Statistics and separations

Quoting statistics, AUSTIN GATT concludes marriage remains a very strong reality in Malta and that separation is still far from being a given even in the case of minority of married people.

In order to show how common separation has become, the pro-divorce lobby quotes the 2005 census, which shows the number of separated persons rose by 168 per cent since 1995 (up from 4,120 to 11,045). What this lobby conveniently leaves out is the context in which the census quotes this number, namely the civil status of the Maltese resident population (Table 1).

If you remove single and widowed persons and add together divorced, annulled and separated persons the result for the 2005 census is seen in Table 2.

The trend is obviously a rise in single and separated persons and a decrease in married persons. But that is a trend not a picture of society and that picture only comes from comparing the sectors to each other. The trend indicates the changes, possibly the problems. The picture gives you reality.

As is very evident, separated persons still represent only 3.3 per cent of the population and if you add divorced persons they are still only 3.7 per cent in total! Compare that to 59.5 per cent actually living in a marriage or to the 65.3 per cent, if you add those who are widowed, and it is a very far cry from saying this is a society where marriage breakdowns have become the order of the day! It is actually far below the number of those who are widows or widowers!

One can certainly accept the conclusions that separated persons are on the rise (and, possibly, alarmingly so). One could also possibly accept that by the time of the next census in 2015 that percentage will have doubled again but if there is one inevitable and simple conclusion that has to be drawn now it is that the numbers clearly show marriage is not an old-fashioned institution past its sell-by date.

The inevitable conclusion of this data is that marriage is still a very strong reality in Malta and that, while problems in marriages are on the rise, the inevitability of separation is still far from being a reality for even the minority of married families.

Obviously, we do have a problem because the number of separations is high. So let’s try and dissect further the data for separations.

In our system, a separation has to be authorised by a court, either the First Hall or the Second Hall of the Civil Court (there are de facto separations but there is no way to measure these). There is a vast difference between the number of applications for separations and the number that actually result in a court decree. There are various reasons why this is so and it may be interesting to go into them some other day but what concerns us here is the number of court decrees authorising a separation.

The Public Registry also holds data which, since 2003, has been published by the NSO. However, the Public Registry data is not as accurate as the court data because it depends on what Public Registry employees “consider” to be a contract or note coming from a separation and is therefore subjective. In the seven years the Public Registry has collected data, it reported 96 fewer separations than what court records show, not much and, in any case, I intend using court data!

In Table 3, I give the raw data from the courts and compare it to the number of registered marriages in that particular year and produce the separation rate (per 1,000 population) for that year.

It is obvious the last 10 years have seen a dramatic rise in separations compared to the previous decade but the breakdown by year actually shows a slightly different picture, namely that the high was reached in 2005 with 708 separations and numbers have been (Table 4) that high ever since, actually going down to 576 in 2009.

This decrease does not make the problem disappear and may very well be reversed if we are complacent. In fact, there is absolutely no guarantee it will be repeated! But it cannot be ignored.

This reality does not change even if we add the number per year of registered divorces, a number which reached a high of 47 in 2003 and has averaged 40 divorces per year in the last 10 years – totally irrelevant numbers to the debate. Another interesting number, which, again, confirms the irrelevance of foreign divorces to this debate, is that only one per cent of spouses in all marriages are Maltese residents (again not necessarily of Maltese origin or Maltese citizens!) who have previously obtained a divorce.

I would suggest it is fair to assume the rate of separations is uncomfortably high, that we need to be more proactive, even though the recent trend is favourable, that fluctuations are both up and down and that, therefore, specific policies can affect numbers. I would also conclude that the numbers definitely confirm the previous conclusion that Maltese society is very far from giving up on stable marriage relationships and that recent trends in separations would give more hope to the pro-family lobby than to its opponents.

The final set of data I will quote is taken from Eurostat, data which records marriages and divorces but does not include separations. That data shows that:

• The average marriage rate in the EU27 is 4.87 for 2007 when ours was 6.1.

• Our marriage rate for 2009 was sixth highest in the EU27.

• The average EU27 divorce rate is 2.1 with Belgium having the highest at 3.3 and Ireland the lowest at 0.8.

• From the start of the EU data series in 1989, divorce rates have increased in all EU27 countries except for seven of them that have registered drops below 0.4 and Estonia and Latvia, which have decreased by 1.2 and 1.5 respectively.

• The crude number of divorce decrees have increased in most EU27 countries compared to the start of the series but drops have been registered in nine member states.

• The divorce rate in Italy and Ireland has doubled since the introduction of divorce while the crude numbers of divorce decrees have increased 67 per cent and 143 per cent respectively.

• Persons who quote Ireland as a shining example of divorce even arguing that the family bond has increased since divorce was introduced fail to mention that:

• The marriage rate is 5.1 whereas ours is 5.7;

• Divorce crude numbers have increased 143 per cent in the first 10 years following introduction;

• The divorce rate has risen by 100 per cent in the first 10 years following introduction;

• Ireland registered the tenth highest increase in the divorce rate in the last 10 years;

• There is a strong lobby to “liberalise” the divorce law.

Monday: Marriage: A worthwhile institution


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