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Thursday, 23 November 2017

② Legal Cohabitation: An Alternative to Marriage

Legal Cohabitation: An Alternative to Marriage

Is Marriage Every Girl’s Dream?

For the past few years of my relationship with my Belgian boyfriend, we did not know such a procedure like legal cohabitation exists in Belgium. Undoubtedly, I had little knowledge and thought that marriage was the only possible way for one to stay long in Belgium. We did not like the idea of marriage even though we have a strong commitment to each other.

Marriage may be many women’s dream and destination. It also means separating from my family, giving up a stable job and good income, and my car to stay in a foreign land. As a result, everything has to start afresh with nothing.

No job, no money, no car. Additionally, I have to learn a new foreign language, Dutch. Otherwise, I would not be able to find a job. To fully speak and write a language fluently, it may take many months to years. Despite the waves, my boyfriend is loving, committed and treated me well over the years.


Long Distance Relationship is always a Honeymoon Stage

On the other hand, I always felt we were mostly in a holiday mood due to the short meetup time. On average, we meet each other twice a year for a one-month duration. Hence, the relationship is always fresh, exciting and on a honeymoon stage. If we have to consider marriage and live with each other permanently, will it stay the same as ever?

That was the fear of not being able to foresee the future of any relationship. Every couple starts off a lovey-dovey relationship stimulated by a “can’t bear to let you go” emotion. The agony of saying goodbye during the last few days of separation in a long distance relationship.

Comparatively, this overwhelming sentiment seemingly weighs heavier when it comes to a long distance relationship. No wonder every couple wants to be with each other as soon as possible with such a heartfelt romance.


High Divorce Rate in Belgium

Like Dr Jeykll evil twin, Mr Hyde, all relationships have their dark sides as not every day is a bed of roses. Two people decided to walk towards the matrimonial bliss and discovered one fine day that their bliss has turned into risk.

Undoubtedly, the monetary price for engaging a lawyer in signing that piece of divorce paper is financially challenging. The 6-months to 1-year physical separation before a divorce is time-consuming. Dividing property is heart wrecking. Attending court sessions is mental torturing.

As a matter of fact, Belgium had the highest divorce rate at 71% in 2010. The statistics conducted were from 200 countries (Eurostat 2011). In another source quoted in 2014, Belgium had the third highest divorce rate in the EU list.

The Belgian Federal Government cited the figures in the latest marital status report in 2016. In brief, 4,255,406 people were married and 1,011,113 people were divorced. The divorce to marriage ratio was 23.8%.


Legal Cohabitation on the Rise

The Belgians know it. They are surrounded by people who have broken relationships and family due to the high percentage of failed marriages. Many of them are reluctant to walk down the red carpet for fear of following the footsteps of the precedents.

On the contrary, it does not imply that the Belgians do not want an intimate relationship. Neither are they incapable of providing one. Correspondingly, everyone desires a healthy and everlasting relationship that does not burn a hole in the pocket.

The legal cohabitation in Belgium is another alternative to marriage. In 2013, The Bulletin quoted a rise in legal cohabitation as compared to registered marriage for the first time in Belgium:

The first half of this year showed 32,510 Belgians register with the municipality as living together legally, while only 24,372 registered as married.

If things do not turn out well, it is cheaper to end the legal cohabitation agreement than getting a divorce. Who says marriage is the only way for two people to stay committed?


Who can Enter into Legal Cohabitation Contract?

180,000 people are living under a cohabitation contract (including siblings) which constitutes 1.6% of the total population.

Cohabitation in Belgium is living together like a married couple without getting married. Similarly, the law recognises and protects the legal cohabitants to some extent after signing the legal cohabitation contract in the municipal administration.

  • Other than heterosexual couples, same-sex couples, sibships (siblings), members of a family unit can also sign this cohabitation agreement.
  • Only residents who live in Belgium are eligible to enter this legal cohabitation contract regardless of their nationalities.
  • Both parties must agree to live together and registered under the same residential address on a declaration.
  • Both applicants must be at least 21 years old.
  • The age is reduced to 18 years old if both parties have lived together for over one year before the partner’s arrival in Belgium.
  • Both applicants are single, legally divorced or not involved in other registered partnerships.
  • Able to prove that you know each other for at a minimum of 2 years; have met each other at least 3 times and spent a total duration of 45 days together during this period;

OR

  • have lived together for a minimum of one year with sufficient proof (such as having a housing contract together);

OR

  • You have a child together.
  • Show proof of a genuine relationship


How to End a Legal Cohabitation Contract?

There are three ways to terminate a legal cohabitation agreement:-

  • By mutual agreement
  • By marriage or death of one of the cohabitants
  • Unilateral application at the Registrar Office of your commune at the expense of the applicant.

The cost is approximately €190 to €225 to terminate the legal cohabitation agreement.


Unlawful Act

Sham Marriage and Bogus Cohabitation

It is against the law in Belgium: –

  1. to marry or to enter into a legal cohabitation arising from monetary compensation;
  2. the convenience of living in Europe for the reason of obtaining a Belgian citizenship after 3 to 5 years of continuous stay.

It is common that people want to live in Europe to have a better life, more work opportunities. Later, to tap on their social security welfare. One does not have to marry in the name of love. Simply marry anyone of a European origin to gain the upper hand.

As Belgium is one of the 28 EU member countries, having a right to live and work in Belgium is as good as opening other 27 golden doors of opportunities.

The legal status as a foreigner in Belgium would be similar to that of our Belgian/EU partner in many ways after gaining a right to stay. On the other hand, the Belgian law prohibits marriages and legal cohabitations out of unlawful gain.

With policies to weed out sham marriages in 2009, there was a reduction in the number of fake marriages report. However, the rejected marriage applicants channelled their strategies to legal cohabitation instead.

Inevitably, such a negative phenomenon creates more red tape and obstacles to the future applicants who genuinely want to apply for a cohabitation visa to live with their loved ones.


Forced Marriage

Forced marriage is another major concern to Europe. Overall, it defies the embedded value of the EU treaties to uphold human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. In today society, it should be a free world to marry anyone we want. Unfortunately, an ideal world does not exist in every culture.

Belgium was the second country after Norway in gazetting forced marriage into a specific criminal offence in 2006. Anyone caught doing in the act would be penalised. The criminal punishment is a fine of €500 to €2,500 or a jail term from one month to two years.


About Live in Belgium

Hello, my name is MissSJ. I am a Singaporean. I am living with my Belgian partner since July 2016 in a cosmopolitan city, Antwerp. However, I had been travelling to and fro Belgium since 2011 as a tourist. The creation of this blog is to document my new journey in Belgium which I would like to call ‘home’. Join me in discovering the fascinating Belgium from the eyes of an expat.

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