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NEWS | Sunday, 04 May 2008

Cohabiting partners bear the brunt of legislative void

Matthew Vella

Unmarried partners face daunting obstacles in Malta due to the inexistence of laws regulating cohabiting couples or other durable, long-term relationships.
A typical problem of this reality in Malta cropped up in a parliamentary question to European Commissioner Franco Frattini by Labour MEP Joseph Muscat, which revealed that non-married EU citizens in Malta, in this case the mother of a Maltese citizen’s child, cannot even benefit from free healthcare.
The case concerns a Maltese man who is partnered, but not married, with a woman from another EU member state.
Muscat said the Maltese man is employed regularly and pays his taxes, including national insurance. However, his partner has never worked in Malta and does not plan to do so imminently, having to look after their newborn child.
Muscat asked the Commission for its comments on the fact that the woman was not entitled to benefit from the zero tariffs afforded to Maltese nationals.
In his reply, Frattini pointed out that the laws governing free movement and the regrouping of families also includes registered partners under the legislation of a member state – if the legislation of the host member state treats registered partners as equivalent to marriage, which in the case of Malta is non-existent.
EU law provides that inactive citizens – unemployed – have a right to residence in any EU member state provided they can take care of themselves and have health insurance. Once they spend five years in the country, they are entitled to permanent residence and are therefore no longer subjected to the conditions of non-permanent residence.
However while the inactive partner of the Maltese citizen benefits from equal treatment rules, Frattini said she can only enjoy her right to residence in Malta provided she has a complete sickness insurance in Malta – unless she has already acquired the permanent right of residence.
The situation is reflective of the status of unmarried partners, who while also being parents, may still not benefit from the same rights and social benefits accorded to married parents.
The regulation of cohabiting partners represents one of the unfulfilled promises of the Nationalist Party’s 1998 electoral programme. It was omitted totally in its 2008 programme, although Lawrence Gonzi claimed during the electoral campaign that the promise had not bee omitted. He declared he would revise the law, saying it was his duty to change the law.
In September 2007 however, Gonzi declared that the state had a duty to legislate to safeguard the rights and obligations of cohabiting partners, saying “the issue cannot be postponed any more. This reality is exposing the weaker partner in a relationship to serious abuse. We have a duty to legislate… We will surely legislate on this matter in the next legislature.”
Labour also have lip service to legislating in favour of other forms of family, including “different family forms” as part of its pledge to widen the definition of the family.

mvella@mediatoday.com.mt


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