MP appeals against ending de facto recognition of cohabitation

De facto cohabitation must continue to be legally recognised to protect the most vulnerable of cohabiting partners, Nationalist MP Claudette Buttigieg emphasised today as Parliament opened debate on a bill that would revoke its recognition.

However, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis had earlier highlighted that he would be reviewing the proposed law in light of the issues raised by Buttigieg and PN leader Adrian Delia.

The Cohabitation Bill would revoke the Cohabitation Act, which was introduced in 2017 and which recognises cohabitation in three manners. The proposed law would only recognise cohabitation which is formalised through a contract entered into by the cohabiting partners.

However, the existing law also provided limited rights to those who were de facto cohabiting for at least two years. In cases where one of the partners refused to enter into a contract, the law also allows the other to make a unilateral declaration through a judicial letter to acquire additional rights and duties not afforded to de facto cohabitants.

The bill was presented after consultations with the Notarial Council and the Chamber of Advocates, who had argued that the existing law created legal uncertainty.

Only 13 cohabitation contracts signed

But Buttigieg noted that very few cohabiting couples were interested in entering into a contract, pointing out that just 13 had done so since 2017.

“It is clear that people are not interested in a contract. The interest only comes when problems arise,” the MP said.

She argued that ending de facto recognition of cohabiting couples would render the law useless to those who most need it: the vulnerable party in unequal relationships. She was adamant that a solution needed to be found in cases where one partner refused to register as cohabiting.

The MP also expressed reservations on the proposed regulations governing the dissolution of cohabitation. The proposed law would follow the legal provisions relating to marital separation, but with a number of exceptions, such as the provision through which a spouse may demand separation for adultery.

However, Buttigieg questioned why the provision concerning separation on the grounds of excesses and cruelty would also not apply, insisting that the law should give the issue of domestic violence the priority it deserved.