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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Malta’s “yes” to divorce

Malta. Holiday destination, Mediterranean island, World War II strategic stronghold, where Gladiator was filmed and Oliver Reed died. Also, the only EU country where divorce is not allowed.

That could change though after a referendum at the end of May 2011 saw nearly three-quarters of the electorate vote “yes” to divorce laws being introduced. The poll was non-binding so the Government hasn’t committed to change, but Prime Minster Lawrence Gonzi conceded “now it is our duty to see that the will of the majority is respected”.

The fact that divorce has been banned in majority-Catholic Malta to date does beg a few questions. Is everyone happily married? Is the marriage rate lower? Is there a high level of cohabitation? Is there a black market in divorces? I suspect we could guess at some of the answers. What can people do currently though if there is an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage?

Well the options were to apply for a legal separation through the courts (not sure whether this would allow the parties to marry again), or seek a lengthy, complex Church annulment, or get divorced abroad.

Luckily, if you are a British ex-pat living there, you are likely to still be able to use the English legal system to divorce. This holds true for thousands of ex-pats across the world, provided you are “domiciled” in the UK. This is a legal point that takes into account where you were born and grew up, where you are currently living and any future plans. An experienced family lawyer will be able to advise on this but if you have been habitually living in the UK for much of your life, there should be no problem.

Using the English legal system is often much quicker, cheaper and more effective than attempting to use the local jurisdiction and in many instances expats are prevented from doing so – as in Malta!

Anyway, going back to my original point. I am pleased that it seems people in Malta are now coming into line with the rest of the world and taking the sensible view that not all couples will always get on and so divorce is a necessary evil, whether it is backed by the Prime Minster or not. Incidentally, Chile was the last country to legalise divorce in 2004. That leaves just one other country in the world where divorce is banned (not including Vatican City). Can you tell me which one?

Andrew Woolley
Family Solicitor


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