4,000 cohabiting couples stand to lose rights, PN MP warns

Mario de Marco

A proposed rewrite of Malta’s Cohabitation law would eliminate legal recognition of 4,000 cohabiting couples whilst retaining a legal structure which has only been utilised by 13 couples, MP Mario de Marco said in Parliament today.

The Cohabitation Bill being discussed would revoke the Cohabitation Act, which was introduced just three years ago by then-Minister Helena Dalli.

The existing law recognises “de facto” cohabitation providing limited rights to couples living together for at least two years, and provides additional rights to couples who enter into a contract. In cases where one of the partners refuses to enter into a contract, the law also allows the other to make a unilateral declaration to acquire additional rights not afforded to de facto cohabitants.

But the proposed bill would only recognise cohabitation which has been formalised through contracts, though Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis has already pledged to review the law.

“Logic would demand protecting de facto cohabiting couples first and foremost,” de Marco said after highlighting that far more cohabiting couples fell under this arrangement than otherwise.

“But instead of recognising this reality, the government is ending legal recognition of these couples.”

‘Most vulnerable’ may be denied rights

In his own address, PN MP David Thake continued where his colleague left off, noting that the powerful did not need protection, and arguing that the government’s proposals would make it possible for the most vulnerable to be denied their rights by their partners.

“If a couple cohabits and has children, this alone should already result in rights and responsibilities,” Thake said. “I can’t understand why the government wants to deny such rights to 4,000 families.”

Despite PN MP’s reservations, the bill was approved unanimously in its second reading at the end of the sitting, though the promise of further amendments down the line may have played a part.