The laws for divorce in Belgium differ from other countries in Europe and put the welfare of the child at the centre of any proceedings. So how does the divorce process work in relation to Belgium? How are any property or assets divided on divorce? And what are the child custody laws in Belgium? Here we provide answers to these questions and more.
Divorce laws in Belgium explained
There are two types of divorce in Belgium:
- Divorce by mutual consent
- Divorce on specific grounds.
Divorce by mutual consent (onderlinge toestemming/consentement mutuel)
If you agree to end your marriage you can get a divorce by mutual consent. You must have been married for two years and both of you must be at least 20 years old.
You don’t have to cite any reasons or grounds for your divorce and you don’t have to supply any evidence to show the breakdown of your marriage.
To get a divorce by mutual consent you must have come to an agreement on how to divide your assets, where you will live, custody and contact for your children, and maintenance or support arrangements.
The aim of this route is to create an agreement between yourselves, particularly where your child is concerned. The system strongly encourages you to attend mediation to come to a joint agreement.
Divorce on specific grounds/irreconcilable differences (onherstelbare ontwrichting/désunion irrémédiable)
If you can’t reach agreement, or of one of you does not want to divorce then you may have to divorce on specific grounds. You may still have to attend mediation sessions, but a court will generally make any final decisions.
You must prove that the other spouse violated one of the obligations of marriage. Specific grounds for divorce in Belgium are:
- Physical or mental cruelty
- Separation for a period of more than 12 months
To divorce citing irreconcilable differences, you will have to provide evidence that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. You may have to provide evidence of physical abuse, child abuse or adultery. You may also have to prove you’ve been separated for more than a year.
The Belgian divorce process can be lengthy, and you may have to go to court more than once.
Child custody laws following divorce in Belgium
The Belgian divorce process puts the welfare of your child at its centre. Both of you are expected to support your child, and you will be expected to agree on where your child will live, to the point where you have to notify the local council of your child’s place of residence.
Divorce has no effect on the right of your child to have meaningful contact with both parents. Both parents must contribute financially to your child’s upbringing, accommodation, education and living expenses until the age of 18 or the completion of their education. This will often be in the form of a child maintenance payment.
The standard approach in Belgium is one of co-parenting and on divorce many children spend half the time with each parent. However, you can agree alternative arrangements or ask the courts to make an award. A court will consider factors such as:
- Your child’s opinions and wishes, depending on their age
- Your child’s welfare
- How far apart you live
- Which is the more stable environment.
Financial settlements following divorce in Belgium
If you divorce by mutual consent, any financial arrangements and division of property will have to be agreed by you. If you cite irreconcilable differences, then you can still reach an agreement between yourselves or you can apply to the court for a decision.
In Belgium, a married couple can choose from three standard systems of marital property, or you can create your own by writing a prenuptial agreement.
The default option is het wettelijk stelsel/le régime légal, in which each of you retains your own assets. Anything acquired during the marriage is considered ‘joint property’ and it is this that will be divided by a court.
The court can also authorise maintenance to be paid from one spouse to another. This is intended to ensure that both of you can continue to live safely and healthy, and is separate from any child maintenance payment.
This payment can be up to one third of the income of the other spouse, and the payment can’t last for longer than the duration of the marriage, unless in exceptional circumstances.
A court can increase, reduce or stop this payment if the amount is no longer appropriate because your circumstances change post-divorce.
Bear in mind that the court can refuse this payment altogether if the person applying for maintenance is the one that has made it impossible for you both to live together.
A court can also implement temporary financial arrangements. For example, if your spouse is refusing to pay child maintenance pending court proceedings and you are at risk of losing your home, the court can step in and make a temporary financial order.
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