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The main rule is the ‘first shot rule’

If you and/ or your partner want a divorce, and your circumstances are international, you should ensure that you are aware of your options. Did you know that it is possible for courts in two different countries to have jurisdiction? And did you know that they can both pronounce the divorce? For instance, if you are both Dutch nationals and you live abroad. Or if one or both of you live in the Netherlands and one or both of you is not a Dutch national. The main rule here is the first shot rule. In other words, the court of the country in which divorce proceedings are first initiated is authorised to pronounce the divorce. This rule was confirmed in a 24 May 2022, ruling by the Amsterdam Court of Appeal (ECLI:NL:GHAMS:2022:1542).

Two divorce proceedings in two different countries

In the above case, the spouses were married in India. The wife has Dutch and Pakistani nationality and lives in the Netherlands. The husband has Indian nationality and lives in India. The husband initiated divorce proceedings in India on 5 May 2015. Divorce has not been pronounced in India as yet. The wife filed for divorce in the Netherlands on 10 August 2020.

The main rule is the ‘first shot rule’

If divorce proceedings have been initiated in two different countries, the principle of lis pendens applies in the Netherlands. This means that a decision on the same issue cannot be made by a court in two different countries. Does a situation arise where proceedings on the same subject – in this case, divorce – are pending in two different countries? Then the rule is that if the proceedings were brought last in the Netherlands, the Dutch court must stay the case until it is decided by the other court. Once the foreign court has rendered a judgement and this judgement is recognised in the Netherlands and can be enforced, the Dutch court declines jurisdiction.

Exception to the rule

The principle of lis pendens was invoked in the Amsterdam Court of Appeal decision mentioned above. In this case, the ‘first’ petition for divorce had been filed by the husband in India seven years ago. It was unknown when a final decision would be made in those proceedings. Let alone whether this would be in the foreseeable future. The husband was in a position to further delay the proceedings in India. Given this, the wife had a compelling interest in continuing the divorce proceedings in the Netherlands. As there were no further reasons why the decision in India should be awaited, the court — in derogation of the principle of lis pendens — did not stay the decision on the divorce pending a judgment in India. Despite the fact that the proceedings in India were initiated earlier, it upheld the judgement of the court granting the divorce.

In conclusion

It is very important in an international situation to check whether courts in multiple countries have jurisdiction over the divorce. This applies irrespective of the exception made by the Amsterdam Court of Appeal to the ‘first shot rule’. This particularly relevant if you prefer to have the divorce proceedings take place in one of the two countries and you are concerned that your partner may have a preference for another country. In that case, it may be wise to start the proceedings in your preferred country on short notice, to avoid the decision being made in the other country.

More information

If you and/ or your partner want to get a divorce, you will need the assistance of a lawyer. You should make sure you are well informed by a lawyer. If you need assistance with your divorce,please do not hesitate to contact me.

Expat relationships and relocations

When relationships end, many expats prefer to return to their home country with their children and be near loved ones. Here, I will discuss the legal options, specifically from the position of an expat in connection to relationships and relocations.

The parent wanting to relocate with their children – to another country or back to their home country – needs permission from the other parent. This is mainly because moving affects the contact between the children and the ‘not-moving’ parent. For many expats, this can lead to a difficult situation. During a relationship, it’s easier to make joint decisions about the country of residence. But after separating, it’s often more difficult. Does one parent not consent to the relocation? Then the parent wanting to move can ask the court for a ‘substitute consent to move.

Court criteria

When granting permission to relocate, the court will decide in the best interests of the children. In a Supreme Court ruling, the court determines the criteria by which an application for a ‘substitute consent to move’ should be evaluated. However in practice, the court’s decision often comes down to a] the right–and the need–of the one parent to move and rearrange his/her life and b] the other parent’s right to maintain contact with their children. In many cases, the court finds the importance of children maintaining  frequent contact with the ‘not-moving’ parent, outweighs the wishes of the parent wanting to relocate. On these grounds, a ‘substitute consent to move’ is often denied.

Court decisions

In recent case law however–in the specific situation of expats–a ‘substitute  consent to move’ has been granted by the court. The court then attaches  more importance to the wishes and needs of the parent relocating with their children than to the right of the other parent maintaining frequent contact. This is because the ‘moving parent’ can work and has a house/network in the country of origin. Furthermore, it is taken into consideration that continuing to live in the Netherlands can affect the state-of-mind of the parent wanting to move, which may have repercussions on the children. It is also considered important that the parent staying in the Netherlands can (easily) move to–or at least visit– the country of origin as this parent often has family living there as well. For expats who sometimes feel trapped in the Netherlands after a separation, this is a positive development.


It remains difficult to obtain a ‘substitute consent to move’. As it’s in the best interests of the children to have frequent contact with both parents. However, for expats living in the Netherlands and wanting to relocate or return to their home country with their children, recent case law now offers an opening to obtaining that permission.


If you have any questions regarding expat relationships and relocations, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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