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News • January 25 2004

Cohabiting still being studied - Gonzi

Matthew Vella

Social Policy Minister Lawrence Gonzi told MaltaToday the ‘area’ of cohabitation was being studied by the ministry as part of the implementation of a 1998 electoral promise to regularise laws governing cohabiting and married couples.
Gonzi said cohabiting couples and married couples had the same rights to social assistance and medical assistance under the Social Security Act when replying to a question put to him in Parliament this week by Labour MP Evarist Bartolo. Bartolo had asked Gonzi what steps government had been taken in the last five years to regularise the rights and benefits of cohabiting couples.
In 1998, campaigning for re-election just less than two years since their 1996 electoral debacle, the Nationalist Party promised a regularisation of laws concerning couples that are married or cohabiting.
Minister Gonzi told MaltaToday the government’s first priority was "to strengthen the family unit as far as possible. However there are other issues that need to be addressed. Legislation has already been proposed to address issues related to inheritance by so-called ‘illegitimate’ children. With respect to a cohabiting couple, our civil law is silent about issues relating to the duties and responsibilities that should exist between the couple. This area is presently being studied."
According to social security legislation, ‘cohabiting couples’ are not legally defined since the concept that underpins all family arrangements is a ‘household.’ This is defined in the Social Security Act as any one person living alone, or two or more persons which, in the opinion of the director of social security, are living together as a family. The definition is not dependent on sex, civil status or arrangement as long as the eligibility criteria for social assistance and medical assistance are secured.
Minister Gonzi told MaltaToday that social, and medical assistance are paid to the head of a household and not to a member of a household. Since the definition of households is not dependant on family arrangement, "the relationship between the persons living in that household is irrelevant for the purposes of these particular benefits," Gonzi said.
In a survey of 500 students from the University of Malta, conducted by the university chaplaincy on religious beliefs and attitudes, 5.4 per cent said they would prefer living together rather than marrying. The majority of students preferring cohabitation hailed from the faculties of Arts, Laws, and Communications. The majority of students that said they would choose a religious marriage hailed from the faculties of education (100 percent), medicine, and science.


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