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9 Steps to a Successful Divorce – a Guide for Expats in the Netherlands

Categories: Culture

Half of all marriages in the Netherlands end in divorce. Even though it is common, though, ending a marriage can still be a complicated and tense process. There may be pets and property to divide up. There could be debts to settle. And making living arrangements for children could also be on the line. As such, it can be an intense period of upheaval – even before throwing the complexity of expat life into the mix.

But don’t worry. Expert divorce coach Barbara Jan is here to help. For over a decade, she has provided advice; connections; and a shoulder to cry on for women across the Netherlands. Now, with her new book, 9 Steps to a Successful Divorce, she sets out nine helpful steps to achieve a ‘successful divorce.’

Succesful Divorce in the Netherlands

Learning to Coach

Barbara describes herself as a global citizen – something readers at Expat Republic can probably relate to. And what brought her to the Netherlands will also be a familiar story to many.

“Classic story – I married a Dutch partner. After first living together in Slovenia, I moved to Holland with him. At the time, it was beneficial for me because Holland was investing more in pharmaceutical research. So, it made sense for my career to come here.”

Barbara has spent two decades in the pharmaceutical sector. She is still a Supervisor at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. But that has only ever been half the story. When the time came to choose a direction in education, she was torn between clinical research and psychology. She chose clinical research, the part of her fascination by psychology gradually manifested itself in the Netherlands.

“I noticed people were coming to me for advice,” she recalls. “Sometimes they were even from other teams. They knew I had experience-based insights that outsourced trainers did not. So, I got a coaching degree and took on more training and coaching responsibilities in my work. This evolved into a different line of work after my divorce.

Barbara endured a difficult divorce from a hostile partner while also navigating the complexity of Dutch law. These experiences led her to write a book (Echt scheiden zo doe je dat! which has now been adapted into English [9 Steps to a Successful Divorce for anyone else going through what she endured. When people started reaching out for advice, Barbara realized that she had a chance to help people avoid some of the hardships she went through. So, she launched a second career as a divorce coach.

Barbara Jan

Barbara Jan

Defining Success

Noting that “in my heart, I am a feminist,” Barbara says that while she agrees men need divorce coaches too, even in the 21st century, “there are still many challenges women face in divorce”, so she specialises in helping women. But what does she actually do for them as a divorce coach?

It might seem deceptively simple – but a lot of people are unaware of the help they could access at such a tough time. Barbara explains that a divorce coach is someone who is “on your ‘side'” through the whole process.

“As a divorce coach, I provide end-to-end support for my client. I help them emotionally, and mentally; but most importantly, I coach and guide them through the very important decisions they need to make. These are choices which will shape the rest of their lives – and possibly the rest of their children’s lives.”

There are so many choices, at that. There are choices about parenting. There are choices on practicalities like finding new apartments. And there are choices on splitting things like joint assets.

“These choices come thick and fast. And speed is extremely important. Some windows close earlier than you’d think. So having a coach can make a big difference further down the line; and make a successful divorce more likely,” Barbara warns.

To some, the term ‘successful divorce’ might seem conflicted. But Barbara notes that it is all a matter of perspective.

“In divorce, there are no winners. Everybody hurts to some extent. So that makes defining ‘success’ different. A successful divorce is short and efficient. Short is most important because both parties ultimately want to move on and not have it drawn out. Then it becomes more painful. And parenting decisions are another area where you can find ‘success’. Most important is that the best interests of children get recognition. So they have the stability they need to thrive. In the best scenario, their parents are cordial and on speaking terms. That could be a great success indeed.”

Guide to Divorce in the Netherlands

Nine Key Steps to a Successful Divorce

Barbara is currently preparing to release an English-language translation of Echt scheiden zo doe je dat! Ahead of its release, she tells Expat Republic the nine key pillars of a successful divorce.

Being sure

“In my book, the first step is to answer: “are you sure you are at a point to divorce?” To help you make this decision, there is a questionnaire to challenge your thinking. Helping you find out the situation for yourself, the aim is to test if you are really at the point that you think you are.”

Take care of practicalities

“Once you have decided, there are some things you have to do immediately. They are very practical things. So, my book supplies a list of things you have to do. For example, secure your passport or the passports of your children. Find a secure place to store your funds. I always tell people to make copies of their administration; even if you never did your own finance. Make pictures of jewelry, of the pictures on your wall, everything that you both own. Because the longer divorces go on, you’d be surprised how often things start to go missing.”

Get the right help

“You need a lawyer or a mediator to divorce in the Netherlands. You cannot apply to a court here yourself. So, this section guides readers who may not be aware of that process on how to get the right help. Mediators and lawyers both have strengths for different situations. So, I try to help you understand which is right for you and explain where to look for them once you have decided.”

