Since the coming into effect of the ‘Divorce law’ in Malta back in 2011 nearly 3,000 couples obtained a divorce. As the law stands, spouses who wish to opt for a divorce have to wait for four years in order to start legal proceedings. From 2011 till September 2019, there was a total of 7,254 legal separations. This means that on average, two married couples are separating from each other everyday, either by virtue of a contract (consensual separation) or via a court judgment where the Civil Court (Family Section) decides on the merits of the case. The latter is considered to be quite a lengthy process which can take years.
Throughout the decade, there were various debates on the media, especially on social media groups such as Women for Women discussing the waiting time requisite in order for one to be able to divorce. Nine years and counting down the line since its coming into force, divorce is back on the agenda however with a twist!
By virtue of Bill 182 of 2020, amendments are being proposed to Article 66B of the Maltese Civil Code (Cap.16), where the proposed waiting time seems to be more reasonable than the current four years requisite.
First and foremost, it should be highlighted that the Bill is proposing that spouses who are already legally separated by virtue of a contract or a court judgment, can freely initiate legal proceedings for divorce by submitting an application before the Family Court without having to wait for any lapse of time.
Bill 182 is also proposing that spouses who have been living separately from each other, meaning that they did not go through any personal separation proceedings, have to satisfy the requisites that are going to be explained here below.
Should the spouses submit a joint application to obtain a divorce, the Bill is proposing that they must prove to have lived apart for a period of, or periods that amount to, at least 6 months out of the preceding year.
On the other hand, in situations where one of the spouses only files for divorce, on the date of commencement of the divorce proceedings, it must be proven that the spouses have lived apart for a period of, or periods that amount to, at least one year out of the preceding two years.
Although the Bill is proposing expedient procedures, it should be noted that the two current sine qua non requisites that married couples should satisfy to obtain a divorce will remain in force, i.e. there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation between the spouses; and no maintenance is due.
Should the amendments be approved by Parliament, the law would be addressing the needs of many spouses who want to find closure and start afresh in a more expedient manner.
Dr Marita Pace Dimech is a practicing lawyer at Lex Group Legal