The manner in which a relationship is to be formally terminated depends on the current form of cohabitation or registration.
Dissolution of marriage: divorce
In order to terminate a marriage, a divorce procedure should be initiated. This procedure starts when one (or two) lawyers petition the court for the divorce and the court, after hearing both parties’ views orally and in writing, grants the divorce. Once one of the lawyers enrolls the court decision in the civil registry, the divorce is finalized and the marriage dissolved. In addition to petitioning for the divorce itself, other provisions can also be requested, such as property arrangements (which may also include pension settlements), alimony and child visitation agreements. If underage children are involved, an agreement on the division of the children’s cost of living and childrearing tasks (also referred to as a parenting plan) is mandatory when filing for a divorce. If waiting for the outcome of the proceedings is not an option, a provisional order can be requested from the court, in which temporary arrangements are laid down with regard to e.g. child support, childrearing tasks and visitation, use of the matrimonial home, or alimony. This provisional order will only retain its legal effect if the actual divorce request is submitted within four weeks of the provisional ruling.
Divorce from bed and board (legal separation)
Another option for married couples is a legal separation, also referred to as ‘a divorce from bed and board’. This type of divorce is also initiated through a court petition by a lawyer and established by a court ruling. Unlike with a divorce, however, the marriage is not dissolved. Other aspects are the same as with a regular divorce, the matrimonial property is divided and there’s room for alimony or child support.
Termination of a registered partnership
A registered partnership can be terminated in two ways. The first is by a request for dissolution of the registered partnership. As with marriage, this request must be filed by a lawyer, after which the court grants the dissolution and the ruling must be enrolled in the civil registry. This procedure also provides the option of requesting additional arrangements. As with a regular divorce, additional arrangements are mandatory when underage children are involved. The second option for registered partners is to draw up an agreement on the termination of their partnership. This agreement must be signed by the partners themselves and at least one lawyer or notary. In order for the termination to become officially effective, the agreement must also be listed in the relevant civil registers. The latter termination option is not available in cases that involve underage children who are under joint custody of the ex-partners. In such cases, dissolution by court is the only way in which the partnership can be terminated.
Termination of non-marital cohabitation
Living together without being married or having a registered partnership is called ‘non-marital cohabitation’. Non-marital cohabitation can occur either with or without a (notarial) cohabitation contract. If no cohabitation contract has been drawn up, there are no formal requirements for the termination of the cohabitation. This also means that there are no mandatory arrangements to be made. In many cases, however, it is advisable that ex-partners do come to some type of agreement and, depending on the intricacy of the situation is, a lawyer may be involved in this process. Agreements may pertain to joint property (usually of a home), mortgages, or amounts due by one partner but paid by the other. These are all matters that require proper settlements. This is especially the case if ex-partners have underage children, who need to be cared and paid for. If reaching an agreement on these matters (with or without the help of a lawyer) proofs infeasible, court proceedings may need to be initiated for one or more of these issues. If a cohabitation contract is present, this contract will be considered leading in the termination process. For instance, this may already include arrangements on how to divide household costs, how to deal with one partner’s payments for the other, whether alimony is due and how the cohabitation and the contract itself can be terminated. If the contract does not include specific agreements on these matters, the same general legal rules apply as in the case of cohabitation without a contract. This means that previous court rulings provide the framework for what can be considered leading in these cases.