International divorce; a practical case

Annemarie calls me from Singapore. She moved there 8 years ago because of her work and that of her (also Dutch) husband. They are expats. Annemarie has 2 children; a 9-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. She hasn’t been happy for a while and wants a divorce.

International law

Annemarie wants to know if filing for divorce is possible with a court in the Netherlands. She also wonders which legal system applies for the divorce; Dutch or the Singaporean law? These questions do not have easy answers. Each issue within the divorce (matrimonial property law, child maintenance, spousal maintenance, etc.) must be considered individually to determine which law should be applied. In this kind of international divorce case, it is good to be concrete on both sides and to compare notes. What is it exactly that Annemarie would like to reach an agreement on with her husband? What is most important to her?

What is most important to me? 

Annemarie shares that she wants to return to the Netherlands. Now that she is getting a divorce, she doesn’t have much reason to stay in Singapore. It is also important to her that her children come with her. She expects that her husband will take issue with this. Another aspect to consider is that Annemarie has not worked for the past 8 years. She thinks it unlikely that she will be able to find work in the Netherlands right away. For this reason, she would like clear arrangements to be made regarding spousal maintenance.

Now that Annemarie has clarified what is important to her, it can be investigated what a judge would rule under Singaporean law and under Dutch law on the various subjects. Annemarie indicates that she would prefer a Dutch judge to preside over her case. She hasn’t heard good things about Singaporean judges. Furthermore, she has inquired with a lawyer in Singapore about how a judge might rule in her situation regarding the children and it is unlikely that she will win the case over there.

Annemarie decides to file for a divorce with the court in the Netherlands. In this request, I ask on her behalf for the custody of the children, also in the event that she relocates to the Netherlands, and child and spousal maintenance. Annemarie did not have much to think about it. After all, a divorce like this one falls under the jurisdiction of the courts both in the Netherlands and in Singapore. In such cases, the following usually applies: the court where the divorce is filed first is considered competent to hear the case.


In the meantime, negotiation is underway with the Dutch lawyer representing her husband. While he has consented to the children moving to the Netherlands with their mother, he wants them to stay on with him for another year in Singapore first. They agree on a suitable amount for child support, make good arrangements for contact with the children, and Annemarie will receive spousal maintenance for a period of 3 years.  She feels this will be enough time for her to get her career back on track. This case could be resolved by consultation and the parties involved reached agreements without having to take it to court. All’s well that ends well.