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Divorce in Belgium

Divorce in Belgium

Getting a divorce in Belgium is not complicated, however, there are a set of differences to be noted by the individuals depending on the conditions for the divorce or rather whether or not this step is a mutual one or it is requested only by one of the parties. It should also be noted that the separation of a married couple is also possible without the involvement of the court, however, in this de facto separation, the distribution of assets will not take place legally and the alimony duties will not take place as when they would have been directed by court – which may be important for some parents.

Our divorce lawyers in Belgium can assist spouses who have decided to end a marriage and need to initiate the legal proceedings for annulling the legal union. Whether it is separation or divorce, our lawyers will treat your case with understanding and, when children are involved, by prioritizing their best interests.

 Quick Facts  
Mutual consent divorce
in Belgium

When the spouses can reach an agreement on their relationship after divorce, the property they shared and matters concerning their children

Divorce for irremediable marriage breakdown

Requested either by both spouses or by one spouse when they cannot agree on the consequences of divorce

Legal cohabitants separation

 Unmarried couples can agree on the terms
of their separation

This can be done by a written statement which can replicate the clauses for an agreement for divorce by
mutual consent in Belgium
De facto cohabitants separation There is no legal procedure in this case
The main steps of divorce
by mutual consent
Spouses agree on all of the relevant matters by
signing an agreement
The court reviews the said agreement
The spouses appear before court
The court in Belgium pronounces the divorce
Decisions concerning children

These involve parental authority, the accommodation for the children, food contributions and other costs

Assistance for custody
in Belgium

In Belgium, parental authority is usually exercised by both parents. Our lawyers can provide you with needed legal assistance in all matters concerning parental authority resolved in front of the Family Court

Family housing matters after divorce in Belgium The family house can be assigned to one of the former spouses or it can remain in joint possession
The distribution of property The general rules for co-ownership apply for the
matrimonial property regime
An in principle division, in equal parts, can take place
Mutual consent divorce
in Belgium duration
2-3 months, not including the negotiation phase which takes place before concluding the divorce agreements
Divorce by mutual
consent appeal
Possible when the conditions for pronouncing the divorce were not observed or if the partners have reconciled
Child maintenance after divorce in Belgium It consists of alimony, food contributions and extraordinary expenses in most cases 
Mediation for divorce The parties have access to voluntary mediation in order to reach an agreement with more ease
Divorce certificate
in Belgium
Is issued by the civil registrar following the conclusion of the legal proceedings
Legal assistance for divorce in Belgium Our lawyers provide the required legal assistance and advice throughout the divorce and separation procedures

What are the types of divorce in Belgium?

There are two types of divorce that can be obtained in Belgium: divorce on specific grounds or mutual consent. If both spouses reach an agreement about ending their marriage they can obtain a divorce by mutual consent. This option will only be available for couples who can reach an agreement regarding common property and accounts, each party’s residence, custody of children and alimony arrangements. This is considered a simple type of divorce and the individuals need to draw up a prior settlement that will outline the manner in which the property rights will be distributed, how the residence arrangements will change, how the remaining joint property will be as well as how the children will be taken care of (when applicable and only for the children of both spouses).

In case of a divorce on specific grounds, the parties file for the annulment of the marriage based on the fact that their union suffered an irretrievable breakdown and it is impossible to continue the cohabitation. This can also be the case in de facto separations where the separation has been going on for more than six months. When the separation was for less than six months, the two individuals are required to take a period to reflect on their decision and, when reconciliation is not possible, file for divorce a second time. When the spouses have been living separately for more than one year, the application for divorce can be filed only by one of the parties.

One of our divorce lawyers in Belgium can give you more information on how to proceed, based on whether or not you have been separated for some time before taking the decision to divorce and, more importantly, based on whether or not this is a mutual or unilateral decision.

How is a divorce on specific grounds treated in Belgium?

This type of divorce is based on the violation by one of the spouses of one of the obligations resulting from marriage. The other spouse must be able to prove that the violation was made with intent. According to the Belgian legislation, specific ground for divorce are considered adultery, excesses, physical or mental cruelty, and de facto separation. Divorce on specific grounds does not require the agreement of both spouses and can be imposed on one spouse by the other based on the deliberate failure to comply with the obligations arising from the marriage.

De facto separation can be considered a reason for divorce since a long separation is an indication of the irremediable failure of the marriage. The spouses’ separation for more than 12 months can be considered a ground for divorce since the irremediable nature of the broken marriage results from a situation in which the resumption of conjugal life cannot be expected.

What are the legal effects of divorce in Belgium?

A set of legal consequences of changes are natural after the divorce is finalized. Below, our divorce lawyers in Belgium present the most important aspects: 

The change of the legal relationship: The two spouses will no longer be bound by marriage and therefore the ex-spouse may no longer use the name of the other, ceases to be his/her and from that moment on may remarry.

Division of property in Belgium: Since all common property must be dissolved, the goods have to be liquidated. In the case of divorce based on the notion of fault, only the spouse obtaining the divorce keeps the contractual institutions made in his favor. When the divorce is pronounced on the basis of de facto separation, the spouse who has obtained the divorce is considered the faulty party and therefore loses any benefits granted by the other spouse. In case of divorce by mutual consent, as stated above the two parties need to present their mutual agreement on the distribution of assets and the manner in which the children will be raised from that point on. If mutual divorce is the method chosen by you and your spouse, one of our divorce lawyers in Belgium can help you draw up this mutual agreement.

Children: Both spouses must contribute to the raising and education of the children. This contribution is ruled by the courts and lasts until the children reach their majority or until their education is completed.

