Malta is one of only two countries globally where you cannot obtain a divorce; the other country being The Phillippines. Being a strongly Catholic nation, the church plays a part in the lives of many, but slowly things are changing, with many people wanting a separation of church and state.

Over recent years, the divorce debate has raged in Malta and this month (July 2010), Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando presented a private member’s bill to Parliament in a bid to introduce divorce to Malta.

Although currently, it’s not possible to obtain a divorce through the Maltese courts, divorces granted to Maltese and foreign citizens by overseas jurisdictions are recognised by Maltese law, and such people are free to re-marry. Such divorces should be registered with the public registry. Between 2007 and 2009 the Public Registry registered 102 cases of divorce awarded abroad. Even civil marriages cannot be dissolved by Maltese courts, contrary to the belief of some.

As an alternative to divorce, Malta has two options; legal separation and annulment. Either the church or the state can carry out such legal acts. With legal separation, the parties cannot remarry, but that’s not the case with annulment. Annulment means that the marriage never existed, although couples with children can obtain an annulment! In the past five years, there has been a total of 690 annulments by church and state in Malta.

With a legal separation, the couple must go through a mediation process which is offered free by the state. Once a couple is legally separated, then the parties do not have to cohabit, but the obligation of fidelity and support subsists. The at fault party may have to pay maintenance to the other. Between 2006 and 2008, around 3,500 sworn separation applications were submitted or mediations introduced, and a backlog of over 1,000 separation cases pending.

It will be seen in coming months what will happen with regard to divorce in Malta, but the issue has caused heated debate in social circles, and probably will in parliament too.