two weeks before the intended wedding date and the wedding must take place within one year of the ondertrouw. If the one-year period expires, then another submission is required. Make an appointment with the ambtenaar van de burgerlijke stand (registrar) in the municipality in which you wish to marry or enter into partnership. The registrar will tell you which documents to bring for the meeting.
Furthermore, you will need to appoint at least two and no more than four witnesses. The witnesses must be 18 years or older.
Once the documents have been presented to the gemeente a date and venue for the ceremony may be selected. During this period the couple will meet with the official who will perform the marriage ceremony. In some areas, arrangements can be made with a marrying official for the ceremony to be held in English. However, the vows are legally required to be in Dutch.
The civil ceremony may take place in a gemeente other than that of residence but the municipality of residence must be informed so that arrangements for transferring documents can be made.
The ondertrouw is provided free of charge. However, there could be other costs involved such as an appointment at the ambtenaar van de burgerlijke stand and for various documents where costs are specific to certain situations. Please contact your municipality for more details.
What are the requirements to get married in the Netherlands?
The documents needed may vary depending on nationality, previous marriages and residence status in the Netherlands. It is advisable to find out well in advance what documents you need and whether they meet the requirements.
- A birth certificate
- Proof of identity, e.g. passport
- A marriage certificate in the case of a previous marriage, a divorce decree in the case of a previous divorce or a death certificate in the case of being widowed
- Completed witness forms for two to four witnesses
- A certificate of no impediment to marriage or a certificate of civil status proving you are not married elsewhere. This is available from your respective Consulate General or you may have to apply for the certificate in the last place you lived abroad. In most cases you will need to have the document legalised to make it legally valid in the Netherlands. Note: A certificate of no impediment to marriage is issued after a notice of marriage has been displayed at your Consulate General for 21 days and if no objection has been made about the proposed marriage. It is issued in Dutch.
Documents from abroad that are not written in Dutch, French, German or English must be translated into Dutch by a sworn translator in the Netherlands. Furthermore, documents from certain countries must be legalised or provided with an ‘apostille’ stamp. More information about this is available on the Dutch government’s website:https://www.government.nl/topics/marriage-cohabitation-agreement-civil-partnership
My partner and I are contemplating, registering our partnership. Can you please tell me how to go about with this and if there are any costs involved?
The registered partnership provides almost the same rights and responsibilities as marriage and they both have similar steps.
If you plan to register your partnership, you first need to inform the gemeente (municipality) of the city of residence of one of the partners involved. This is called ondertrouw (notice of intent to marry). You need to do this at least two weeks before the intended date of the partnership registration which must take place within one year of submitting the notice. If the one-year period expires, then you need to resubmit another notice of intent to marry.
The documents needed may vary depending on nationality, previous marriages and residence status in the Netherlands. It is advisable to find out well in advance what documents you need to meet the requirements by contacting your local municipality. Required documents for both partners are similar to the documents requested for the marriage.
My partner and I would like to have a religious marriage. What are the steps involved?
In the Netherlands, marriages may only be blessed by religious institutions after the civil marriage has taken place. It is up to the institutions to bless or solemnise the marriage. They are not obliged to do so. It is advisable to check with the religious institution of your choice.
Unlike a marriage, a registered partnership may not be blessed in a religious institution.
What is the applicable law in a divorce proceeding between spouses of different nationalities?
For every divorce element, different rulings determine which law is applicable. The most important divorce elements are: the divorce itself , child and spousal support, division of assets and property, children (parental authority, access rights) and pension. These rules are found in European Union regulations, conventions and the Dutch Civil Law. In most regulations, there are possibilities to opt for a certain law (for example on the divorce itself or the matrimonial regime), so be sure to get solid advice from a competent lawyer on this matter. Even if you share the same nationality, an international divorce will most likely incorporate aspects that may be subject to different national laws.
Sometimes filing a divorce in the Netherlands will suit you best; in other cases filing it abroad might be a better option.
If your partner has already filed for a divorce in any country, you cannot file for divorce anywhere else.
If you decide to file for divorce in the Netherlands, make sure that it will be recognized in your home country.
