Belgian weddings: Getting married in Belgium
If you're planning to get married in Belgium, this guide explains the paperwork and documents you need to prepare a wedding in Belgium.
Although the country is famous for its bureaucracy, getting married in Belgium is relatively easy. Both heterosexual and same-sex couples in Belgium can get married, be in a registered cohabitation or live together without any legal status.
Only civil marriage ceremonies are legally recognised in Belgium. After the civil ceremony, which must take place at a registry office, couples often have a religious or secular ceremony as part of their celebration but this is not required.
Belgium was the second country to legalise same-sex marriage, in 2003. The processes, ceremonies and rights for same-sex couples are nearly identical to those for heterosexual couples, so unless otherwise stated the information below applies to both. The one critical exception is parental rights, which apply automatically to a birth-mother's spouse if he is male but not if she is female.
Throughout this document, translations are listed in the following format: English (Dutch/French).
Can I get married in Belgium?
To get married in Belgium, either you or your future spouse must be a Belgian citizen or have been resident in Belgium for at least three months. According to the Belgian government, air tickets and rental agreements can be used as proof of residence.
At the time of writing, in January 2015, a casual reading of the English webpage for the Belgian department of immigration suggests that foreigners can get married in Belgium with a 'class C' Schengen visa. However, this is a misunderstanding caused by the site being under construction, and is not supported by the French texts.
Both of you must be over 18 and not already married. Those over 16 may get married with the permission of their parents and the courts. Foreigners must meet the criteria for marriage in their home country, including age limits. However, it is usually, but not always possible for same-sex couples to get married in Belgium, even if their new status will not be recognised in their home country.
Would a registered cohabitation be better for me?
Registered cohabitation (wettelijk samenwonen / cohabitation légale) in Belgium is somewhat unusual. While in other countries similar terms are often used to describe couples living together or same-sex marriage (for example, 'registered partnership'), in Belgium it indicates a shared residence and responsibilities, not necessarily a sexual relationship. Therefore, in addition to couples, it is also possible to have a legal cohabitation with a member of your family whom you could not marry (a parent or adult sibling, for example). However, you cannot enter into a registered cohabitation if you are married or already in a registered cohabitation.
In a registered cohabitation, both parties have the right to live in the family home, and the duty to maintain it, including paying costs. They are also jointly liable for debts relating to family support and the family home, such as a mortgage or car payment, even if they are only held in one name.
You must notify the registrar of your intention to marry at least two weeks in before your wedding. Expect to provide detailed information about yourself and your future spouse. A list of documentation you will probably require is below.
The registrar will then issue an 'act of intent to marry' (akte van aangifte van het huwelijk / acte de déclaration de mariage) which is displayed publicly. As long as there are no objections, your marriage can then go ahead between 14 days and six months later.
Documentation for a Belgian wedding
Expect to have to provide:
- ID (eg passport);
- Birth certificate;
- Prenuptial agreement (if required);
- Proof of address (eg. rental agreement, recent bills);
- Proof of nationality;
- Proofs of civil status (eg. a divorce or death certificate, if you have been married previously);
- Proof of residence – Belgian authorities will expect this to be a certificate, as described below, however, if your place of residence is not Belgium, and does not issue these certificates, other proof will be required.
At least one partner must produce proof of residence in Belgium. The local authority should be able to issue a (bewijs van woonst voor huwelijksdoeleinden / certificat de domicile pour mariage) literally a 'certificate of residence for marriage'. You will need to prove your residential status to this authority, eg. by bringing your rental agreement.
Foreign documents may have to be authorised with an Apostille stamp, also known as 'Apostillisation' or 'legalisation', or an equivalent. The issuing government stamps a document with a unique ID, indicating that it is a true and accurate copy for recognition abroad. Any documents not issued in Dutch or French must be translated by a 'sworn translator'. If the translation is not done in Belgium, it too must be authenticated by an Apostille stamp, or equivalent.
Belgian wedding ceremonies
The legally binding ceremony must take place at a registry office, which is typically in the local town hall (stadhuis / mairie). Many of town halls are beautiful buildings, often 200–600 years old. Space may be limited, but it is typically possible to bring 20 or so guests.
The civil registrar / council officer (ambtenaar van de burgerlijke / l'officier de l'état civil) will conduct the ceremony, which includes reading out certain sections of the Belgian legal code covering the rights and duties of a married couple. At the end of the ceremony, the couple will be issued with a family record book (trouwboekje / livret de mariage), which acts as your copy of your marriage registration.
The couple may supply up to four witnesses, who should all be over 18 and bring ID. If you, your partner or your witnesses are not fluent in the local language, you should supply a translator. The translator does not need to be a certified professional but should be competent.
The civil ceremony typically costs EUR 250–300, however the charge for a Saturday afternoon in a popular area may be double this.
To be binding in Belgium, a prenuptial agreement must be drawn up by a notary and registered at the time of the marriage. Couples may choose one of three property ownership policies, or create their own unique arrangement with a prenuptial agreement (huwelijkscontract / contrat de mariage).
The default option is het wettelijk stelsel / le régime légal, in which each spouse retains their own property, and has joint liability/ownership only for joint debts/assets acquired during the marriage or specifically designated as such.
Getting Belgian citizenship
Marrying a Belgian citizen does not automatically grant you Belgian citizenship. The standard application procedures apply. Typically, you must have been resident in Belgium for three years before applying. However, if you are applying for citizenship on the basis of your relationship, you must have cohabited with your partner, in Belgium, for at least six months (if you have the right to remain in the country for more than three months) or three years (if you don't). Read about applying for Belgian citizenship.
Under Belgian law, both spouses retain their original name. Alternatives may be allowed for members of EU states with other standards.
If a married woman in a heterosexual relationship has a child, her spouse is automatically considered to be a parent, and given parental rights. If she is in a same-sex relationship, her partner must adopt the child to have parental rights.
Children take their mother's surname unless the father is registered as their parent at the time of their birth. This occurs automatically if the mother and father are married. Further information is available regarding more unusual situations, such as if the father is married to a woman who is not the mother.
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