Tag Archives: Divorce

Why does everything have to be so fucking hard?

Malta’s bureaucracy is so out of control that it’s amazing the island hasn’t sunk into the Mediterranean under the weight of all the paper generated by government departments and the money earned by local lawyers.

Since I met my partner six years ago, it seems that there hasn’t been a single day when we’re not chasing down documents or anxiously awaiting news of a government decision about our lives. After a while it gets seriously detrimental to my health, and I don’t think my anxiety levels have been below a 6 out of 10 in the last six years.

My partner is from a non-EU country, whereas I was born in the EU, and in essence, that is the cause of all the difficulties. Just happening to have been born in a particular country affects our lives so much more than it should. We’re all human beings, right? What is the purpose of national boundaries, of passports, of visas, of apostilles, of work permits and restrictions? I’ll tell you. It’s racism, xenophobia and naked greed. It’s one group of people thinking they need to protect themselves and their wealth against another group. It’s one arbitrarily-bordered country deciding to restrict the rights of another. There’s no fundamental reason why the world has to be split into countries. There are enough natural resources for everyone.

And it’s simply egregious that when two people fall in love, they should have to jump through so many legal and bureaucratic hoops just in order to be able to live where they choose.

It started when we first got together. My partner was (informally) separated from her Maltese husband, and that meant she lost the right to stay in Malta, unless she took employment in a ‘reserved occupation’ which basically meant drudge work as a carer for the infirm – not exactly the life we wanted. So our first task was to find a way to legalise her residency based on our relationship instead of her previous one. That took 40 documents from an assortment of sources, 6 months of uncertainty and nearly €2000 in legal fees. We also had to wait until we had been together 2 years, which meant 2 years of not knowing if or when we would have to deal with a government department cottoning on to the situation and deciding she had to be deported. Anxiety score: 8. Luckily bureaucracy tends to breed inefficiency and confusion, especially in Malta, where most of the time the left hand hasn’t a clue what the right hand is doing, and I think we have that to thank as much as anything else, for getting things sorted without deportation.

The next problem we had was that her passport still bore her maiden name, whereas when she married she (unfortunately) took her husband’s surname and her Maltese identity card showed that name. Never change your name, people, we are witness to the hell that can cause. Every time we went abroad, we had to take her marriage certificate with us and run the risk of being denied passage because she was clearly not travelling with the husband whose name was on her identity card.

Could she have changed her name on her passport? Only by travelling to her home country and enduring more bureaucracy by registering her Maltese marriage there. She didn’t want to do that, not least because even early on in the marriage she was already having doubts about the relationship and was fairly sure it wouldn’t last.

In Malta you cannot legally change your name simply by filling in some legal forms like you can in the UK and other civilised countries. No, the only way to legally revert to her maiden name in Malta was either legal separation or divorce. WHY THE FUCK CAN’T MALTA GROW UP AND LET PEOPLE MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS ABOUT THIS STUFF? With legal separation taking 1 year and divorce 4 years, we opted for the former, to try and rectify the situation as soon as possible. That little process ended up with us having to produce another 20 or so documents, and was complicated by the fact that her husband had already moved abroad. In the end it took 10 months and entailed 2 court appearances and over €2000 in lawyers fees. Anxiety score: 9.

Finally, after those two prolonged and stressful processes, we were living together legally in Malta and could travel (subject to visas) without eyebrows being raised at the clash of names on her documentation.

You’d think at that point we’d breathe a sigh of relief and say, enough. Well, we wanted to, but couldn’t. Why? Because we wanted to exercise our human right to get married, that’s why. And marriage allows me to retire with her in her home country in the future.

In my partner’s home country, a nation stifled and held back by religion, divorce is not permitted. End of story. There is simply no divorce allowed. The ONLY exception is when a person of my partner’s country has married a foreigner, and the foreigner divorces them abroad (the foreigner must be the one initiating the divorce).

