Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Belgium chooses 50/50 in Family Law

2009 September 16
by Father Knowledge Centre

Belgium’s new shared parenting laws (*)

By Peter Tromp PhD and Robert Whiston FRSA, 16 September 2009

Belgium has introduced radical reforms to its child custody laws. Not only has it forsaken sole custody as the preferred option and adopted shared parenting but has gone so far as to adopt the more radical position of equality between the parents. Not only do both parents share the custody time of their children but they share it equally with ‘alternating residence and care’. Not formulated as a prefixed end result but based in a strong presumption levelling the playing field on physical child custody decisions between the divorcing parents firmly, denying shared parenting only on strong objectiviable grounds. Below is an analysis of the Six Principles on which the 2006 Belgian Law Reform is premised.

(*) Note: A French language version of the original law reform text of 2006 adopted by the Belgian parliament can be read on the following website:


The 2006 Belgian reform law on equally shared alternating residence and care for the children after a divorce or separation is based on six principles, each of which build upon each other sequentially and are listed below in their specific order.

It must be borne in mind that unlike countries familiar with the Common Law, on the European continent it is normal for the kernel of the Civil Code to remain in place (i.e. unaltered) but with additions and amendments changing its complexion or direction from time to time. By contrast, in Common Law countries the usual process would be to execute a completely new statute making the old law redundant.

  • The Belgian law begins by addressing firstly the largest group of parents who mutually find common agreement on the custody and care of their children (A).
  • The Belgian law then addresses that group of parents who cannot agree (B).
  • Thirdly, the Belgian law then addresses how enforcement of court ordered residential and accommodation orders are to be made (C).

Preamble: The Belgian law does not speak either of equal parenting or shared parenting, nor of equal shared parenting, but instead speaks of an equally divided “alternating residence”.
Translated, the title of the Belgian law is:
“Bill to focus on the equally divided alternating residence of the child whose parents are separated and regulating how the enforcement is to be conducted in terms of accommodation of children.”

A. Where parents can mutually agree and have come to an agreement:

1. The law recognises and rewards divorcing parents who reach by mutual consent and co-operation care and custodial arrangements for their children. The legislation encourages mutual consent and co-operation, if needed, by making available mediation to both parties.
The reward is that the parents are free to take responsibility for the arrangements of their children post divorce without court interference or seeking its permission. In effect the decision of the parents, if mutually reached, takes primacy over whatever the judge and court may think (i.e. overrules a judge’s discretionary powers).

The law addresses those parents who agree parenting and residential arrangement by mutual consent for their post-divorce living arrangements. This can include mutually agreed equal/joint custody or sole custody. Any arrangement for post-divorce parenting and residence that is jointly put forward by both parents to the court will be accepted by the court and incorporated into the record and validated (unless the judge can identify an obvious impediment that is not in the best interest of the child).

2.Where there is some disagreement between the parents but the judge and the court can nonetheless see there is a possibility for the differences to be reconciled the judge can put the divorce hearing ‘on hold’ (suspended).
The case may be suspended for a maximum period of one month during which time the parents must access the mediation in Belgium provided under the law in an attempt to solve their differences. Only when this is undertaken and an agreement reached by mutual consent will the court validate the parent’s agreement (and if the agreement is not against the best interest of the child).

B. But when parents cannot agree and cannot come to an agreement:

Only when parents do not agree the Belgian law introduces the concept of a presumption of an “equally divided alternating residence” and restores an equal level playing field between the divorcing parents.

3. Where parents cannot agree the law states that upon the request of only one of the parents the judge must investigate and seriously consider the possibility of ordering an “equally divided alternating residence” of the children between both parents as a post-divorce parenting arrangement.

Parents who cannot agree or who keep disagreeing on their post-divorce residence and care arrangement over the children have their options to decide taken from them and the court decides. The primacy of the legislation is equality for both parents and so the court therefore starts from the premise of an enforceable presumption for “equally divided alternating residence and care” if at all practicable on the request of one of the parents. This is achieved by the court giving weight, i.e. preference, to the parent who seeks joint custody over the parent who opposes joint custody.
However, joint custody is not a guaranteed end result as circumstances may dictate an unequal joint custody arrangement or even a sole custody award if serious circumstances indicate so, e.g. when parents are living 100 kilometres apart, making it practically impossible to have their child attend the same school during the time spent with each parent.

4. The law allows the judge to exercise discretion in deciding a more unequal division with regards stay and accommodation of the children between the parents than was requested by one of the parents. It is therefore possible for the court to deviate from the default position of an “equally divided alternating residence” request.

