Acknowledgment and parental authority: the differences explained

Acknowledgment and parental authority: the differences explained

Acknowledgment and parental authority are two terms that are often mixed up. Therefore, we explain what they mean and where they differ.


The mother from whom the child is born is automatically the child’s legal parent. The same applies to the partner who is the married or registered partner to the mother on the day of the child’s birth. This legal parenthood is then there “by operation of law .”In other words, you do not have to do anything about it.

Another way to become a legal parent is recognition. Acknowledgment means that you assume legal parenthood of a child if you are not married or in a registered partnership with the mother. You do not have to be the biological parent to do this. A child can only be acknowledged if the child is alive. A child can only have two legal parents. You can only acknowledge a child who does not yet have two legal parents.

When can you recognize your child?

  • Acknowledging a child during pregnancy

This is called acknowledging the unborn fetus and is preferably done before the 24th week so that acknowledgment is already arranged in case of premature birth. You can acknowledge the child in any municipality in the Netherlands. If the (pregnant) mother does not come with you, she must give written consent for recognition.

  • Child acknowledgement during the declaration of birth

You can acknowledge your child if you register the birth. You report the birth in the municipality where the child was born. If the mother does not come with you, she must give written consent for recognition. This is also the most common form of recognition.

  • Recognizing child at a later date

You can also acknowledge a child if it is already older or even an adult. This can be done in any municipality in the Netherlands. From the age of 12, you need written consent from the child and the mother. After 16, only the child’s consent is required.

In all the above cases, the registrar makes a deed of recognition. This is free of charge. If you want a copy of the deed of acknowledgment, there is a charge for this. The municipality can inform you about this.

Parental authority

The law states that anyone who is a minor is under parental authority. Parental authority includes a parent’s duty and right to raise and care for their minor child. This concerns the minor child’s physical well-being, safety, and development.

Are you married or in a registered partnership? If so, you will also automatically gain parental authority over your child during recognition.

If recognition occurs outside marriage or registered partnership, you do not yet have parental authority and are not yet your child’s legal representative. In this case, only the mother will have automatic parental control. Do you still want joint custody? Then you have to apply to the court for joint custody. As a parent, a condition for this is that you have already acknowledged the child. Only when you have parental authority can you make decisions about the upbringing and care of your child. This is because a legal parent with parental control,:

  • may make key decisions about “the person of the minor”

This could include medical choices for the child or the child’s decision on where the child lives.

  • has custody of the child’s assets

This means, among other things, that the parent with custody must administer the minor’s assets as a good administrator and that this parent is liable for damages resulting from that bad administration.

  • Is the legal representative of the child

This includes that the parent with custody may register the child at a school or (sports) association, apply for a passport, and act on the child’s behalf in legal proceedings.

New bill

On Tuesday, 22 March 2022, the Senate agreed to the bill allowing unmarried partners also to have legal joint custody upon recognition of their child. The initiators of this bill believe that the current legislation no longer appropriately reflects the needs of the changing society, where various forms of cohabitation have become increasingly common. Unmarried and unregistered partners will automatically be in charge of joint custody upon recognizing the child when this law comes into force. Under the new law, arranging parental control through the courts will no longer be necessary if you are not married or in a registered partnership. Parental authority automatically applies when you, as the mother’s partner, recognize the child at the municipality.

Do you have any questions as a result of this article? If so, please get in touch with our family law lawyers without obligation.

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