Be financially aware

“The fourth step is to consider every detail of your finances. In this section, I make a list of everything you have to think of. It might seem like ‘boring’ stuff, but it is extremely important. From the beginning – administration and bank accounts – through to savings accounts for children and foreign bank accounts. If people are self-employed, you must be aware of where income is coming from. And also the possible sticking points of debt; and of inheritance. Sometimes people have inheritances scattered all over the world, and different national laws apply to it. If you forget that, things can become complicated.”

Plan for parenting

“Taking care of the children in a divorce is paramount. So, in the process, there is quite an extensive thing. You are obliged to write a parenting plan during a divorce. And some people might think, “it’s a form to fill in; how hard could it be?” But experience dictates it is not so easy. Overlooking ‘minor’ details in that plan can lead to major problems – so my book pushes you to think of everything it needs.”

Accommodation

“The next thing to take care of is accommodation. Who is going to live where? My book outlines temporary solutions and long-term solutions and again asks you to pay attention to smaller things. The devil is always in the details, and the details are always the hardest thing to pay attention to in moments of stress! That’s why you need a coach, too. While you have to make your own decisions – there may be moments you are really upset, and then someone can help think of solutions with a clearer head on your behalf.”

Split the rest

“Beyond the real estate, you need to work out the best way to divide ‘everything else’. Besides real estate, people also own motor vehicles, boats, pets, all kinds of things. Things they take almost for granted – so they don’t think about in this way. But this is a risk. In most divorces, there is one partner who is ready to go. And there is one who takes a little while to get used to the idea. In the meantime, the first partner often starts arranging everything. It can take around half a year before the process really starts in that case – and in that time, boats, motors etc. can tend to disappear… Because how the divorce works are you have a reference date – the day you both apply for divorce. That’s the official start, and from that day, everything you both own can be split. But that means if the savings account is suddenly cleared out before it, there is ‘nothing to split.’ Some people know and take advantage of that – so they sell everything, they clean out their accounts, and then they say, ‘OK, I’m going to get divorced.’ So, it relates back to my earlier point – you need to document everything you both own as soon as possible.”

Know the courts

Understanding the court process is obviously an important part of the divorce process. So, the eighth step of my book explains the court system: what it is for; what it looks like; what gets decided there. It is very important to be well prepared for certain moments in the process, so I explain those, and how to prepare for them. You might think, ‘OK, everything builds to one whole day in court, and I’ll say everything then’ but in reality, it doesn’t work that way. What it really boils down to is ‘You have 45 minutes to make the case of how you want to spend the rest of your life.’ After that, the judge reaches a decision, you leave, and that’s it. In a situation where some people can get very upset, that can see those precious moments get wasted. Some fights may occur – and it can be hard to think straight – so you need to plan how you communicate in court and stick to it!

Plan for what’s next

“Finally, you need to look to the future. Sometimes that can be hard because in the middle of a divorce, it can feel like going down a long, dark tunnel with no light at the end. Speaking from experience, it is hard to see that there is life after it. So, it is important to have a coach, and a book, in your life to help you realize that isn’t the case. Everything will be OK, and you will be able to build a new life.

“At the end of my book, we also have a ‘to-do’ checklist for all these assignments. So, you can tick them off, one by one, and make sure you take care of everything through the process. There are also notes on how to list the things you own – from your garage to the things left at your parent’s house. And the last thing is a list of links for organisations in the Netherlands, which are important in the process. They can give you help for more specific questions.”

Looking ahead

Asked what the best outcomes of releasing Echt scheiden zo doe je dat! in English might be, Barbara says she hopes it will help other women gain the insights she learned the hard way.

“I hope that all the women get properly informed before a divorce. These things I am sharing could help women have more efficient, successful divorces, which end quicker and with the best possible results for their – and their children’s – futures. If my book can help any woman like that, it will be a success.”

As for her work as a divorce coach, Barbara stresses the importance of both emotional support and advice during a divorce. It is not something she believes anyone should go through alone.

“I just want women to understand that if they come to me, I am the one on their side,” Barbara concludes. “I am the one to take them by the hand and lead them through the process. I am also a shoulder to cry on, but I am the one who really helps them to make smart decisions fast. I am there for them – only for them – and in that process, you need someone like that.”

For information on Barbara Jan’s divorce coaching services, visit her website. Echt scheiden zo doe je dat! can meanwhile be found on Bol.com – and its English translation (€14,99) can now be preordered, and is set to release in December 2022.