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Tying the knot: A guide to getting married in Belgium

02:09 01/10/2019

Any couple, whether opposite sex or same sex, is eligible to marry if both partners are aged 18 or above and at least one of them is a Belgian citizen or has been a resident of Belgium for more than three months.

To marry, you will need to show original and certified copies of both parties’ birth certificates and proofs of identity. In the case where one of the parties is not registered as a resident in Belgium, they must also present proof of nationality, residence and a certificate that he or she is not already married.

Many couples sign a prenuptial agreement, which determines the separation of assets in the event of a divorce. This must be presented to the commune before the marriage can take place, though couples can choose to sign such a contract at any point during their marriage. In the absence of a prenutpial agreement, a marriage is termed a mariage à régime legal/huwelijk onder wettelijk stelsel. Standard prenuptial agreements in Belgium are communauté de biens/gemeenschap van goederen, which signifies shared possession of all assets, and séparation de biens/scheiding van goederen, which means each spouse retains financial independence.

A request to marry must be submitted to the commune where one or both of the partners resides at least 14 days before the marriage is due to take place. The ceremony is usually officiated by the mayor or an official of the commune and is immediately recognised in the national register. Couples are given a book that serves as a document of their marriage. The only marriages recognised by law are those that have been officiated by a competent Belgian legal authority. Religious leaders do not have the power to sign marriage contracts.

Many Belgians have two marriage ceremonies. The first is a smaller one for family and a few friends at the commune and consists of the legal signing of the marriage contract in front of the appropriate state representative. This must take place within six months of the presentation of the request to marry to the commune. The second is a larger, symbolic ceremony – religious or not.

The legal ceremony must take place first for the couple to be declared as married during the non-legal service. Between May and September, couples can marry in Osseghem Park, Royal Park, Bois de la Cambre and Wolvendael Park in Brussels.

Belgium allows same-sex marriages, which confer the same rights as a marriage between partners of the opposite sex, except in the case where one partner gives birth as the other partner is not automatically deemed to be a parent of the child. Same-sex couples can petition to adopt, as can individuals. Since 2015, lesbians have the right to be automatically recognised as the parent of their partner’s biological children. Male same-sex couples must still formally adopt their partner’s children.

Marrying a Belgian person does not automatically grant Belgian citizenship but it does speed up the process. In some cases, being married to a Belgian allows you to apply for citizenship after only six months of legal residence in Belgium rather than the five to 10 years it takes if filing on the basis of long-term residence.

Cohabitation

A cohabitation contract affords couples many of the same rights as married couples: they may file their taxes jointly and co-own property, and foreign partners may apply for residency on the grounds of family reunification. There are some key differences. Inheritance is not automatic and must be declared separately in a will whereas for married couples, assets go to the spouse and children.

A cohabitation contract may be unilaterally dissolved by one partner and doesn’t require a trip to court unless there are property or guardianship disputes. In practical terms, the contract is ended by the marriage of one of the partners or by a declaration to the commune.

For couples seeking a visa, the process depends on several factors such as age, nationality, and location. See belgium.be and diplomatie.belgium.be for more information. Another source is BelgiumCohabitationVisa.com, geared towards immigrants from the US but relevant for other nationalities. European applicants can also consult the Europe-Brussels Liaison Office (blbe.be)

Written by The Bulletin