New Dutch matrimonial property regime: a ‘limited community of property’ since 1 of January 2018

31 January 2018

‘My CD, your CD. And this one belongs to both of us. But we got it from my mum, from my mum, so it’s really mine.’ This verse from a well-known Dutch song is a good illustration of today’s public perception of property rights in marriage. Most people take the view that each spouse’s personal property should remain his or her personal property. This principle is cemented by the new law on matrimonial property.

Listen to the song From the intro here!

New law on matrimonial property
The issue of a ‘community of property’ has aroused a great deal of political debate in recent years. There were several calls by critics for a change in the law. On March 28th 2017 the Senate of the Dutch parliament voted in favour of the new Dutch matrimonial law: ‘a limited community of property’. The new regime is in force from January 2018 on. So, those who marry after January first 2018 without making a prenuptial agreement, are married according to new Dutch matrimonial law.

The former regime: a statutory community of property
A large proportion of the marriages solemnised in the Netherlands is subjected to the Dutch system of community of property. This is a statutory regime that was introduced in 1838 and is pretty unique: no other European country has quite such an extensive system of communal matrimonial property as the Netherlands had. In theory, as from the moment on which both spouses say ‘I do’ during the marriage ceremony, all their property is assumed to form part of a community of property. This means that all their assets and debts prior to the marriage also fall under the same community of property. These could include, for example, a student loan obtained by one of the spouses and a house owned by the other spouse. In other words, your partner’s debt becomes your debt. Clearly, this may come as a piece of unexpected – and rather bad – news.

It also not fair, given that the debt is a personal debt and the other spouse may well have had nothing to do with it. There is a consensus that the system of a general community of property has become outdated and is no longer consistent with public perceptions of marriage as an institution. Society has become much more individualised than it used to be.

The ‘limited community of property’ is the new standard, thus replacing the former regime of a full or general community of property. So what exactly does the new regime entail? And what is going to change? For example, will student loans no longer automatically be included as part of a community of property? And what happens if one of the spouses receives an inheritance during the course of the marriage?

New regime: a limited community of property
If you get married after 1th January 2018 without making a prenuptial agreement, your marriage will be subject to the new community of property regime. The new law assumes that only those items of property that are acquired during the course of a marriage should be regarded as being communal property. In other words, a matrimonial community of property consists exclusively of goods acquired by or on behalf of both spouses during the course of the marriage. Gifts and inheritances are regarded as being personal and do not therefore form part of the community. Nor do any debts pre-existing the marriage. This means that, in the event of a divorce, any outstanding debt arising from a student loan is not shared equally between the former spouses. Instead, it is the sole responsibility of the spouse who actually incurred it. 

The same applies if one of the spouses receives an inheritance during the course of the marriage. Unlike the present situation, all inheritances and gifts are automatically regarded as being personal items of property. This means, for example, that inheritances do not need to be shared in the event of a divorce.

Tip: keep a careful record!
The new regime has one big drawback, which is the requirement it imposes on spouses to keep a careful record of their property. They are obliged to keep a full record, both at the time of their marriage and during the course of the marriage, of all items of personal property as well as all jointly owned items of property. We know from our experience that many people fail to do this. Unfortunately, couples going through a divorce and members of extended families may well find themselves in deep administrative water. If the two spouses fail to keep a proper record of personal and jointly owned property, it is impossible to make a clear separation between the two. Just imagine that our married couple buy themselves a boat. If no record is made of exactly who paid how much, and if the couple in question subsequently wish to get divorced, the boat will simply be assumed to be their joint property.

What if you own a business before you get married?
Under the new regime, any business assets you own prior to getting married do not form part of a community of property. This also applies to business profits and losses. This is good news for the spouse who is not involved in the business, as he or she is protected against the effects of any business losses and is hence not exposed to any business risk.

At the same time, it’s also good news for the spouse who is running the business, as it means that the other spouse is not entitled to a share of the assets that were present in the business prior to the marriage.

On the other hand, according the new law the ‘community of property’ has to be paid a ‘reasonable fee’ for the knowledge, skills and labour that the spouse in question has devoted to his business during the course of the marriage. This reflects the basic principle underlying the new regime that all income earned during the course of the marriage is joint income. However, the precise nature of this entitlement is not clear yet: at which point does this ‘reasonable fee’ become payable? How much it should be? In short, if you own a business and you are planning to get married, it still makes good sense to consult a civil-law notary (notaris in Dutch) and ask him or her to draw up a prenuptial agreement for you.

More information about the law on matrimonial property?
If you’d like to find out more about the Dutch law on matrimonial property or if you have questions relating to your own specific situation, please feel free to get in touch with me of one of our family law specialists.

mr. M. (Marina) Maric
+31 (0)71-750 22 00

This is an article by our partner RWV Advocaten