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Transnational families


Transnational families between Dutch and Islamic family law. A study on transnational legal space
(Transnationale gezinnen tussen Nederlands en islamitisch familierecht. Een studie over transnationale juridische ruimte)


NWO - VIDI grant
Principal Investigator: Betty de Hart
(NWO: Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research)


2007 - 2013


In the rich and varied literature on transnational families, the role of the law in their everyday lives generally escapes attention. Although transnational families are in their everyday activities and relationships at least potentially influenced by multiple sets of laws and institutions (Levitt and Glick Schiller, 2004) which may involve plural and fundamentally different legal systems and normative orderings, we know relatively little about how transnational families are confronted with the law, how they use the law, and how it impacts their everyday lives. However, many life events, such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of children, are not just intimate family matters, but also legal matters. For members of transnational families, this often means dealing with legal systems from multiple countries.

This research project contributes to the academic research by drawing attention to the role of law. We did this by shedding light on how transnational Dutch-Moroccan and Dutch-Egyptian families relate to multiple family law systems in cases of marriage and divorce. How do family members experience the legal regulation of intimate relationships? How do they navigate between two family law systems and with what results?
The research group included persons who in the Netherlands are labelled ‘second-generation migrants’: in our case they are persons of migrant origin, born in the Netherlands, with or without Dutch citizenship, who marry a partner from the country of origin of the parents. We also include so-called ‘mixed families’, where a Dutch-born man or woman concludes a marriage with a partner from Morocco or Egypt.

We interviewed couples, divorcees, and parents living in Morocco, Egypt, or the Netherlands on their experiences with the different family law systems. This multi-sited research enabled us to study the reciprocal connections between the Netherlands and Morocco, and between the Netherlands and Egypt. Interviews took place in three sub-projects: one dealing with marriage and the legal relationships between parents and children (by Friso Kulk), transnational divorce (by Iris Sportel), and cross-border custody disputes (by Jessica Carlisle). In addition to the interviews with couples and family members, professionals involved in legal matters relevant to transnational families were interviewed, such as lawyers, embassy personnel, translators, and NGO representatives were interviewed.



  • Friso Kulk (2013). Laverend langs grenzen. Transnationale gezinnen en Nederlands en islamitisch familie-en nationaliteitsrecht, Nijmegen (PhD thesis) (in Dutch)
  • Iris Sportel (2014). Maybe I’m still his wife. Transnational divorce in Dutch-Moroccan and Dutch-Egyptian families. (PhD thesis)
  • Iris Sportel (2016). Divorce in Transnational Families. Marriage, Migration, and Family Law. Basingstoke/ New York: Palgrave Macmillan https://www.palgrave.com/de/book/9783319340081


Book Chapters

  • Iris Sportel, Betty de Hart, and Friso Kulk (2019). Transnational Families Navigating the Law: Marriage, Divorce and Wellbeing,  To be published in: Tiilikainen, Marja, Al-Sharmani, Mulki, Ismail, Abdirashid, and Mustasaari, Sanna (eds). Wellbeing of Transnational Muslim Families: Marriage, Law and Gender. London: Routledge.

  • Jessica Carlisle (2014). “That Hurt Me, That Hurt My Family”: The Role of Migrants’ Families During Transnational Parental Child Custody Disputes in Egypt. Thomas Geisen, Tobias Studer, Erol Yildiz (eds.), Migration, Familie und Gesellschaft. Springer VS, Wiesbaden, 2014. 279-298. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-531-94126-4_15

  • Friso Kulk (2013). Egyptische huwelijksbevestiging: Bescherming van gezinsrelaties of fraude? Susn Rutten, Kees Saarloos (eds.)Van Afstamming Tot Nationaliteit : Opstellen Aangeboden Aan Professor Mr. G.r. De Groot Ter Gelegenheid Van Zijn 25-Jarig Ambtsjubileum Als Hoogleraar Rechtsvergelijking En Internationaal Privaatrecht Aan De Universiteit Maastricht, 67-72


  • Maaike Voorhoeve, Nederlandse juridische oriëntalistiek in een nieuw jasje. Recht der Werkelijkheid 2015, vol. 36, nr. 2, p. 88-97. Review of: Iris Sportel, ‘Maybe I’m still his wife’. Transnational Divorce in Dutch-Moroccan and Dutch-Egyptian Families, 259 pagina’s. Friso Kulk, Laverend langs grenzen. Transnationale gezinnen en Nederlands en islamitisch familie- en nationaliteitsrecht, Oisterwijk: Wolf Legal Publishers 2013, ISBN: 978-94-6240-033-7, 322 pagina’s. (in Dutch)