What is the jurisdiction of the Dutch Court in case of a divorce?
For two Dutch nationals, it is always possible to divorce in the Netherlands.
The Dutch Court has international competence when the two spouses live in the Netherlands, regardless of their nationality.
If only one of the spouses lives in the Netherlands and they don’t have a common Dutch nationality, the Dutch court is authorised as well, but in some cases it is necessary that one of the spouses has lived here at least one year. With ‘live’ is meant habitual residence. Only being registered in the Netherlands is insufficient to file for a divorce.
Once the Dutch Court is authorised regarding the divorce itself, the Dutch Court is also authorised regarding other divorce elements (assets, alimony, pension, etc.), except when it comes to children. Only when the children ‘live’ in the Netherlands does the Dutch Court have international competence. If not, the Dutch Court cannot make decisions about parental authority, access rights, etc.
What do we need to do to legally get divorced?
In the Netherlands, all cases of echtscheiding (divorce) have to be granted by the court. Since only a lawyer has the authority to file a petition for divorce with the court, the first thing that you can do is to seek legal advice from a good divorce lawyer or mediator.
According to the Dutch law, there is just one ground for divorce: irreparable breakdown of the marriage. The marriage can be said to have irreparably broken down if continuing to live together has become unbearable and there is no prospect of a restoration of marital relations. The judge is not interested in the question of blame at all. The behaviour that has led to the divorce has no influence on the decision as to how the assets should be split or how much alimony should be paid.
The divorce proceedings may be instituted by both spouses jointly (a joint petition) or by just one of them (a unilateral petition), and a divorce petition may be filed at any time after marriage: there is no requirement for the parties to have been married for a certain number of years or to have lived separately for a certain number of years.
If the divorce is by mutual request, is uncontested it is not necessary for you to go to court physically. The divorce settlement can be drawn up by a lawyer or a mediator, signed by both partners and sent to the court for authorisation via a lawyer, which is almost always given if both partners have signed the agreement. If you have children younger than 18 years, a parenting plan is a requirement. Furthermore, children from the age of 12 years have the right to be heard by the court. So even if you have a divorce with a mutual request and it is not necessary for you to go the court, children of 12 years and older will receive an invitation from the court to be heard.
If only one of you wishes to end the relationship, or you are not agreeing on topics regarding your divorce, there is a great chance that you have to go to court physically.
The divorce comes into effect when the court ruling has been entered in the Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages of your municipality by either you or your lawyer. This has to be done six months after the court ruling, it is not open for appeal anymore.
Who should take care of the children in case of divorce?
In case of divorce, you retain joint custody of the children, as during the marriage.
During the divorce procedure in the case of minor children, you need to make a ouderschapsplan (parenting plan) in which you state the following:
- How you will share responsibility for the care and upbringing of your children
- How you should inform and consult each other regarding important decisions such as the choice of school
- How the expenses related to the children are to be shared, and the amount of maintenance to be paid for the them
You must also include and discuss the children’s wishes.
If you do not wish to share parental responsibility you can petition the court to assign it to one of you. The court decides who will be granted responsibility, and if you have more than one child, the court will assign parental responsibility for each child independently. However, it is not common to assign the parental responsibility to one of you. The basic rule is that both parents have parental responsibility.
My partner and I have decided to terminate our registered partnership. What do we need to do?
If you do not have minor children, this can be done without going to court. You need to draw up and conduct an agreement. The lawyer or notary declares that this agreement had been conducted and it is recorded in the Register of Births, Deaths, Marriages and Registered Partnerships.
If you have minor children the same procedure applies as in the case of a divorce and you are obliged to draw up a parenting plan. The same rules as in the case of a divorce are also applied for maintenance and pension. For further information about divorce, separation and termination of a registered partnership visit the Dutch government’s website.
What are the legal aspects to take into account when registering a death in the Netherlands?
When a person passes away, it is important for the relatives to make an appointment with a notary/solicitor as soon as possible so that all legal aspects are covered within good time.
