Friday, 23 July 2021

② Legal Cohabitation: An Alternative to Marriage & De Facto Relationship

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 as 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;


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


  • 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 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 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 fascinating Belgium from the eyes of an expat.


  1. Silvio M Bonfiglioli

    Hi, I am an Italian living in Brussels under my partner’s cohabitation. We have a beautiful 14 months baby that I take care every day. She now wants to terminate de relationship and the cohabitation. I asked her for some time in order to find another place so I could live. Does she have the right to kick me out of the house? how long do I have after she applies to end the cohabitation to live the house? The fact that I do not work because I take care of the kid helps me in any way? Do I have do leave the country since my child was born here?

    • Hi Silvo, sorry to hear about your circumstance. I may not be able to help your questions as it is not exactly a cohabitation application issue. Also, you are an EU citizen and hence, you may have some rights to stay in Belgium which many of us here, as non-EU citizens are not entitled to it if we end the cohabitation within 3 years. Please check this link and call to see if any of the professional organisations can help you with your issue.

  2. Hallo madam, I got my 5 years F card since 2018 January. I have been working ever since I first got my orange till today. I have also done my integration and Nederlands classes up to 2.3. Recently my woman started making problems and finally ended the living together in the commune. Pls do I still have the right to live in Belgium since I have a steady contract. Thanks so much.

    • Hi Samuel, the law states that if you break the cohabitation contract under 3 years of living together from the date of your Bijlage 19ter (Orange Card), you may be asked to leave the country as your residence permit is tied to this relationship.

      However, after 3 years, if you can prove that you can support yourself such as having a job, you can appeal for the case and continue living in Belgium. As the relationship lasts for slightly less than 3 years, you have to check with the commune and try to appeal to stay since you have a job now.

  3. Hello madam, I would like to ask what are the requirements for marriage if I am a legal cohabitant with my Belgian partner? I saw the requirement needed. Do I need to submit the same requirements from cohabitation or just go make an appointment in the Gemeentehuis?

    • Hi Sander, the difference between applying for legal cohabitation and getting married is that marriage application does not require you to know each other for 2 years. However, you still have to undergo the same procedure to submit proof of relationship and the same waiting time as a person applying for legal cohabitation.

      For people who want to get married, they have to apply at the Gemeentehuis and wait for their approval. So yes, you have to visit the city hall and seek further advice as you are now in the process of legal cohabitation.

      • Thanks madam. I got already the Orange card. We are thinking to get married after Corona crisis. So this means I need to submit the same requirements they need from cohabitation?

        • Hi Sanders, if you have already submitted the documents while applying for family reunification (Orange Card), you may not be asked to do it again when you apply for a marriage. If you have not completed the step to submit proof of relationship at least once, then yes, you have to present a similar set of files.

  4. Hi, I would like to know from you about my cohabitation here in Belgium. The police came to look for me at our apartment, and he said we should go for a card. They gave us an appointment letter for an interview. I would like to know if the interview will be done in English because I don’t speak Dutch.

    • Hi Ama, the interview can be in English or Dutch depending on the commune or police requirement. If the letter did not specify that you should speak Dutch, then it will be fine to use English. Usually, if they want you to use Dutch, they would have indicated it on the letter officially and also requested you to look for a translator for the interview. If you want to be safe, you can always check with the authority who sent you the letter.

  5. I’m married to a Belgian for 28 years with 7 children living outside Belgium. I still have 4 children studying. My husband found a mistress, and he wants a divorce. I don’t want to sign the amicable agreement which he wants to file in Belgium family court. But we don’t live in Belgium. Is that possible or Belgium court will accept that? If I don’t sign, my husband will file a unilateral divorce. Is that possible?

  6. We did our legal cohabitation on the 24 of April. The commune accepted after a month, and we were asked to pay 200 euros. The police came and checked on me. They never asked for proof of our relationship, no orange card even after three months. My boyfriend went there. The lady in-charged of our procedure said the application had been sent to the Gerecht bank, so we have to wait for the verdict from them.

    We kept waiting until last week, Friday. When I received a paper from the commune asking me to bring 1 recent passport picture, I went there yesterday and gave the photo. The lady also gave me a form to signed and letter attached the photo at the picture’s side on the paper, then she also asked for my international passport which she would send over to Brussels.

    • Hi Jane, I’m afraid there’s nothing much you can do now except to wait. The form that you were asked to sign is most likely to prepare your Orange Card and the Annex 19ter. I believe once Brussels Immigration gives the green light, you will be asked to go back again. The photo that you gave them may be used on the Orange Card.

      I had not gone through this procedure of signing this paper. There is a possibility that when I collected the Orange Card, the same piece of paper was signed that day as I could not remember it anymore. You commune may just have taken more time to complete the Orange Card procedure as compared to mine. Eventually, the result will be the same. You will get your Orange Card.

      The police may not ask for your proof of relationship because Brussels Immigration is the one who needs that to take a decision. Once you get your Orange Card, the Annexe 19ter will state the documents you need to submit, and you have 3 months to do that.

  7. Hi! I am currently 18 years old from the USA. I have been dating my Belgian partner for the past 3 years. Could I apply to this legal cohabitation with him or is there a certain age limit?

  8. Hello Messi, good day. My name is Jane. I just wanted to find out if it’s possible I can learn Dutch while waiting for my orange card? Its already four months we signed our legal cohabitation agreement.

    • Hi Jane, if you want to enjoy a subsidised Dutch course from the government, you need to have your Orange Card. If you do not mind paying for private courses or go to a university, you may be able to register. You have to check with them for the requirement. Check out these articles for your Dutch and Social Integration Course which should go hand in hand to save time. Also, your Orange Card should be coming very soon. 🙂

  9. Hello, I am seeking for an answer. My partner kicked me out of our house while we still have the cohabiting contract and have 2 kids. I don’t have work because he won’t let me for the 2 years we are together. What can I do about it?

  10. I’m a foreigner together with a Belgian partner living in legal cohabitation. Do you know if we want to break up the cohabitation, do I have to leave Belgium or there is a way to apply to stay in the country? I have a permanent job in a stable company.

    • Hi Anna, If your F Card is less than 3 years and you have no common children together with your partner, then you likely have to leave Belgium. If it is more than 3 years, you can fight for it because you have a stable job to justify self-sustainability, and that is an important factor to continue staying in Belgium.