St. Maarten Central Committee focuses on paternity law in civil code

POSTED: 08/23/11 12:34 PM

St. Maarten – The draft civil code for St. Maarten sailed through the Central committee of Parliament yesterday morning, after a brief presentation by prof. Jan de Boer and further elucidation by Justice Minister Roland Duncan.
Prof. de Boer, a member of the Common Court of Justice and St. Maarten’s constitutional court, has been involved in rewriting the civil code for a long time. In March he gave already a presentation at the Cultural Center on Backstreet to highlight the most significant changes to the civil code. Yesterday, de Boer limited his presentation to the most pregnant issues: the paternity law and the inheritance law.
While thirteen draft laws are awaiting approval by the Parliament, one piece of legislation is lagging: the labor law. While all other draft were submitted in a timely manner before the constitutional transition date of October 10, the labor law missed the deadline, according to de Boer due to a mistake by a civil servant in Curacao.
The discussion in the Central Committee after De Boer’s presentation remained superficial and focused mainly on several specific situations. De Boer confirmed that the paternity legislation will have a retro-active effect, because people who want to establish the identity of their biological father are able to call upon the law back to the date when they were born.
How badly St. Maarten needs an updated civil code, in particular the paternity law was illustrated by prof. de Boer during his presentation in March when he noted that 25 percent of children living in Curacao do not know who their biological father is. Though there are no exact data available for St. Maarten, the cultural similarity between both islands suggest that the situation here will not be much different.
The paternity law is designed not only to give children the right to know who their biological father is; it also regulates issues like the right to inherit. The law gives children the option to go to court to establish paternity; they also have the right to child support, once paternity has been established through DNA-testing, and the right to establish legal ties with their father.
The Caribbean percentage of children who do not know their biological father is sky high, compared to for instance Denmark, where only 1.3 percent of children is in this position. In the Netherlands, the percentage is around 2. In the new law, the right of the child to know prevails over the right of the father.
Prof. de Boer explained that, after the father dies, children have five years max to establish paternity. When that term expires, children are still able to establish paternity, but they are no longer entitled to inherit buy cheap valium uk from their father’s estate.
The inheritance law that is now on the table offers significantly more protection to surviving spouses. “Under the current law, when there are five children, the surviving spouse only has to leave the house he or she is living in.”
Under the new law, the longest living spouse is protected; children get only a claim to their part of the inheritance and this is only executable after the surviving spouse passes away.
The code also provides for the establishment of a reporting center for child abuse. Professionals, like doctors and psychologists, are excused of their oath of professional confidentiality to make it possible for them to report abuse.
Legislation on corporations also changes. The code introduces the Anglo-American trust for clients in the offshore business. Another change is that shareholders who own at least ten percent of a company or an association get the right to ask an accountant to look into the company’s management performance.
Home-buyers will get some protection in the form of a 3-day cooling off period after they have closed a deal. This means that buyers get the right to cancel a purchase if they get second thoughts within that period. A similar provision (for seven days) applies to long distance contracts like Internet-transactions. Timeshare sales are bound by a 5-day cooling off period.
There are also changes ahead for tenants of private and commercial buildings. Private tenants of buildings with a market value of up to 200,000 guilders will be entitled to go to the rent committee to establish whether the rent they are paying is fair. Under the old system, these rents were linked to the historical construction costs.
The change does not affect current tenants, only new ones. For commercial properties the change from historical costs to market value kicks in five years after the civil code comes into effect.
Other changes concern insurances. Insurance companies will have to warn their clients fourteen days in advance that their insurance expires and that they have to come in to pay their fees. If the insurer fails to do so and the client forgets to pay, he will still be covered in case he gets for instance in a car accident a couple of days after the due date.
The labor laws guarantees equal treatment to workers. Discrimination based on gender, membership of a union or the nature of the contract (temporary or permanent) is prohibited.
While there are many aspects to consider with respect to the civil code, parliamentarians stuck with their questions mainly to the paternity law, and to the responsibilities of parents and young fathers who cause teen pregnancies before disappearing into thin air.

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