Partnership Bill to include five-year cohabitation period for property rights


THE PERIOD of cohabitation required to qualify for certain rights under the Civil Partnership Bill has been increased from three years to five.

The Cabinet yesterday agreed a number of amendments to the Bill, which has already passed second stage in the Dáil.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern got the approval of the Cabinet for the inclusion of a number of amendments during the committee stage of the Bill, which begins on May 27th.

One important amendment is an increase from three to five years in the period of cohabitation to ensure that only relationships of substantial duration qualify for claims involving maintenance, property and pension rights and the estates of a deceased cohabitant.

There will also be a limitation on the ability to benefit from a deceased cohabitant’s estate if the relationship ended more than two years prior to the death, unless the person continued to be financially dependent until the date of death.

On the advice of the Attorney General, a requirement will be introduced that declarations made by civil partners on registration must be made orally.

Another amendment will make the creation of a joint tenancy in the shared home of civil partners exempt from court fees or property registration charges, but not stamp duty, if the home was previously in one of their names.

The Bill will also be changed to allow a child of a deceased intestate civil partner to apply for an enhanced share of that person’s estate.

Mr Ahern has described the aim of the Bill as providing improved legal and financial protection for vulnerable and financially dependent cohabitants in the event of death or the break-up of a relationship.

Couples may opt out of the scheme if they draw up a legally binding cohabitants’ agreement to regulate their financial affairs.

The Bill applies to same-sex couples, and opposite-sex couples who are not married.

Earlier yesterday, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) said there should be a minimum of five years’ cohabitation before any property rights accrue.

Deputy president John Comer said his organisation wanted cohabitation and civil partnership issues dealt with separately in law.

Joining the Irish Farmers’ Association in criticising the Bill, Mr Comer said there should be two separate pieces of legislation.

He said it was “ridiculous” that the rules of law regarding cohabitants, which would have a major impact not just on members of the cohabitants’ immediate families but also on members of the wider family, were to be “grafted” on to the Civil Partnership Bill.

Mr Comer said this was all the more surprising given the Law Reform Commission had published a cohabitants Bill in 2006.

That Bill could easily form the basis of distinct and separate legislation, he added.

“Dáil Éireann has an opportunity to make proper provision for the different forms of families, including families that operate and derive their living from farming,” he said.

“The legislation must be mindful that the proper balance is struck between the individual rights of former cohabiting individuals and the viability of farm businesses, mindful always of the interests of cohabitants’ families,” the ICMSA deputy leader said.