What happens to the responsibility for my children if I get divorced?

After a divorce, both partners retain parental responsibility for the children. This also applies when a couple ends their registered partnership, provided the man has acknowledged the child. Both partners remain responsible for raising and caring for the children.

Parental responsibility after divorce

If your child was born during your marriage or registered partnership, you will usually keep joint parental responsibility after divorce. If you don’t want joint parental responsibility to continue, you can ask the court to give responsibility to just one of the parents. The court will decide which parent gets responsibility.

If you have more than one child, the court will decide on responsibility for each child separately. A child of 12 or over can ask the court to grant responsibility to one of the parents. This parent will be liable for the child’s maintenance until the child is 21.

The child’s opinion in decisions on parental responsibility

The court must ask children aged 12 and over to give their opinion when it takes a decision on parental responsibility. Younger children do not have to be asked for their opinion. Children aged 12 and over whose parents seek a divorce are automatically told when they are expected to appear in court. It is up to the child to decide whether they want to go to the hearing. The child has the right to be heard. This means they can tell the court what they think about certain matters relating to the break-up.

If a child under 12 asks to be heard, the court will invite them to attend the hearing.

Equal parenthood, co-parenting, parental responsibility and acknowledgement

When people talk about parental responsibility and access (omgang) the following terms sometimes get mixed up. They all mean something different.

Co-parenting (co-ouderschap)

If you and your ex-partner co-parent, this means you share the care and upbringing of the child(ren). Your child lives alternately with you and with your ex-partner. Co-parenting is only possible if both parents are willing. There is nothing in the law about co-parenting and the co-parenting situation has no bearing on parental responsibility or child maintenance. If you choose to co-parent, you and your partner make agreements about when the child is with each of you and who pays for what. You can lay down such agreements in a document drawn up by a civil-law notary or include them in a divorce settlement agreement (scheidingsconvenant).

Equal parenthood (gelijkwaardig ouderschap)

Equal parenthood means that the parents have equal rights and obligations with respect to the care and upbringing of their children. This does not mean that the child lives with each parent half the time.

Responsibility (gezag)

Responsibility for your child means that you are the child’s legal representative and you have control over his or her money and property.

Acknowledgement (erkenning)

Acknowledgment creates a legal bond between the parent and child. However, if you acknowledge a child outside a marriage or a registered partnership, you do not automatically get parental responsibility or become the child’s legal representative. In that case, to get parental responsibility you need to apply for it.

Parental access rights after divorce or break-up

After a divorce, separation or the termination of a registered partnership, the ex-partners retain their parental access rights with respect to the children. If you have joint parental responsibility, you and your ex-partner must agree on care and access arrangements.

Even if one of you does not have (or no longer has) parental responsibility, that parent still has parental access rights and the right to be kept informed about the children. In such cases, the parents decide on an access arrangement together. There are no standard arrangements imposed by law. The two of you decide when, how often and for how long the parent that the children don’t live with sees the children. The agreements you make are then incorporated into the parenting plan (ouderschapsplan).

Ex-partner fails to comply with care or access arrangements

If your ex-partner does not keep to the care or access arrangements, you can try to resolve the problem together or seek the help of a mediator. As a last resort, you can ask the court to intervene. You must hire a lawyer (advocaat), who will then start interim injunction proceedings (kort geding) on your behalf. The court can for example order your ex-partner to pay a fine for every day that they fail to comply with the arrangements.

Denial of parental access rights

In exceptional cases, it may be better for the child if a parent is denied access either temporarily or permanently. This might for example be needed if the parent physically or sexually abuses the child. If only one parent has parental responsibility, the court can deny the other parent access to the child. The parent who has responsibility can request the court to do this. If both parents have responsibility, the court can temporarily prevent contact between the child and one of the parents.