Parliament has unanimously approved the second reading of the Cohabitation Bill, which Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli announced would cater for three types of cohabitation.
Introducing the Bill yesterday, Dr Dalli said it was a long overdue step towards building a society that respected all individuals and the choices that they make.
She said the country has needed this legislation since the nineties and criticised past administrations for not delivering what they had promised.
The 2011 census listed at least 4,000 couples as cohabiting, and this number had surely increased further, the minister said. Apart from a 2012 Cohabitation Bill, which she said discriminated against non-traditional family types, there was to date no legislation in place to guarantee the rights of either cohabiting party.
The new Bill sought to recognise cohabiting couples as families.
Apart from the inherent value of this recognition, which reinforced the fact that such couples should not be looked down upon, the new rights provided for in the Bill would ensure that dependants who cohabit would not be left vulnerable in the case of separation, sickness or death.
The Bill would extend various legal rights to the members of a cohabiting household.
Dr Dalli said the three types of cohabitation introduced by the Bill were de facto cohabitation, contractual cohabitation, and unilaterally-declared cohabitation.
Couples cohabiting without any official declaration for at least two years would be considered to be in a de facto cohabitating relationship. Very limited rights and duties would apply, but the couple would be considered each other’s next-of-kin, would have the ability to make medical decisions for each other as provided for by the law, and they would be protected from having to testify against each other.
Contractual cohabitation would be instituted formally by couples by means of a notarial contract. It would be up to them to decide the conditions of this contract, including what would happen to assets in the case of separation and whether alimony would be owed.
Apart from the rights granted by de facto cohabitation, contractual cohabitation would entitle and oblige either party to the same rights and duties as in marriage, including the right to be considered for adoption and rights to various pensions and benefits. The conditions for entering into such a contract would be the same as those for entering into marriage.
Cohabitation by universal declaration would only be permitted for the first five years from the law’s introduction. This form of cohabitation would allow one member of a cohabiting couple to declare that the two are cohabiting by unilaterally sending a legal letter to their partner. This would allow those currently in a vulnerable state of affairs to obtain some protection from the state.
Clarifying the extent to which this may be done in response to various questions raised by PN shadow minister Clyde Puli, Dr Dalli said that adequate protections would be put into place to stop this provision from being used abusively.
The government was also investigating means by which the status of a cohabiting couple could be identified to third parties.
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