A new Bill which will allow the transfer of social security contributions between spouses in cases of marriage separation has found broad agreement between both sides of the House.
But the shadow minister for justice, Karol Aquilina, warned on Tuesday that however well-intentioned, this proposed legislation could also create fresh difficulties.
The bill is aimed at solving problems that crop up in separation proceedings, usually between older couples, when only one of the parties - normally the husband - worked and paid social security contributions.
As a result, while the man ends up being eligible for a pension, the wife, who generally stayed at home to take care of the family, ends up without one.
The bill was moved by Social Welfare Minister Michael Falzon and Justice Minister Jonathan Attard.
Aquilina said this legislation applied to cases in which maintenance payments are awarded to one of the spouses who did not work. To date, he observed, maintenance was paid either in monthly installments or as a lump sum.
He said that the transfer of social security contributions should not be possible only by court order, as the bill provided. Instead, estranged spouses should be allowed to agree on this through an out-of-court settlement.
The transfer of social security contributions should not be limited to a number of years and, furthermore, the parties should also be allowed to retroactively pay their contributions without such limits. That would enable those who transferred some of their contributions to their estranged spouse to top them up again to be eligible for a pension.
Aquilina said the amounts due in social security contributions should not become a fresh bone of contention between the parties, and the government should therefore propose a mechanism of how this could be calculated.
He also pointed out that it would be an injustice to require a spouse to transfer social security contributions to the other spouse at current rates, instead of the varied rates – invariably lower – that covered the years of the marriage.