Thus the judge is given the discretion to differentiate from the request of one of the parents for an “equally divided alternating residence” order and instead can decide to make an order for an unequal division of stay and residence with the parents.

5. The judge is mandated to provide in writing why he has deviated from the default position of “equally divided alternating residence.”
He must disclose in his judgment his reasons and motivations in reaching his conclusions specifying why he cannot accede to “equally divided alternating residence” demanded by one of the parent’s.
In his written judgment the judge has to give an account of the considerations specific to the particular case and [why or how they affect] the interests of both the children and the individual parents. The written judgment of the judge is opened to appeal by the parent seeking equal divided alternating residence.”

C. Effective enforcement of court ordered alternating residence arrangements – when disputes later arise between the divorced parents

The final phase of the Belgian law is the arrangements in place for the effective enforcement of court ordered alternating residence arrangements.

6. Effective enforcement is achieved by keeping the case ‘active’ on the courts’ roll. This allows each of the parents to immediately resurrect the case and have access to the court should disputes between them later arise. Parents can access the court and without the need of a lawyer, unilaterally without the consent of the other parent and at any time, e.g. mother violates a father’s access time.
The divorce case, and therefore the custody and residence issue, cannot be closed by the courts until the children involved have reached their majority, i.e. have come of age.
If a disagreement arises the court must order a court hearing within three weeks after the application is made to decide on the matter. In such circumstances the case is given priority over all other cases pending at the court.

The items above (Pre-amble and 1 – 6) are the principles of the Belgian law on “alternating residence” and the accommodating of children after a divorce.

We would point out that the wording of the law reform text is not ambiguous. It does not speak vaguely of ‘shared parenting’ but of enforcing equality between parents by factually stating the terms of the residence and accommodation arrangements.


French text of the Belgian law on shared parenting:

“PROJET DE LOI tendant à privilégier l’hébergement égalitaire de l’enfant dont les parents sont séparés et réglementant l’exécution forcée en matière d’hébergement d’enfant”

  • Final law text accepted by the Belgian House of Commons: March 24, 2006
  • Officially published on: September 4, 2006
  • Came into effect on: November 5, 2006

Source: CHAMBRE DES REPRÉSENTANTS DE BELGIQUE – CHAMBRE 4e SESSION DE LA 51e LÉGISLATURE 2005 – 2006 – 6 DOC 51 1673/019 – 4617 – 24 mars 2006

Download PDF originale en Neerlandais et Francais: http://www.dekamer.be/FLWB/pdf/51/1673/51K1673019.pdf


Documents précédents :
Doc 51 1673/ (2004/2005):

  • 001 : Projet de loi.
  • 002 à 013 : Amendements.
  • 014 : Rapport.
  • 015 à 017 : Amendements.
  • 018 : Rapport.


Disposition générale

Article 1er

La présente loi règle une matière visée à l’article 78 de la Constitution.


Modifications du Code civil

Art. 2

Dans l’article 374 du Code civil, modifié par la loi du 13 avril 1995, dont le texte actuel formera le § 1er, il est ajouté un § 2 rédigé comme suit:

«§ 2. Lorsque les parents ne vivent pas ensemble et qu’ils saisissent le tribunal de leur litige, l’accord relatif à l’hébergement des enfants est homologué par le tribunal sauf s’il est manifestement contraire à l’intérêt de l’enfant.

À défaut d’accord, en cas d’autorité parentale conjointe, le tribunal examine prioritairement, à la demande d’un des parents au moins, la possibilité de fixer l’hébergement de l’enfant de manière égalitaire entre ses parents.

Toutefois, si le tribunal estime que l’hébergement égalitaire n’est pas la formule la plus appropriée, il peut décider de fixer un hébergement non-égalitaire.

Le tribunal statue en tout état de cause par un jugement spécialement motivé, en tenant compte des circonstances concrètes de la cause et de l’intérêt des enfants et des parents.».

Art. 3

L’article 387bis du même Code, tel qu’inséré par la loi du 13 avril 1995, est complété par les alinéas suivants:

«Sans préjudice de l’article 1734 du Code judiciaire, le tribunal tente de concilier les parties. Il leur donne toutes informations utiles sur la procédure et en particulier sur l’interêt de recourir à la médiation telle que prévue à la septième partie du Code judiciaire. S’il constate qu’un rapprochement est possible, il peut ordonner la surséance de la procédure afin de permettre aux parties de recueillir toutes informations utiles à cet égard et d’entamer le processus de médiation. La durée de la surséance ne peut être supérieure à un mois.

