Flemish opposition party N-VA has revived calls for a simplification of the divorce procedure to ease the burden on the courts, except in cases involving child custody.
At present, divorce is a purely written procedure for couples who have agreed to separate. Where there are no disputes over property, the whole business can be taken care of without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom.
When one partner wants a divorce and the other does not, on the other hand, the courts have to become involved. Couples who are agreed to divorce simply have to show they have been living apart for at least six months. In cases where one objects, a separation of one year is required.
But according to N-VA MP Kristien Van Vaerenbergh, there is no good reason why the courts have to be involved at all in those cases.
“If the judge’s job is simply to check that the deadlines are in order, then you shouldn’t burden the courts with that,” she said.
“It is better to just have that done by the registrar of births, marriages and deaths.”
The exception would be if there are children involved whose interests have to be defended by an independent party, or if there are major disputes about property, in which case a judge would still have to intervene.
“The judges can then focus on their most important task: mediating, especially when it comes to divorces with children. And the parties are spared a lot of travelling back and forth,” she said.
Early in the life of the current government, justice minister Koen Geens proposed a similar idea as part of his programme for the legislature. However nothing concrete has come of the issue in the meantime.
“The practice is already common in Scandinavian countries,” Gerd Verschelden, professor of family law at the university of Ghent, told Het Nieuwsblad.
“It certainly fits in with the trend that courts should intervene less.”
In the past, a divorce required three court hearings, later reduced to two and then one. “The next step is easy to guess,” he said.