After 14 years and with many changes in name, the Family Relationship bill was finally passed into law yesterday. The Fono Ekepule went through each of the 128 sections of the bill and the two schedules and before 2 pm passed the Family Relationship Act 2022.
The passing of Family Relationship law recognises several significant legal milestones for Niue with the recognition of no-fault divorce and reducing the number of years a married couple lives apart from 7 years to 1 year before they can file for divorce. The new law also provides legal recognition of de-facto relationships and introduces new law for the care and protection of children and the elderly, in particular the legal provisions for the care of children.
A first also in this law, is the introduction of the first-ever domestic violence law and repeals an old law that provided a marital defence to rape.
As requested by the Chair of the Bill’s Committee Hon. O’love Jacobsen, the lawmakers yesterday debated the bill with the Minister of Social Services Hon. Sauni Tongatule presenting it section by section to the Fono Ekepule.
The Family Relationship law provides comprehensive protection for children, it introduces the first domestic violence law in Niue and after more than 60 years, updating the divorce laws and providing legal recognition for de-facto relationships, are just some of the features of this new law.
There were some interesting discussions before lunch around the issue of the age of marriage but all agreed that a man and a woman must be 18 to be legally permitted to marry.
In the discussions about the de-facto relationships, some members wanted to change the terminology of de-facto relationships in Vagahau Niue version of the law. Member from Lakepa John Tiakia thought the wording ‘mau pouli’ should be changed to reflect the times but the majority of the members felt that the colonial term of mau pouli will remain in the legal text as the translation of de-facto relationship.
In relation to adoption, the only change to the bill was the removal of the bracketed wording “(including the law relating to land)” the rights of adopted children in relation to land.
The members felt it was not necessary to be explicit that the wording was sufficient where it relates to adopted children’s right to land.
The passing of the Family relationship law provides legal protection for children and women in situations of family harm. Anyone guilty of domestic violence can face a maximum imprisonment term of 2 years.
The new law also updates the schedule of forbidden marriages, making it now illegal to marry your first cousin, by updating the 1966 law.
There was some discussion about making it illegal to marry your second cousin, but in the end, the Fono Ekepule decided that it is legally permissible to marry one’s, second cousin, something that may raise eyebrows given the close-knit community with strong familial ties.
It is perhaps fitting that this Family Relationship law with the first ever domestic violence provisions is finally passed this week, two days before the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, November 25th.