Declarations of legal cohabitation

Declarations of legal cohabitation stabilise and terminations increase

Declarations of legal cohabitation stabilise and terminations increase

Created in 2000, legal cohabitation now seems to have reached cruising speed since 2011, with about 39,000 declarations a year. In 2022, there were 38,359 new declarations, i.e. a small increase of 1.6% compared to 2021 and a minor decrease of 0.2% compared to the average of cases for the period 2018-2021.

The number of legal cohabitation terminations increases by 18% compared to the average for 2018-2021. Here too, there may have been some catching up after the Covid period, since in 58.5% of cases, legal cohabitation gave way to marriage. Some couples therefore probably stayed cohabitant a little longer after postponing their wedding plans. In 36.3% of cases, one or both cohabitants chose to end their cohabitation. Finally, in 5.2% of cases, it was the death of one partner that brought the cohabitation to an end.

The average age at which a person enters into a partnership for the first time in the form of legal cohabitation is barely increasing: 31.8 for the first partner and 30 for the second. The duration of cohabitation at the time of termination continues to rise: it is 5.7 years on average for the country. This duration, like that of marriage before divorce, is slightly higher in Wallonia (5.9 years for cohabitations - 16.1 years for marriages) than in the other two regions (Brussels-Capital and Flanders: 5.5 years for cohabitations - 14.6 and 14.8 years respectively for marriages).

Table 1

Evolution of the number of legal cohabitation declarations per year and administrative unit, since 2000

Administrative unit Year
2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 2022
Belgium 2,694 15,513 36,962 40,770 36,329 38,359
Brussels-Capital Region 121 1,594 2,957 3,125 2,790 3,136
Flemish Region 2,040 7,569 21,928 23,335 21,457 23,179
Walloon Region 533 6,350 12,077 14,310 12,082 12,043
Table 2

Evolution of the number of legal cohabitation terminations per year and administrative unit, since 2000

Administrative unit Year
2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 2022
Belgium 111 3,299 13,487 22,227 21,845 29,061
Brussels-Capital Region 5 271 909 1,340 1,283 1,579
Flemish Region 83 1,909 7,779 13,326 13,285 17,344
Walloon Region 22 1,039 4,472 7,099 7,133 9,785

Statbel publishes for the first time this year a statistic on the declaration of legal cohabitation using the National Register of Natural Persons (RNPP). According to the law of 23 November 1998 establishing legal cohabitation (published in the Belgian Official Journal on 12 January 1999), two persons living together have the possibility, since 1st January 2000, to officially confirm the fact that they live together. Therefore, there is legal cohabitation when two persons living together make a declaration to this effect to their local authorities, irrespective of their sex and relationship. The conditions for such a declaration are the following:

  • having the legal capacity to enter into a contract
  • not being married
  • not being in a legal cohabitation with another person The civil registrar is required to verify compliance with the legal conditions and to register the declaration in the RNPP.

In Belgium, legal cohabitation refers in principle to a situation where two persons live together. However, we have been able to detect some rare cases of registration of legal cohabitation through consular offices abroad.

The current statistic is produced using the information type “legal cohabitation” (I.T. 123) of the RNPP. The I.T. 123 registers a series of data relating to legal cohabitation, including the date of the declaration, the place of registration of the declaration (municipality of residence), the presence of a notarial contract (with the date and place of signature), the date and the reasons of termination. By coupling this information with other I.T. in the RNPP, we can characterise the cohabitants and create tables based on the sex, the age, the nationality, etc. A foreigner residing illegally on the territory can legally enter into legal cohabitation provided that he/she, together with the person with whom he/she is living, has a common principal residence in Belgium.

However, this statistic does not include any cases of two persons living together who are registered in the waiting register. In order to get a coherent statistic, we also have excluded some rare cases where there is a contradiction between the civil status and the situation of legal cohabitation (clearly married (or divorced) persons based on a “reasonable” observation period; cases related to a late - but “reasonable” - registration of divorces are therefore included in the statistics).