In a rheologically layered crust, compositional layers have an upper, elasto-plastic part and a lower, viscous one. When broken, the upper elastic part undergoes flexure, which is upward for the foot-wall and downward for the hanging wall. As a consequence of bending, stresses will develop locally that can overcome the strength of the plate and, therefore, impose the migration of active fault. In the lower, viscous part of each compositional layer, rocks can potentially flow. Numerical modelling of the behaviour of a crust made up of two compositional layers, during and following extension, shows that flow can take place not only in the lower crust but also, and more importantly, in the lower part of the upper crust. The ability of crustal rocks to flow influences the style and kinematics of rifted regions. When no flow occurs, subsidence will affect the extending areas, both hanging wall and foot-wall will subside with respect to an absolute reference frame such as sea level, and there will be a strict proportionality between extension and thinning. In addition, the downward movement of fault blocks will decrease the local stresses created in the foot-wall and increase those of the hanging wall, thereby imposing a migration of the active fault towards the hanging wall. This is the behaviour of extensional settings developed on stabilised crust and which evolved in a passive margin. When flow does take place, middle crustal rocks will move towards the rifting zone causing isostatically driven upward movements that will be superimposed on movements associated with crustal and lithospheric thinning. Consequently, fault blocks will move upwards and the crust will show more extension than thinning. The upward movements will decrease the stresses developed in the hanging walls and increase those of the foot-wall. Faults will then migrate towards the foot-wall. Such a mode of deformation is expected in regions with thickened crust and has its most apparent expression in core complex. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.