The notary, after checking the Centraal Testamentenregister(Central Register of Wills) and other population registers, issues a verklaring van erfrecht (certificate of succession) recording the names of the heirs. Once in possession of this certificate, you can access the deceased’s bank and/or giro accounts (banks may block any accounts in the name of the deceased).
You also need to notify employers, insurance companies, mortgage companies, pension funds and so on.
The declaration of death duties and capital transfer tax must be dealt with within eight months of the death by the heirs/beneficiaries (or the executor of the will). An heir/beneficiary should realise that they are liable for the consequences of accepting the estate from the time of death. This means that the value of any stocks and shares as it was on the date of death will be taken to settle the death duties and capital transfer tax, even if the value has changed considerably by the time of payment.
It is also advisable to contact the Embassy or Consulate of the deceased; they will be able to inform you or help you in dealing with all the formalities.
Losing a family member is a terrible blow at all times and having to rush around in search of documents, statements and legal advice in order to take care of the settlement of the estate only contributes to the aggravation. In some cases, you have to deal with the law of both the Netherlands and the law of your home country, e.g. if you have possessions (a house, land, etc.) in your home country or a third country. Facing a death is a stressful experience, especially if it happens in a foreign country. If you feel that you need to seek counselling, ACCESS provides a Counselling Service Network. Click here for more information.
Which documents are needed for registering a death?
When registering a death you will need to bring the following documents:
- A valid identity document of the person making the registration and of the deceased
- Your marriage certificate/partnership registration (if you were married to the deceased or had a registered partnership)
- A doctor’s statement concerning the death of the individual
- In case you want the funeral to take place later than six working days after the death has occurred, you need permission from the mayor. Check with the municipality which procedure should be followed.
What to do in order to repatriate the body of a family member?
Repatriation of a dead person to the home country requires the help of the relevant local Embassy or Consulate. Consular officials can assist you in having the remains returned, in obtaining appropriate documentation and in inquiring about the Dutch repatriation requirements.
Do I need to make a Dutch will whilst I live here or is the will I made in my home country valid?
If you are not a Dutch citizen and you already have a will that was made according to the laws of the country in which it was drawn up, in principle, the will is also valid in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is party to the Convention Providing a Uniform Law on the Form of International Will and usually recognises wills drawn up in another country. However, one of the conditions required is that the will has been drawn up in keeping with the law of that country. Verbal wills are not valid in the Netherlands.
It is advisable to consult a Dutch notaris (notary) who is familiar with the registration and execution of foreign wills so that he/she can check whether the contents of the will conflict with Dutch law.
The will is then filed with the Central Register of Wills (Centraal Testamentenregister), and you will be assured of its recognition and validity in the Netherlands.
If you want to make a will in the Netherlands and decide who is going to inherit your estate and other possessions you can do so only in the presence of a Dutch notary.
May I disinherit my child or my partner in my will?
You can disinherit your child but, in the Netherlands, he/she is always entitled to a legitieme portie (forced share) amounting to half of the portion the child would have received in the absence of a will.
You can also disinherit your spouse and he/she is not entitled to a forced share. However, to alleviate the consequences of disinheritance, the law gives the longest living partner the right to a suitable level of provision; for example, a spouse may make use of the house as long as he/she is living.
You can also make a vruchtgebruiktestament (usufruct will): your spouse will receive the use and enjoyment of certain goods without owning them.
Which law of inheritance is valid if my partner or I should die during our stay in the Netherlands? The Dutch law or the law of my home country?
In the Netherlands, you can determine who your heirs are in a will and, in principle; the inheritance is divided according to this will.
If there is no will, the inheritance law will determine who the heirs to the person’s estate are. In general, if the deceased was a resident of the Netherlands, the Dutch inheritance laws are applicable, even if the deceased was a non-Dutch national.
As this is a more complicated matter, it is best to seek advice from a lawyer who is specialised in international law of inheritance.
In the absence of a will, who inherits under the Dutch inheritance law?
Four categories of heirs are recognised in Dutch law: spouses or registered partners and children have priority entitlement to an equal share of the estate, followed by siblings, parents and nephews and nieces, and then by grandparents and great-grandparents, respectively. Relatives within each of these categories are only eligible to inherit property if there are no eligible relatives within the preceding category.