So my partner couldn’t legally divorce her husband in Malta and expect that divorce to be recognised in her home country. No, it had to be the other way around, otherwise if we ourselves married and travelled to her home country, she would be breaking the bigamy laws and could be arrested. He had to divorce her, which meant reaching out to him, cap in hand so to speak, and hoping that he would agree and do the right thing.

We swallowed our pride and managed to persuade him to divorce her in his adopted country – luckily a civilised, relatively secular country where divorce is easy and not too expensive. In the end it took 5 months and we had to send him about €800 to cover the fees (that was a condition of his co-operation). But at least he is now legally relegated to the status of ex-husband.

End of the story? Not quite. In order for us to marry in Malta, her divorce had to be registered with the Maltese authorities, which meant going back to her former husband and persuading him to request an apostilled copy of the divorce decree and fedex it to us, so that we could hand it in at the Maltese public registry and in return receive a Maltese divorce certificate. Anxiety score: 8.

I tell you, you couldn’t make it up if you tried. It’s like starring in Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil or being stuck inside a Kafka novel.

That brings us pretty much up to the present, where we’ve set a date for the wedding, our relatives have booked their flights, and we need to hand in all the necessary documentation (more visits to notaries with witnesses to get more meaningless rubber stamps). Except, my partner’s apostilled birth certificate, which she handed in for her previous marriage, now needs to be countersigned by her home country’s consulate in Malta ( I WASN’T told about this in advance), and the marriage registry won’t release it into our care, even temporarily, so we have to try and get this done using a photocopy and hope the consul doesn’t turn his nose up at it.

There may be a fallback option, which is to use a web-based service in my partner’s home country that promises to obtain birth certificates and get them authenticated (apostilled) by the government before sending them anywhere in the world by courier. So we’ll probably do that as well in case and I’m currently waiting for a quote from them. But it looks like this process needs us to obtain a special power of attorney (from the consul in Malta) and courier it to them first. More delays, when we have only 4 weeks to get this sorted before our wedding date becomes invalid and our relatives have to start cancelling flights.

Anxiety score: the needle broke.

I’m trying to think of a moral to this sorry tale to round things off, but to be honest there’s no clear message – not a realistic one anyway. But maybe some nuggets of advice, born of painful experience:

Nugget 1: If you marry someone and you’re female, hold on to your maiden name.

Nugget 2: If you aren’t 110% sure of someone, don’t marry them.

Nugget 3: If you need to deal with the Maltese government, get a valium prescription first.

Nugget 4: If you’re an EU citizen and thinking of living in Malta, check out some other places first.

Nugget 5: I’m running out of nuggets. Looking back at all this stress and torment, I honestly don’t see how we could have done anything differently given the circumstances. I’m just really, really angry that marrying someone takes 6 years and over €5000, just because one person has been married before and the two of us come from different countries. It shouldn’t be this way. We should be welcoming each new day of our life together, not approaching it with trepidation, waiting for the next official to tell us we did something wrong and something extra is needed.

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How can anyone intelligent vote against divorce?

The divorce debate in Malta rumbles on, and citizens will be able to vote in a referendum at the end of May, though we still don’t know exactly how the referendum question will be worded, and there’s now a debate about that. The Maltese sure love to argue…

The catholic church’s latest fusillade aimed at scaring citizens into voting against divorce has been to distribute a fairly threatening leaflet to all households. Funnily enough mine still hasn’t appeared in the letterbox, so I’ll have to rely on this article in the Times of Malta to add my own comments to the debate.

The leaflet sets out 12 (count them) reasons why catholics should vote against the introduction of divorce. As regular readers know I am fanatical about freedom of speech, so I can’t and won’t complain about its publication and distribution. But by the same token, I will now deal with them one by one from a secular point of view.

The 12 questionable statements and my responses

These are taken directly from the Times article – I’m not making them up, honestly. My comments are in bold.

