Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

B.M. v. R.C. Constitutional Court (2009)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

Until 1976, the rules applicable on marriage and divorce originated in the Code Napoléon. At that time, the right to manage property within a marriage was held entirely by the man. To ensure that women would not suffer the negative consequences of bad management by their spouse (i.e., debts), in the event the marriage was dissolved they had the option to decline or to accept the division of assets and liabilities within a specified period. Silence meant that all matrimonial property rights and obligations were declined. The Civil Code was amended from mid-1976 by the Law of 14 July 1976 to remove this discrimination but contained transitional provisions requiring the old rules to continue to apply under certain circumstances. In the case at hand (in which the women failed to make a declaration within the old deadline), the Constitutional Court was asked if the old provisions still applied for marriages entered into before the amendments became applicable and dissolved after that date. The first court ruled that the deadline no longer applied (as there was no basis for it because men and women acquired equal rights to manage matrimonial property in 1976), but it took successive appeals, culminating in an appeal before the Belgian Supreme Court, to confirm this and annul the relevant transitional provisions.