The Hague, Netherlands

Misconceptions in international family law

More and more, people find love across the border. They fall in love with someone living abroad or with a different nationality. While the relationship flourishes all is fine, but what if the marriage fails? Divorce is a difficult process in many ways – a low point in anyone’s life. On top of this, an international divorce involves extra complications. People have various questions concerning divorce. So, what are the biggest misconceptions when it comes to international divorce?


Most people are unfamiliar with Dutch International Private Law. Consequently, there are various misconceptions concerning the possibilities for divorce and divorce settlement:

1. The divorce settlement will take place in the country of my marriage.
In the Netherlands, the place in which the marriage was contracted is not relevant to the competence of the court nor to the applicable law.

2. Returning to my home country with the children isn’t child abduction.
It is not child abduction if you have the permission of the other parent (who has custody) to leave. However, he or she might not give his/her consent. In this case, you have the possibility – and the duty – to ask the court for substitute consent.

3. Any lawyer is able to handle international divorces.
No, family law is a discipline of its own. Thus, hiring a specialised family lawyer is an absolute must. Specifically, involving a lawyer with an international family practice would be beneficial.

4. If divorce takes place in the Netherlands, this will be settled according to Dutch law.
No, for each individual subject the court determines which law is applicable. This is based on various national and international rules – this could even be a foreign legal system.

5. I don’t need to respond to documents from foreign courts because they can’t affect me.
No, this is not true, please do respond. Ignoring such documents can lead to a foreign Court Order being made in which, for example, you are to pay sky-high alimony. In most cases execution of a Court Order like this takes place in the Netherlands.

6. The reason for divorce matters.
According to Dutch law it isn’t relevant. In some countries, for example the UK, the reason for divorce could be important for the arrangement of alimony or division of assets. However, in the Netherlands it is not.


This article was updated November 2017.


Marjet Groenleer - Expat lawyer (family law)

Marjet Groenleer is an attorney-at-law and associate partner at GMW lawyers in The Hague. She has been active in family law for more than 15 years, focused on on (international) divorces. Marjet is a trained divorce mediator with the vFAS (Dutch Association of Family mediators and lawyers).

Marjet has a particular interest and a profound knowledge of the international aspects of family law. She is an expert in dealing with complex financial and multi-jurisdictional cases of an international family breakdown. Because of her experience and previous jobs, she is familiar with several foreign legal systems. A great number of her clients are expats. She understands the needs of expats working for the various international organisations and companies based in The Netherlands, specifically in the area of The Hague (lsuch as EPO, Estec, OPCW, NATO, the tribunals, ICC, Shell, etc.)

Marjet worked as a lecturer in International Civil Law for several years and at the Court of Appeals in The Hague in the family law sector. Today, she is a deputy judge in the Court of Appeals in Amsterdam. Marjet publishes regularly in professional journals and keeps you informed of the various complex aspects of (international) divorces with her weblogs.