Each beneficiary can refuse the right of inheritance. This will likely be the case if there is a negative estate caused by debts.
It is also possible to accept an inheritance under benefit of inventory (beneficiair aanvaarden). If you accept an inheritance under benefit of inventory you are not liable for any debts, not even if you have enough assets to settle them. But you cannot dispose of the estate until it is certain that all the debts have been settled.
If the spouse and children were the heirs, the spouse would receive all assets and debts of the deceased person’s estate, and the children would have claim on their inherited portion. When the children reach the legal age (18 years old), they would be entitled to handle their inheritance on their own, but as long as they are minors, their living parent would be the legal supervisor.
Partners living together without a registered partnership do not qualify for inheritance, even if they have signed a cohabitation contract in the presence of a civil law notary.
Who would take care of the children if something were to happen to both parents?
If your children are minors, living here in the Netherlands and both of you die, then a legal guardian will be appointed by the Dutch court according to either a wish by the parent(s) stated in a will/deed or filed by them with the Gezagsregister (Dutch custody register).
This law will apply from the day you move to the Netherlands and become a resident. If you are not married, live together and have children, a will and a co-habitation agreement are recommended.
You can appoint a guardian in a deed drawn up by a civil law notary or in your will or by registering your choice of guardian at the Dutch custody register. The guardian who could be a family member or someone else is the person who has authority regarding minor children and he/she raises them and represents them. He/she also administers the children’s inheritance, but in case you think that this person doesn’t have the required expertise, you can appoint an administrator. You can also appoint an executor who will take care of winding up the estate on behalf of the heirs (e.g. taking care of the funeral, paying taxes, selling the house, etc.).
Do I need a residence permit to live and/or work in the Netherlands?
If you want to stay in the Netherlands for longer than three months and you are not an EU/EEA or Switzerland citizen, you need to apply for a verblijfsvergunning (residence permit).
To obtain a residence permit, you will need to contact the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (Immigratie- en Naturalisatiedienst – IND). Please note that the requirements for a residence permit are dependent on your personal situation and circumstances. You will also find details on: ind.nl/en/stay-or-live-in-the-Netherlands.
Diplomats and international organisations’ employees obtain a special residence document, which is issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken). These are for people who are working on Dutch soil as a diplomatic or consular official, or who are employed at an international organisation. They enjoy a special ‘privileged’ status, are not considered foreigners under the auspices of the vreemdelingenwet (immigration law) and are entitled to a special residency status by law. Check out the protocol guide for international organisations published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Do I need a work permit in the Netherlands?
Whether you need a work permit depends on your residency status and nationality. Dutch work and residence permits are closely linked so your reason for moving to the Netherlands – for example, as a highly skilled worker, employee, student or family member – will determine what kind of permit you need to legally work in The Netherlands. More information can be found on the section ‘Work permits‘ of the ACCESS FAQ’s.
What is the Civic Integration Act and who does it apply to?
The Civic Integration Act stipulates that most people from non-EU countries who immigrate to the Netherlands and live in the Netherlands must learn Dutch and understand how the Dutch society works. This is referred to as inburgering (civic integration). The aim of the Dutch integration policy is to have everyone in the Netherlands, including newcomers, feel a sense of community with each other and involvement with the Netherlands. The government wants people who settle in the Netherlands to take part in Dutch society regardless of where they come from or what they believe in.
The requirements and exemptions for taking the inburgeringsexamen (civic integration examination) are amended on regular basis, you should always check the latest information provided on www.inburgeren.nl/en.
For more information about this topic visit the ACCESS FAQ’s Learning Dutch for civic integration.
Do you have a partner but is he/she not officially registered as partner?
If you are not married, but are living together without formal registration of your relationship this can cause problems if you pass away. In such a situation your partner doesn’t inherit anything (unless you have laid it down in a will) and your partner will not be entitled to a part of your pension (unless you informed your pension fund about your partner). Legally your partner doesn’t have any rights.
In order to avoid this, it is suggested to officially register your relationship with a notary or -if you don’t want that- ask advice. A notary can help you.