Le tribunal peut, même d’office, ordonner une mesure préalable destinée à instruire la demande ou à régler provisoirement la situation des parties pour un délai qu’il détermine.

Lorsqu’il est saisi pour la première fois d’une telle demande, sauf accord de toutes les parties et du procureur du Roi, le tribunal de la jeunesse statue à titre provisionnel.

La cause peut être réexaminée à une audience ultérieure, à une date fixée d’office dans le jugement, dans un délai qui ne peut excéder un an, et sans préjudice d’une nouvelle convocation à une date plus rapprochée, ainsi qu’il est indiqué à l’alinéa suivant.

Devant le tribunal de la jeunesse, la cause reste inscrite au rôle jusqu’à ce que les enfants concernés par le litige soient émancipés ou aient atteint l’âge de la majorité légale. En cas d’éléments nouveaux, elle peut être ramenée devant le tribunal par conclusions ou par demande écrite, déposée ou adressée au greffe.

L’article 730, § 2, a) du Code judiciaire n’est pas applicable à ces causes.».

Art. 4

Un article 387ter, rédigé comme suit, est inséré dans le même Code:

«Article 387ter — § 1er. Lorsque l’un des parents refuse d’exécuter les décisions judiciaires relatives à l’hébergement des enfants ou au droit aux relations personnelles, la cause peut être ramenée devant le juge compétent. Par dérogation à l’article 569, 5°, du Code judiciaire, le juge compétent est celui qui a rendu la décision qui n’a pas été respectée, à moins qu’un autre juge n’ait été saisi depuis, auquel cas la demande est portée devant ce dernier.

Le juge statue toutes affaires cessantes.

Sauf en cas d’urgence, il peut notamment:

  • procéder à de nouvelles mesures d’instruction telles qu’une enquête sociale ou une expertise;
  • procéder à une tentative de conciliation;
  • suggérer aux parties de recourir à la médiation tel que prévue à l’article 387bis.

Il peut prendre de nouvelles décisions relatives à l’autorité parentale ou à l’hébergement de l’enfant.

Sans préjudice des poursuites pénales, le juge peut autoriser la partie victime de la violation de la décision visée à l’alinéa 1er à recourir à des mesures de contrainte.

Il détermine la nature de ces mesures et leurs modalités d’exercice au regard de l’intérêt de l’enfant et désigne, s’il l’estime nécessaire, les personnes habilitées à accompagner l’huissier de justice pour l’exécution de sa décision.

Le juge peut prononcer une astreinte tendant à assurer le respect de la décision à intervenir, et, dans cette hypothèse, dire que pour l’exécution de cette astreinte, l’article 1412 du Code judiciaire est applicable.

La décision est de plein droit exécutoire par provision. § 2. Le présent article est également applicable lorsque les droits des parties sont réglés par une convention tel que prévue à l’article 1288 du Code judiciaire.

Dans ce cas, et sans préjudice du § 3, le tribunal est saisi par une requête contradictoire.

§ 3. En cas d’absolue nécessité et sans préjudice du recours à l’article 584 du Code judiciaire, l’autorisation de recourir à des mesures de contrainte visée au § 1er peut être sollicitée par requête unilatérale. Les articles 1026 à 1034 du Code judiciaire sont applicables. La partie requérante doit joindre à l’appui de la requête toutes pièces utiles tendant à établir que la partie récalcitrante a bien été mise en demeure de respecter ses obligations et qu’elle a résisté à l’exécution de la décision.

L’inscription de la requête a lieu sans frais. La requête est versée au dossier de la procédure ayant donné lieu à la décision qui n’a pas été respectée, à moins qu’un autre juge n’ait été saisi depuis.

§ 4. Le présent article ne porte pas préjudice aux dispositions internationales liant la Belgique en matière d’enlèvement international d’enfants.».


Modification du Code judiciaire

Art. 5

L’article 1412, alinéa 1er, du Code judiciaire, modifié par les lois des 31 mars 1987 et 14 janvier 1993, est complété comme suit:

«3° lorsque le juge a fait application de l’article 387ter, alinéa 2, du Code civil.».

Google Translation to English:

French text of the Belgian law on shared parenting:

"BILL tending to favor the equal accommodation of the child whose parents are separated and regulating the execution in hosting a child"

Law * Final text accepted by the Belgian House of Commons: March 24, 2006
* Officially published on: September 4, 2006
* Came into effect on: November 5, 2006

Source: HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF BELGIUM - 4th ROOM THE 51st SESSION OF PARLIAMENT 2005 - 2006 - 6 DOC 51 1673/019 - 4617 - 24 March 2006

Download PDF original Dutch and French: http://www.dekamer.be/FLWB/pdf/51/1673/51K1673019.pdf


Previous documents:
Doc 51 1673 / (2004/2005):

* 001: Bill.
* 002-013: Amendments.
* 014: Report.
* 015-017: Amendments.
* 018: Report.