1. If battered wives are granted the right to remarry, so too will their abusive husbands.

So the wives should suffer further because of their husbands’ behaviour? How is that in any way fair?

2. Although people have a right to marry, there is no such right to divorce, according to a 1986 judgment of the European Court of Human Rights.

Completely irrelevant. There is no directive forbidding divorce either. That means Malta must decide on its own. This is trying to muddy the waters by playing on people’s ignorance and confusion of EU and ECHR legal structures.

3. Catholics who vote against divorce are not imposing their values. They have a right to vote according to what they think is best for society.

Of course they do, but they should be able to do so without feeling under pressure to vote a particular way.

4. The Church allows priests to leave the priesthood and get married because celibacy is a Church law, not a law of God like the indissolubility of marriage.

Again, totally irrelevant. How is the celibacy of the priesthood related in any way whatsoever to the debate in hand?

5. Divorce weakens the marriage bond, leading to fewer people getting married.

The clear implication is that fewer people getting married would be a bad thing, but no evidence is presented to support this assertion.

6. If you do not vote it means you do not care about the family or your children.

Wow. Nasty, offensive scare tactics and a disgraceful abuse of power. The church sinks to a new low in its ability to make callous, ill-informed judgements on people’s lives.

7. In all countries with divorce, cohabitation increased, marriage decreased and more people fell below the poverty line.

So, out of 203 countries in the world (depending on how you count them), we know that only two do not permit divorce (Malta and The Philippines).

How can the church assert, with a straight face, that the other 201 countries would have less poverty than they do now if they did not allow divorce, when you consider the millions of diverse factors at play in a country’s economic and social development?

Are we saying that Ethiopia would somehow be a rich nation purely by forbidding divorce? If so, surely it would have seen the light and done so by now?

8. There is nothing wrong with Malta being an exception in the world. Malta has the most churchgoers. Unlike the US, it does not have the death penalty. Should those things change too?

Sure, there’s nothing wrong about being an exception in certain cases – but only when it does not harm people’s rights. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world (as far as I know) that forbids women from driving. That’s one hell of an exception. But is it right?

9. Divorce increases marital breakdown by 20 per cent. For society’s benefit, sometimes individuals must suffer. For example, people might have to give up their land to make space for an airport. All efforts must be made to reduce their suffering, but the land must be taken for common good.

Firstly, I would love to see some solid proof to support that rather fishy statistic.

Secondly, the prohibition of divorce makes some people suffer. The introduction of divorce, however, causes no suffering whatsoever. Those who do not believe in divorce do not have to divorce. Everybody wins! Simples!

10. People who remarry civilly after a divorce cannot receive Holy Communion or go to confession.

Oh no! How will they survive? The suicide rate will surely triple overnight!

11. The Church is against abortion, condoms, sex before marriage and divorce because these are all negative actions. However, it is in favour of positive actions.

Abortion is a positive action when the pregnant woman’s life would be in danger by continuing the pregnancy, or when (for example) the pregnancy is the result of rape and the child would not be loved.

Condoms are a positive and proven way to reduce the spread of disease, and to reduce the number of children born into poverty in this overpopulated world.

Sex before marriage is not even a useful phrase, because sex and marriage are not co-dependent or related issues. Sex is sex, marriage is marriage.

And divorce is a positive action because it allows people whose marriage may have become irretrievably toxic through no fault of their own, to get a second chance at happiness, if that is what they want.

12. The number of children born out of wedlock increases in countries with divorce because cohabitation increases.

Firstly, prove to me that cohabitation increases in countries with divorce. I would argue that it probably decreases, because people can get married for a second time if they want to, rather than being forced to have children out of wedlock if they want to have them with a second partner.

And secondly, I really can’t see why it matters whether children are born to couples who are married or not. The important thing is a loving environment, not a piece of paper.

Do you disagree with anything I’ve said? Put your money where your mouth is and make a comment.

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