In Belgium, the Civil Code oversees family relationships including marriage, divorce and inheritance. Family law disputes requiring the provision of justice, as in some inheritance disputes, fall under the Judicial Code. Belgian case law is used to interpret and apply these codes to specific situations. For free answers to specific questions or free legal guidance, call Telebalie (see References).
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Domiciles and Habitual Residences
A person's domicile is the person's principal residence--the address registered by the person at the local commune and the address to which all government letters to the person are addressed. A person's habitual residence is where a person is physically living and must be justified through evidence given by service providers or objective witnesses.
Marriage and Divorce
Gay marriage is legal in Belgium. Belgian laws governing marriage and divorce depend upon the last location of a couple's common habitual residence. Marriage in Belgium requires registering with the commune for a civil ceremony before a judge. Divorce in Belgium requires a filed petition. If the petition is filed in another country, Belgium has no jurisdiction over the divorce proceedings and Belgian law does not apply.
Divorce in Belgium is established on one of two legal grounds: mutual consent or irretrievable breakdown. Irretrievable breakdown requires that there has been a one-year separation prior to a spouse asking for a divorce; that there has been a separation of six months and both spouses want a divorce; or that one or both spouses can prove with evidence that there has been a true breakdown in the marriage.
Once divorced, unless there is a legal prenuptial agreement, common property and finances are split equally. Premarital finances or property and inherited property remain with the original owner. If one spouse earns less than another spouse, the wealthier spouse can be ordered to pay "maintenance fees" or alimony to the poorer spouse. Maintenance fees cannot exceed one-third of the income of the spouse paying the alimony. If one spouse is found to be seriously at fault for the divorce, alimony can be refused. Maintenance fees end upon remarriage but not upon cohabitation. Child maintenance fees are calculated on the basis of the needs of the child and the resources of each parent. Child maintenance fees end at 18 unless the child is still in school.
Cohabitation is a legally registered common living situation between two individuals that does not affect their individual property rights. Registering as a cohabitant with a citizen of the European Union gives a non-European-Union citizen legal residence status, allowing the non-EU citizen to work in Belgium.
Inheritance includes all assets and debts of the deceased. If there are more debts than assets, heirs can reject the inheritance. Unless a person makes a legal will, strict Belgian inheritance laws benefit immediate family members. Inheritance laws and inheritance tax rules apply to a person's entire estate if he is domiciled in Belgium. The only exception to this rule is real estate property outside of Belgium owned by the deceased. Inheritance laws and taxes apply to a person's Belgian property if the person lives outside of Belgium. If there is no will, inheritance in Belgium goes first to the children and grandchildren, then to parents and their relatives, and then brothers and sisters and their relatives. In the absence of these, the Belgian state receives the inheritance. A surviving spouse is entitled to matrimonial property and a life interest in the property of the deceased. Matrimonial property is all property acquired after marriage. A life interest (usufruct) is a right to an estate's assets such as dividends, interest or rent.
Certain heirs cannot be excluded from inheritance even if there is a legal will. If the deceased has one child, the child inherits at least half of the deceased's assets. If the deceased has two children, the two children inherit at least two-thirds of the assets. A surviving spouse always has a life interest in at least half of the assets of the deceased. If there are no children, the deceased's parents or grandparents are entitled to one-fourth of the assets.
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