General provision

Article 1

This law regulates a matter referred to in Article 78 of the Constitution.


Amendments to Civil Code

Art. 2

In Article 374, Civil Code, amended by Law of April 13, 1995, the text of the current form § 1 shall be added to § 2 as follows:

§ 2. When parents do not live together and they seize the court of their dispute, the agreement concerning the hosting of children is confirmed by the court unless it is manifestly contrary to the interests of the child.

Failing agreement, in case of joint custody, the court looks primarily at the request of a parent at least an opportunity to fix the housing of the child equally among his relatives.

However, if the court finds that the accommodation does not equal the most appropriate, he may decide to set a housing non-egalitarian.

The court decides in any case by a specially reasoned decision, taking into account the concrete circumstances of the case and the interests of children and parents. ".

Art. 3

Article 387bis of the Code, as inserted by the Act of April 13, 1995, is supplemented by the following paragraphs:

"Without prejudice to Article 1734 of the Judicial Code, the court attempts to reconcile the parties. It gives all relevant information about the procedure and in particular the interest of using mediation as provided in Part VII of the Judicial Code. If it finds that a reconciliation is possible, it may order the temporary deferment of the proceedings to enable parties to obtain all relevant information in this regard and begin the mediation process. The duration of temporary deferment may not exceed a month.

The court may of its own motion, order a preliminary measure designed to examine the application or temporarily resolve the situation of the parties for a period it determines.

Upon receiving for the first time such a request, unless approved by all parties and the public prosecutor, the juvenile court shall act as provisional.

The issue may be revisited at a later hearing, a date set in motion the trial, in a period not exceeding one year, and without prejudice to the call at an earlier date, as indicated in the following paragraph.

Before the juvenile court, the question remains on the role until the children involved in the dispute are emancipated or reach the age of majority. If new elements, it can be brought before the court by finding or by written request, filed or sent to the Registry.

Article 730, § 2, a) of the Judicial Code does not apply to those causes. ".

Art. 4

387ter item, worded as follows shall be inserted in the same Code:

"Article 387ter - § 1. When a parent refuses to execute the judicial decisions relating to accommodation for children or the right relationships, the cause may be brought before the competent judge. Notwithstanding section 569, 5 ° of the Judicial Code, the competent judge is the one who made the decision that has not been met, unless another court has received since, in which case the application is brought before it.

Judge decides to drop everything.

Except in emergencies, this may include:

* Undertake further investigative measures such as social investigation or expertise;
* Make an attempt at conciliation;
* Suggest that the parties use mediation as provided for in Article 387bis.

It may take further decisions relating to parental authority or the housing of the child.

Without prejudice to the prosecution, the judge may authorize a party aggrieved by the violation of the decision referred to in paragraph 1 to resort to coercive measures.

It determines the nature of these measures and how they exercise in the interest of the child and designate, if it deems necessary, persons authorized to accompany the bailiff to carry out its decision.

The judge may impose a penalty designed to ensure compliance with the decision to intervene, and in this case, that for the execution of this penalty, section 1412 of the Judicial Code is applicable.

The decision is automatically enforceable provision. § 2. This article is also applicable when the parties' rights are governed by an agreement as provided in Article 1288 of the Judicial Code.

In this case, without prejudice to § 3, the court is seized by contradictory motion.

§ 3. In cases of absolute necessity and without prejudice to recourse to Article 584 of the Judicial Code, the authorization to use coercive measures referred to in § 1 may be requested by unilateral application. Sections 1026 to 1034 of the Judicial Code shall apply. The applicant must attach to the support of the request all relevant documents tending to establish that the recalcitrant party has been put on notice to respect its obligations and has resisted the implementation of the decision.

The inclusion of the motion takes place without charge. The query is the record of the proceedings that led to the decision that has not been met, unless another court has been seized since then.

§ 4. This section does not prejudice the international provisions binding on Belgium on International Child Abduction. ".


Changing the Judicial Code

Art. 5

Article 1412, paragraph 1, of the Judicial Code, as amended by Laws of March 31, 1987 and January 14, 1993, is supplemented as follows:

"3 when the judge made under section 387ter, paragraph 2, of the Civil Code..

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