Malta offers three types of legal arrangement for couples who want to formalise their relationship: Marriage, Civil Union and Cohabitation. All these forms of legal unions are open to same-sex couples.
The legal effects of a Civil Union are identical to Marriage. Civil Union law was enacted in 2014 in order to provide for same-sex couples who wanted to formalize their relationship but were not allowed to get married back then. In 2017 marriage laws were changed so that same-sex couples could also get married, making the law providing for civil unions somewhat redundant.
Civil unions bring about the same legal effects as marriage, hence they are often grouped together or used interchangeably in articles on this website.
The law on cohabition was enacted to protect persons who are living together but have not formalised their relationship. If two persons share a home and are in an intimate relationship, they are deemed to be cohabitees. The law offers protection to persons in these circumstances. Without a law governing cohabitation a person in these circumstances may
Marriage / Civil Unions as opposed to Cohabitation
Marriage and Civil Union bring couples far closer together than the law on cohabitation. After contracting marriage or a civil union couples establish the community of acquests, spouses are obliged to maintain each other according to their means, they owe each other fidelity and by default bequeath everything to each other and their children upon their death. Indeed Marriage and Civil Unions provide for a change in surnames.
Cohabitation on the other hand is geared towards protecting a vulnerable person who is cohabiting with another. Parties who cohabit do not have the same duties towards each other as if they were married. Cohabitees who wish to protect their interests further may opt to specify additional arrangements and can enter into a contract that spells out their rights and obligations upon separation. Therefore, while marriage / civil union obliges a party to commit most aspects of his or her personal life to the other spouse, cohabitation, on the other hand, is there to ensure that those who cohabit are not seriously prejudiced if the relationship fails.