The obligation to pay maintenance to the other spouse: There are times when the Court in Belgium may grant the spouse who has obtained the divorce an allowance from the other spouse’s assets and income, which should allow him/her to live under conditions equivalent to those enjoyed while living together. The maintenance payment cannot be granted to the spouse who was found guilty for the irretrievable breakdown if the marriage or who was found guilty of having committed acts of violence against the other party. When the court rules in favor of this payment, its value cannot be higher than one-third of the income of the individual making the payment. Another important detail is that the payment period is to be equal to the duration of the marriage.

The spouse requesting the divorce must fill in a petition signed either by both spouses, in case of divorce by mutual consent, or by a spouse and a lawyer or notary. If the spouses reached an agreement and they can prove they lived apart for more than 6 months the divorce will be granted immediately, otherwise they must appear again after an interval of three months.

Former spouses who wish to close a joint-owned company following tehri divorce can rely on our team for additional services, such as those related to the final payments to the creditors. The company’s final accounting submissions can be handled by our Belgian accountants who will prepare all the needed documents for the closure of the joint-owned business or its transfer.

What are the legal conditions for marriage annulment?

In some cases, the marriage is simply annulled as per the Civil Law. In these cases, a breach of the statutory provisions has taken place, despite the verifications performed prior to the marriage by the registrar. These special cases can include the following:

  • the spouse is a minor (under 18 years of age);
  • there was no mutual consent;
  • the marriage is a sham: the intention of at least one of the individuals was not to enter a union but to obtain certain advantages such as residency in Belgium;
  • the marriage is forced: when the consent of at least one of the spouses was not freely given but rather it was forced or the individual was threatened to take this step;
  • clandestine marriage or bigamy;
  • lack of authority on the part of the official who performed the marriage.

One of our divorce lawyers in Belgium can give you complete information about these specific situations. The annulment of a marriage is retroactive, however, in those cases where only one of the spouses married in good faith, the marriage will continue to produce effects but only for the benefit of the spouse who acted in good faith. When children are involved, the marriage will retain its effects even if none of the spouses acted in good faith. 

The petition for divorce or legal separation in case of an irretrievable breakage of the marriage is filed at the Court of First Instance in the area where the last marital residence of the spouses was located. One of our attorneys in Belgium can help you lodge an application for divorce. 

Legal separation vs. divorce in Belgium

Legal separation can be an alternative to divorce for some couples. In practice, it does not cancel the marriage (does not break the bond), however, it does reduce the mutual rights of the spouses, as well as their obligations. The two former partners will no longer need to live together or assist each other,  however, the obligation for material support and for fidelity is still in place.

If the de facto separation aforementioned referred only to the former couple not living together, the legal separation can be seen as part of the Belgian divorce law in as that it provides an alternative for those couples who are not yet ready to end the union in its form, however, they do with to separate how they are currently living.

In a legal separation, the conditions are the same as those for divorce, and this form of ending the relationship (but not the union) can come as a natural result of the de facto separation, the stage during which the former couple had been living apart for at least six months. This form of separation will also allow the parties to divide their property and to make the needed arrangements regarding their children. In this case, an important issue to take into account is that separated spouses are not subject to maintenance payments, however, they can ask the other for the obligation of material support as it is outlined in the Belgian divorce law, namely the Civil Code.

When the legal separation takes place on mutual grounds, the parties will also make prior agreements that will govern the manner in which they will handle certain issues, much as in the case of divorce by mutual consent. Expert legal advise is recommended during this stage in which you will wish to reach a mutual agreement with your former partner and out lawyers in Belgium can assist you.

Alternative dispute resolution methods for spouses who separate

While there is no alternative to formally ending a marriage in Belgium (that is, completely annulling the union between the couple, thus allowing them to remarry), there are manner in which the two individuals can, with mutual effort and understanding, reach a number of conclusions for their separation without the court having to decide on the important terms of their separation.

The Belgian divorce law offers as solution both voluntary mediation – when the parties use this on their own accord to solve the issues that can arise concerning property and children, as well as judicial mediation, which is proposed by court, during the divorce proceedings. The court can propose mediation at any stage of the divorce process and, when the parties come to an agreement as a result of the mediation, the proposed solution is presented in court and it is submitted for court approval. In general, the proposed terms can also be refused of they are contrary to the interests of the minor children or contrary to public policy.

Our team can provide you with complete details about the divorce process, the differences between legal separation and divorce, as well as the use of mediation during this time. At any stage of the divorce or separation, you can reach out to our lawyers for legal representation.

Divorce statistics in Belgium

The rate of divorce in Belgium has not increased during 2020. In fact, the lockdowns implemented on a global level have gad the effect of reducing the number of petitions for marriage annulment.

Our team highlights some of the data for 2020, as it was presented in September 2021 by Statbel, the country’s statistical office:

  • the number of recorded divorces was 21,300;
  • this was a reduction of 5.1% compared to 2019;
  • on average, a marriage lasted 14.9 years before its end;
  • the  number of divorced reduced significantly once the lockdown was in place in Belgium, with 1,000 fewer divorces in April 2020, compared to the same month in 2019;
  • the divorce rate increased in June and September 2020, with 33% more divorces in June 2020 compared to June 2019 and 25% more in September 2020 compared to September 2019.

The data reveals that four out of ten marriages end in divorce in Belgium.

Ending a marriage is not always easy and couples have different reasons to come to the conclusion that their union is no longer sustainable. The divorce rate in Belgium saw a continuous increase for a number, with a stabilization that occurred only in recent years. A study developed by the Center for Population, Family and Health at the University of Antwerp and the Belgian statistical office, Statbel, revealed that divorces happed faster, when taking into account the number of marriages from a certain year that resulted in divorce.

Please contact our team of lawyers in Belgium for detailed information and personalized legal advice.