Belgian divorce law

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Belgian divorce law
As of 2002, Belgium's divorce rate is 44 per cent. (ring image by Jens Klingebiel from Fotolia.com)

Divorce is the termination of a marital union and often involves issues of child and spousal support, and distribution of property and debt. Divorce laws vary around the world. By 2000, Belgium had the highest divorce rate in Europe after Finland and Sweden. Belgium has two different primary causes for divorce: specific grounds and mutual agreement.

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Conditions and grounds

In both cases of divorce, only a judicial decision can result in a divorce. Divorce on specific grounds is applicable when a person can prove that his or her spouse has violated a marital obligation that is specified in law. These violations are adultery, excesses, and physical or mental cruelty. The perpetrator of the violation must have done so deliberately, and the other must be offended by it. This type of divorce can also be based on a separation of two years or more, as a separation of that length is considered indicative of a failure in the marriage. Divorce by mutual agreement is applicable when both spouses file for a divorce. They must both be at least twenty years old and have been married for a period of two years or longer.

Responsibilities

Both parents must contribute to the upbringing and care of any minor children. Administration of the child's assets can be exercised by both parents, by one who has been entrusted with them, or a person in agreement with the President of the Court's ruling. Parents are obligated to provide, in proportion to ability to do so, for housing costs, education, food, and clothing until the child either reaches majority or finishes schooling. The courts can also rule that one spouse seeking a divorce is allowed a portion of the other spouse's assets and income, but cannot exceed more than one-third of his income. It must consist entirely of money but can, at any time, be replaced by assets. However, if the divorce arises from de facto separation, the spouse filing divorce cannot do so because he or she is considered to be at fault, unless there is evidence that the separation arose due to the actions of the other. In this case, the court may award the plaintiff with more than one-third of the divorced spouse's income. In cases of mutual agreement divorce, both parties may agree on a sum after the divorce, but are not obligated to.

Separation

Spouses can also petition for separation. This is simply a "loosening of the marriage bond," removing the obligation to live together and share assets; however, both parties are still required to maintain fidelity and provide aid. The grounds for divorce also apply for separation. Property must also be separated.

Annulment

Annulment differs from divorce in that it not only dissolves the marriage bonds but declares the marriage to be null and void. Grounds for annulment are failure to have reached puberty, incest, and bigamy. If the registrar has proved incompetent or insufficient in some way, it is also grounds for marriage annulment. All effects of marriage vanish; the annulment essentially returns both parties to the day of marriage, erasing any obligations and relations. Both spouses lose any rights to the other's property and assets. If the marriage was made in good faith, the annulment may only pertain for the future. Likewise, if the marriage was made in good faith by one of the parties, the spouse in question is allowed to retain the rights and agreements of marriage. Children produced during or 300 days after the marriage will consider their mother's husband to be their father.

Divorcing a foreigner

If a divorce is filed in Belgium, it must appear before Belgian courts. Divorce by mutual grounds is permitted, while divorce on specific grounds follows Belgian law only when the foreigner's national laws do not conflict. If the laws conflict, the foreigner's national law determines proceedings.

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