A new proposed Bill will eliminate de facto cohabitation and clarify the notarial procedure of formalising a relationship under a cohabitation contract.

The proposed amendments were announced on Monday morning at the Auberge d’Aragon in Valletta by Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis. 

The minister said that the changes come after a year-and-a-half long consultation with legal experts and created a model that was “adequate for professionals to work with and clear for the public to make use of”. 

Couples who choose to formalise their relationship outside of marriage are regulated under the Cohabitation Act, Chapter 571 of the Laws of Malta. 

The amendment is proposing the recognition of only one form of cohabitation, that which is formalised by means of contract, notarised and registered in the Public registry. 

This would be doing away with de facto cohabitation and cohabitation by unilateral declaration. 

De facto cohabitation currently recognises cohabiters who have done so for at least two years without the need for a legal document. 

Cohabitation by means of a unilateral declaration presently gives one party of the relationship the right to formalise the cohabitation by means of a judicial letter. 

The proposed amendment will also be introducing a formal community of acquests for cohabiting couples. 

While simpler and with fewer obligations placed upon the cohabiters than within a marriage, the community of assets for cohabiting couples is opt-in, meaning it is not automatic to the formalisation of the relationship.

This must be declared in front of a notary and does not pertain to all of the couple’s combined assets, but is limited to the property on which the couple cohabits -if it had been acquired after the cohabitation declaration - as well as the contents of that home.  

The legislation will now also recognise one form of dissolution of the cohabitation relationship, similar to marriage separation, it proposes that this can now only be done through the courts.

The relationship will be terminated by the court’s decree where both parties agree on the terms of dissolution or through sentencing if the parties do not agree. 

Couples who already had a formal relationship under the previous cohabitation act will continue to be recognised under the terms of their original contract. 

If they wish to incorporate the new law into their agreement this can be done via an amendment to their original contract or have the original dissolved and new one drafted in its place. 

Zammit Lewis said that from feedback it was becoming clear that the original law was flawed and was creating gaps of legal uncertainty that perpetuated injustice on the vulnerable. 

He said he would be pushing to have the amendments approved quickly.

“Every type of family needs to be recognized and protected so that the most vulnerable can have access to their rights,” he said. 

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