The Senate has approved a new law governing civil unions in Italy and right of de-facto couples, which has been, for a number of years, subject of a fierce debate between politicians, the Church and the media.
The first part of this new law allows civil unions, or civil partnerships, between individuals of the same sex, by way of a declaration before a Civil Status Officer and two witnesses. A civil union will provide a couple with some, but not all, of the rights enjoyed by heterosexual married couples (for example, the right to receive the other’s pension, to inherit each other’s assets, and to take each other’s surnames).
There is still no right, by law, for gay couples to adopt their partner’s biological children (the so-called controversial “Step-child adoption”), but a Judge will continue to have full discretion on whether to allow this, on a case-by-case basis; cases of this kind, to date, have shown a trend which leans towards the acceptance of these adoptions.
The second part of the new law recognizes and regulates the legal rights of a cohabiting couple, with no discrimination between heterosexual or homosexual couples. A “de facto” cohabitation is recognised when both individuals are over 18, have not contracted another marriage or civil union (with another person or with each other), and their co-habitation has been ascertained via a declaration that has been presented to their Comune, which confirms them as a family unit. They will enjoy some, but not all, of the same rights of a married couple; for example, rights of visitation in the event of incarceration, or in case of illness or hospital treatment, as well as assistance rights and access to personal information. In the event of death of the owner of the property that both live in, the surviving cohabitee will have the right to reside in this property for a certain period of time, depending on the duration of the cohabitation and whether there are any children living in the property.
The cohabiting couple can sign a “Cohabitation Agreement” to regulate financial, and any other, aspects between them; this document can be drawn up and officially registered by either a lawyer or a Notary. This agreement can be rescinded by a further agreement between the parties to this effect, a unilateral rescission, marriage or civil union of one cohabitee (with a third party or with each other), or due to the death of one of the cohabitees.
Upon the ending of a cohabitation, if certain aspects are met, it is possible for the financially “weaker” party to ask, and be provided with, maintenance payments from the financially “stronger” ex-cohabitee, for a period of time as determined by the Judge; any payments will be calculated proportionately to the period of cohabitation.
The first proposal for a similar law to be approved was in 1988. This current law, championed by Senator Cirinnà, whilst by no means perfect, is a step in the right direction in eliminating prejudice and discrimination, and towards reaching equality, for all families in Italy.
(Disegno di Legge – Disciplina delle coppie di fatto e delle unioni civili)