Friday, 14 May 2010

Times: Cohabitation law by year's end
Friday, 14th May 2010 by Matthew Xuereb

The government planned to enact a law on cohabitation, which has been long in coming, by the end of the year, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said yesterday.

He said the government wanted to have such legislation to ensure accountability and responsibility rather than simply to grant rights. The law would define the responsibilities of cohabiting partners and seek to eliminate abuse.

Pledges for a law governing cohabitation have featured in the Nationalist Party's electoral programmes since 1998 and the party has often been criticised for dragging its feet over the issue.

"We are determined to legislate. More than to give new rights, the law will impose responsibilities on people who cohabit," Dr Gonzi said at a business breakfast yesterday when asked about the subject.

Parliament's Social Affairs Committee is receiving suggestions on the issue. Committee chairman Edwin Vassallo said the public consultation exercise on legal provisions to regulate cohabitation was being carried out independently of the possible introduction of any other law, such as divorce.

Mr Vassallo said the committee was on a fact-finding mission to see what the people really required and what had to be covered by the legislation regulating cohabitation.

"We are conducting this exercise with a very open mind and we are not excluding anyone. We want to listen to feedback from everyone, including cohabiting sisters, couples of the same sex and separated people. Our doors are open," he said.

The committee last year made a public appeal for proposals on what cohabitation law should provide for but feedback had been "very poor", with only a handful commenting.

Proposals made included the setting up of a central office to register partners cohabiting in the same residence.

The registration would be known as civil union.

It was also suggested that registered people would enjoy the same status as married couples for certain purposes, such as tax, and that people who cohabit would not be considered as living separately.

Moreover, cohabiting couples would be given the right to inherit their partners. In this way, estranged wives or husbands would not be entitled to the inheritance years after separation.

It was suggested that cohabiting partners should be eligible to a widow/er's pension once either of them passed away. Widow/ers of separated spouses would no longer have the right to such a pension once the estranged wife or husband forms a registered civil union.

Mr Vassallo said the committee would receive suggestions till the end of this month. He hoped to be in a position to draw up a draft report on cohabitation by the time Parliament rises for the summer recess.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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