No flood of divorce requests expected
Maintenance seems to be the central issue
Malta’s divorce law comes into force tomorrow but few couples are ready to head to court just yet, according to three family lawyers, who are receiving numerous requests for legal advice, particularly on child maintenance.
Come Monday, when the law courts open for business, it is unlikely there will be a rush to file the legal papers as couples are still weighing their options that include reconciliation, separation, annulment, divorce and, soon, cohabitation.
Lawyers themselves are also cautious about heading straight to court since several procedural parts of the new law have yet to be clarified and they do not want to risk having a case declared null on a technicality, explained lawyer Joanne Vella Cuschieri.
Lawyer Stefano Filletti agreed, adding that it was “a waiting game at this stage” and he was advising clients not to file for divorce before the complete workings of the law were clear.
According to the new law, only couples who have lived apart for four years can apply. While some couples are already separated, others are in the process of separation and some have still to start the process. In some cases the four years have elapsed while others are still fresh.
One of the complicating factors for lawyers handling a divorce application is that it is not yet clear whether each scenario should be handled in the same manner.
Dr Vella Cuschieri and Dr Filletti said so far no one had approached them to officially start divorce proceedings although many did ask for more information. Family lawyer Lorraine Schembri Orland had a few clients that went to her to set the ball rolling.
“Most ask about how divorce will affect their children and their maintenance,” Dr Vella Cuschieri said.
“Maintenance seems to be the central issue for them,” Dr Filletti agreed. The three lawyers said many of their already separated clients were asking about their eligibility to certain divorce provisions such as the introduction of adequate maintenance for children over 18, who were in full-time education until the age of 23.
Dr Schembri Orland said the law did not make it clear whether the maintenance should go to the other parent or to the child.
Separated couples who have children in the 18 to 23 age bracket, and currently do not receive maintenance, are asking whether they will be eligible.
All three lawyers agreed they were proceeding with caution and did not want to rush clients into filing for divorce before the law was clear.
So, as lawyers prepare for the challenges of the new law, the University of Malta’s Department of Law is working on preparing future lawyers to handle these cases.
Faculty dean Kevin Aquilina said this year a seminar on divorce will be organised for students. As from next year the credit on Family Law will include a section on divorce.