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Pros and cons of divorce raised in first televised debate

For and against - Deborah Schembri and Bernard Grech during the divorce debate.

For and against - Deborah Schembri and Bernard Grech during the divorce debate.

The first head-to-head debate between the movements for and against divorce was held on TVM this evening.

Representatives of the Divorce Movement stressed that divorce would give a choice for those whose marriage broke down, while opponents of divorce warned that the law as proposed would impose divorce without reason and erode Malta's "heritage" of long-term commitment in marriage.

Family lawyer Deborah Schembri and family therapist Charlie Azzopardi, spoke for the Divorce Movement while medical doctor Anna Vella and family lawyer Bernard Grech spoke for the anti-divorce movement.

Dr Grech spoke out against the concept of no fault divorce, saying spouses could walk of a marriage without reason or control. They could then enter into a series of marriages, rendering marriage a loose tie.

Furthermore, it was a falsity for the Divorce Movement to claim that one could not remarry before four years of separation. The proposed law did not even say how the four years would be calculated.

He also argued that divorce did not replace cohabitation. Indeed cohabitation had increased in every country where divorce was introduced.

Dr Azzopardi accused opponents of divorce of being "heartless" and ignoring the plight of those whose marriage broke down. Divorce was being portrayed as being evil, yet its effects were effectively the same as separation and annulment. It was not divorce which caused trauma, but the actual process of a marriage breakdown, of which divorce was only the last stage and an opportunity for a new start. No one should impose on what people whose marriage broke down should do.

Dr Vella said divorce would increase the suffering of passing through marital breakdown.

"When you live abroad, like I did, you realise that divorce is contagious... If your sister divorces, you have a bigger chance for divorce," she said. Studies abroad showed how many marriages would have been saved had there not been the divorce option.

On the maintenance guarantees, Dr Vella asked how a husband who did not keep his marriage commitment would instead keep his maintenance commitment.

She added that divorce would create a "new form of real poverty" in Malta because people would not be able to afford to pay two electricity bills and home rents. There would, therefore, be a divorce of the well off.

Family lawyer Deborah Schembri said divorce would not deny any rights for those whose marriage was strong but it would give new rights for those whose marriage had broken down and, after separation and failed attempts at reconciliation, wished to start afresh with somebody else. Why should people whose marriage had broken down be forced to cohabit when they could remarry – with the responsibilities it brought with it?

Remarriage would also regularise the legal position of children who were currently born out of wedlock. She said the maintenance guaranteed in separation proceedings would remain in force in cases of divorce.

The debate was organised by the Broadcasting Authority.

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