Dutch citizenship and acknowledgement of children born out of wedlock

Most Dutch people are aware that their Dutch citizenship can be passed on to their children. If one of the parents is a Dutch citizen at the time of the child’s birth, the Dutch Nationality Act (Rijkswet op het Nederlanderschap)(RWN) enables the automatic transferal of nationality to the child. The rules become more complex when the birth mother of the child is not a Dutch national or is unmarried at the time of the child’s birth. How can a child become a Dutch national in such a situation? In this article, lawyer Nadine Vrijsen, who specializes in Dutch nationality law, explains how a child can acquire Dutch citizenship after birth through acknowledgement by a Dutch parent.

Acknowledgement and recognition

In the Dutch context, acknowledgement is the legal recognition of a child by a Dutch parent. Acknowledgement establishes the familial relationship between that child and the parent under Dutch family law.

Recognition through birth

In most countries in the world, including the Netherlands, a familial relationship automatically arises between the child and the birth mother. The birth mother is therefore not typically required to acknowledge her child. In addition, under Dutch law, the mother's spouse automatically becomes a father or co-mother if the marriage between the birth mother and the spouse was concluded before the birth. If the child was born after 1 January 2023, the same rule applies to registered partners. The child can therefore automatically acquire the Dutch nationality of that father or co-mother without that parent needing to formally acknowledge the child. This rule stands even if the birth mother is not Dutch.

Recognition after birth

After birth, a familial relationship can arise through acknowledgement, judicial determination of parentage, or through adoption. Therefore, even if a child has not automatically been conferred citizenship from his or her Dutch parent at birth, he or she may still later be able to obtain it. The process of obtaining Dutch citizenship varies depending on the child’s place of birth, age, and biological parents. The remainder of the article provides an in-depth explanation of how acknowledgement of a child after birth can occur based on these scenarios.

Acknowledgement abroad

When a child is born abroad, it seems most logical to recognize the child in the country of birth. However, foreign recognition can sometimes cause complications when acquiring Dutch citizenship. Not all countries have acknowledgement as part of their own laws, and therefore may not recognize acknowledgement of a child by a Dutch parent. This is the case, for example, in England. If a child is born in England, it is thus advisable to complete the process of acknowledgement in the Netherlands.

Acknowledgement of child under 7 years old

When a child is recognized by a Dutch person after birth, it is then important whether that recognition takes place before or after the child's seventh birthday. According to the Dutch Nationality Act, the child will acquire Dutch nationality if he or she has been recognized by a Dutch national before he or she turned seven years old. The child can obtain Dutch nationality if it is established that one of his or her parents possessed Dutch nationality at the time of recognition. It is therefore not necessary that the parent was also a Dutch citizen at birth. If a parent acquires Dutch nationality at a later date, for example, through naturalization, the parent can pass on Dutch citizenship to the child. In this scenario, the parent can recognize the child after naturalization, but before the child's seventh birthday.

Recognition of child over 7 years old, but under 18 years old

Additional rules apply if the child is older than seven years old, but younger than eighteen years old. The RWN states that, in this case, biological parentage must be proven with a DNA test within one year of the acknowledgement of the child. The DNA test must be performed in a particular way that meets a due care test. Only a few laboratories in the Netherlands meet these requirements.

The co-mother must also prove her biological motherhood with a DNA test if the child is older than seven years and younger than eighteen years old. The DNA test is also subject to the same strict requirements.

Recognition of a non-biological child over the age of 7, but under the age of 18

Without DNA evidence of parentage, a non-biological child between the ages of seven and eighteen may still be able to obtain Dutch citizenship through option. The qualify for option, the child must have been acknowledged by a Dutch national from whom it has received care and upbringing for an uninterrupted period of at least three years. This option request must be submitted before the child's eighteenth birthday.

Changing law

The rules as stated above are the rules as they currently apply. Nationality law and family law are frequently changing. For instance, between 1 April 1998 and 1 April 2014, a married man was not able to acknowledge a child out of wedlock. The answer to the question of whether the child has acquired Dutch nationality after acknowledgment depends on both family law and nationality law as it applied at the time of the acknowledgement. 

How can Mynta Law help you?

Nadine Vrijsen has been working as a lawyer at Mynta Law since 2022 and specializes in Dutch nationality law. She can provide thorough and up-to-date advice on your situation. She is particularly experienced in advising clients on the necessary steps to transfer Dutch nationality to a (out-of-wedlock) child. Do you have questions about acquiring Dutch citizenship and acknowledging an illegitimate child? Please feel free to contact Nadine.