11 divorce cases
Lawyers describe cases submitted yesterday as being ‘straightforward’
Eleven people filed for divorce yesterday, the first day the Family Court opened its doors to accept applications since the law came into force on Saturday.
Nine of the applicants were already legally separated while the other two were in the process of separating and requested that the proceedings be converted into a divorce case, a Family Court spokesman said.
The 11 cases were filed by the same four lawyers between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. The first case submitted yesterday came with teething problems as a lawyer forgot to submit relevant information and had to resubmit the application again later on in the day.
One of the lawyers to file a divorce application, Claire Bonello, said her client’s case was straightforward, especially since there were no children involved. She filed the application along with the separation contract and a document showing that mediation had failed, among other things.
Her client had filed a unilateral case and the former spouse was not yet aware the proceedings had been started.
Family lawyer Lorraine Schembri Orland also filed a few cases which she described as “straightforward”. She believed that as time passed and legislation became clearer the number of cases being filed would build up. She added that some provisions in the divorce law also applied to separated couples who did not have to divorce to benefit from them.
The Maltese voted to introduce divorce in a referendum held in May after which the law was approved by Parliament in July.
Over the past few months lawyers have expressed concern that the Family Court does not have adequate human resources to cope with the new influx of divorce cases.
Having two judges in the Family Court would not be enough and the number of mediators has to increase, they feel.
Last Friday, on the eve of the coming into force of divorce legislation, family lawyers said they were receiving numerous requests for legal advice, particularly on child maintenance. However, couples were weighing their options that included reconciliation, separation, annulment, divorce and, soon, cohabitation.
Lawyers themselves were cautious about heading straight to court since several procedural parts of the new law still had to be clarified. According to the new law, only couples who have lived apart or have been separated for four years of the past five can apply.
While some couples seeking divorce may already be separated, others would be in the process of separation and some would still have 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 Schembri Orland said couples were asking about their eligibility to certain divorce provisions such as the introduction of maintenance for children over 18, who were in full-time education, until the age of 23.
The law does not make it clear whether the maintenance should go to the other parent or to the child. Dr Schembri Orland believes maintenance ought to be paid to the parent who effectively provided a home for the child.