This paper presents the results of a cross-border study of the Middle Jurassic-Early Cretaceous rift phase in the Danish-German-Dutch Central Graben area. Based on long-distance correlations of palynologically interpreted wells, a stepwise basin evolution pattern was determined. Four phases are defined and described as tectonostratigraphic mega-sequences (TMS). The TMS are governed by changes in the tectonic regime. TMS-1 reflects the onset of rifting, triggered by regional east-west extension. Rift climax was reached during TMS-1, reflected by thick mudstone accumulations. TMS-2 reflects a change in the tectonic regime from east-west to NE-SWextension. NW-SE-trending normal faults became active during this phase, switching the depocentres from the graben axis into adjacent basins. TMS-3 displays divergent basin development. In the Dutch Central Graben area, it is characterized by a basal unconformity and widespread sandstone deposition, indicating continued salt and fault activity. Organic-rich mudstone deposition prevails in the Danish and German Central Graben area, indicating sediment starvation and water-mass stratification. With TMS-4 the rift phase ended, reflected by regionally uniform mudstone deposition. The basin evolution model presented here coherently places the lithostratigraphic units occurring in a stratigraphic framework and provides a valuable basis for hydrocarbon exploration activities in the region.