One of the biggest moves a couple can make is to move in together. Nowadays cohabiting has become the new norm and couples now find it comfortable and acceptable to move in together before tying the knot. Some even refer to it as the testing of the water before committing to marriage by sharing a flat.
According to national surveys conducted 7-15% of Namibian adults are in cohabitation relationships. Although cohabiting may seem to be common it still carries negative connotations in some communities. For example, Nama/Damara terms which are used to describe cohabitation include “≠nû gomes !ameb” or “≠nû- gomas ũib” translating to “black cattle marriage” and “black cattle life”. An Oshiwambo word for informal cohabitation is “okwootekwa”, which means staying together illegally.
However, there are communities that use more judgement-neutral terms for cohabitation, such as the Nama term “hâ-lhaos” and the Afrikaans term “saamelewes” both of which mean simply “living together”, the Nama/Damara term “soregu hâ” which refers to “people who are dating for a long time”, the Otjiherero word “otjiwoteka” which refers to “a fixed girlfriend” and is not confined to the situation where a couple lives under one roof and the Rukwangali term “sihorwa”, meaning simply “love”.
Otto Kapuka, a life coach and trainer of human capital at Arts Master Consultancy says that how cohabiting is perceived based on the individual’s religion and culture. Otto says that it could also depend on the two individuals cohabiting. “It could be people who decided and made arrangements to move in together, or the fact that somebody just want to take advantage of the situation without necessarily any commitments being made.
You also find those who probably don’t want to officially get married but they are committed to one another and prefer to have their family in that way. It really depends on individuals and the reasons they want to cohabitate,” says Otto.
Cohabiting is not always smooth sailing there are many problems that could arise in cohabitation. Otto says that when a couple cohabite they share benefits that are supposed to be shared in marriage. Moreover, it could be a risk as your significant other could just wake up one day and tell you to move out because there is no commitment. The life coach deems it as a waste of time that could have been used to meet someone who was going to marry you. This often leads to depression and stress,” he said.
When two elephants are fighting it’s the grass that suffers and in this regard when misunderstandings happen Otto says that it hurts the children. “When the children are used to the two of you staying together and all of a sudden the relationship falls apart it’s going to hurt them,” he says.
When is it right to cohabit?
Moving in together can either be the most romantic time in a relationship or the scariest. Merging spaces at the right time can be the difference between blissful cohabitation and epic disaster. However, the ideal time for a couple to move in together is not based on ‘clock time’ as in days or months. According to the life coach there’s no one perfect length of time that means you’re ready to move in with your partner but it rather depend on individuals and how they want to do things in their lives.
“There could be people who arrange to cohabitate and eventually get married because they have a plan. While there are those who do not plan anything but rather just move in. Before you cohabit ask yourself if it is how you want to do things in your life or whether you are just doing it to please the other person. If you can evaluate and think in that line it becomes easier to decide whether it’s the right time to cohabit or not. And if you don’t have the reason to cohabit then you really don’t have to.
Deciding if you’re ready to move in with your significant other or not isn’t as simple as “We want to be together all the time.” Of course, that’s one important factor. But there are a whole host of other elements that need to be taken into consideration. You need to consider what you are willing to take with you into your new living situation and what you have to leave behind, both in terms of physical possessions and emotional baggage.
Getting the timing right, however, is crucial. If you move in before you’re ready and it doesn’t work out, it’s hard to go back to just being boyfriend and girlfriend who live apart. What’s more, the chances are you’ll have signed a tenancy agreement together and be tied in for a year.
Legal protection on cohabiting
Even though cohabiting relationships are common in Namibia, few people are aware of the limited protections available under the law. Although there are a few existing legal mechanisms that can be invoked by cohabiting couples, the current laws are not designed to cater for cohabiting couples and are inadequate to produce fair outcomes in most cohabitation situations.
Furthermore, the current laws are inconsistent, with some statutes including cohabiting partners in their definitions of “dependent” (such as the Government Service Pension Act) while other statutes currently exclude cohabitants (such as the Motor Vehicle Accidents Fund Act).
According to the Legal Assistance Centre there is no legal duty of support between cohabitants either during the relationship or when it ends. In the eyes of the law, each partner is responsible for his or her own upkeep.
The law does not regard the property of cohabitants to be jointly owned unless they have entered into an express or implied agreement to this effect. If the property is owned individually, the cohabitant who owns the property has a legal right to deal with that property as he or she wishes, without consulting his or her partner even if the property was acquired during the course of the relationship and even if the other partner made financial contributions to the purchase of the property. The person who holds the title to the property is regarded as the owner of the property and is not required to act with the consent or knowledge of his or her partner.
Moreover, the cohabiting partner has no right to occupy a common home which is individually owned or leased by the other partner, and cohabiting partners have no rights in respect of private land or communal land which is held in the name of the partner.
Like any other person, a partner who is cohabiting has the right to bequeath his property to whomever he or she wishes. Thus, cohabitants may in a will bequeath their estate to their partners. If no will exists, then the surviving cohabitant has no right to inherit from the deceased cohabitant under the laws of intestate succession.
Choosing to live with a partner can be a wonderful and fulfilling experience, and indeed a necessity when it comes to moving forward. Otto says that cohabiting could be a good idea for the couple that plans on taking a step into marriage. “Getting married to someone that you don’t really know well becomes a problem at times. It is always better when you are used to the person. You simply get to know each other much better before anything else.”
However, moving in with your significant other could be a pretty big step. Generally, it’s the type of thing you do when you want to be with that person forever, whatever forever looks like for you. It’s a commitment, not only to loving another person, but to sharing a whole life and space with another person. Therefore there are certain things that need to be taken into consideration.
Otto says that one needs to be aware of the relationship’s vision and the reasons of cohabiting. If you have no reason for cohabiting it’s going to crush you down. You should know where the relationship is headed to, where it will take you and a backup plan that will get you back on your feet if things do not work out.
Cohabiting may seem like a piece of romance-flavored pie, but it’s a whole lot more than that. It’s devoting oneself to making things work and weathering hard times together. If things end up not working, it’s more than just parting ways but finding somewhere else to live on your own, dividing possessions, and dealing with all the financial aspects of breaking up a joined household.