Cohabitation agreement fails to gain fans in Greece

Very few Greek couples seem interested in taking advantage of the cohabitation law that has been in effect since 2009 as an alternative proposal to the lengthy procedures, expense and commitment of marriage. According to research conducted at registry offices around the country, couples who opt for a cohabitation agreement are very few, and in some parts can be counted on one hand. Despite the fact that it makes living with your partner under equal terms much easier and only takes a notary?s signature, the cohabitation law in Greece has failed to drum up much enthusiasm.

Since 1997, the Athens Registry Office — the biggest in the country — has only logged 94 cohabitation agreements and in Thessaloniki the number is just 21, while conventional weddings stand in stark contrast at 1,300 a year in the northern port city.

In the Municipality of Iraklio on Crete, a mere nine couples have signed cohabitation agreements in the last three years, while there are 700 civil weddings a year in the same area. In Patra the numbers are eight cohabitation agreements in 13 years versus 842 civil weddings annually, and in Larissa the ratio is five to 600.

One of the reasons why the measure is believed to have been a failure is that Greeks remain skeptical of the agreement, as they were when civil weddings were first permitted. Furthermore, according to the directors of a number of registry offices surveyed, there are procedural difficulties that have put a lot of people off, the foremost of which is that IKA, the country?s biggest social security fund, will not insure dependent members of families in which the parents are together under a cohabitation agreement. The law, in fact, clearly states that the cohabitation agreement does not extend to other family members.

Another interesting observation is that many of the couples that do sign an agreement are older than the European average, while there have also been a few strange cases, such as a widowed priest who signed a cohabitation pact in order to be with his partner and a man who was already married. ?We knew that he was married, but we could not refuse to file the agreement on the record,? said the registrar of the small town where this happened.

There are, without doubt, too many gray areas and loopholes in the law, which was reviewed by a panel of experts and redrafted for the consideration of the Ministry of Justice in December 2010. Among the most significant changes the draft law proposes is that the cohabitation agreement be extended to include homosexual couples, giving them the same rights as heterosexual couples, with the exception of three major areas: They are not allowed to adopt a child, share custody of a child from a previous marriage or have a child through assisted reproduction.

According to Efi Kounougeri-Manoledaki, a law professor and head of the draft committee, the draft law will smooth out the situation in regard to social security, as well as other problems, such as the gray area concerning the division of property and assets.

?The cohabitation agreement gives a lot of freedom when it comes to forging a partnership or dissolving one. It does not require the participation of a state or a religious representative and its dissolution does not need to go through a court of law. I believe that this institution expresses the principles of freedom of choice and individual freedom. It is about the essential union of two people who want to remain free but also have some basic protection,? added the law professor.

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