Once upon a time, on this island marriage was forever: regardless of adultery, abuse or sheer neglect, with the exception of the lucky few who managed to obtain an annulment. Prior to 2011 we had no divorce in our little Malta and those who were living unhappily ever after had no chance to remedy the situation, except living as a legally separated party (remaining legally married to their spouse), separating unofficially or grinning and bearing it until one kicked the bucket. To continue with our historic glance at the topic, until 2014 the Ecclesiastical Tribunal was superior to Maltese Courts in marriage annulment cases and courts had been prohibited from continuing to hear cases for annulment if the same case had been filed before the Ecclesiastical Tribunal.
Going further back in our collective memories, we can also remember that those who chose to live with someone outside of the sacrament of marriage whether separated or unmarried were defined as (shock, horror!) poġġut with all the stigma that came with it. We have thankfully come a long way and this derogatory term has now evolved to cohabitating partner with our Government now providing legislation, rights and benefits for cohabitating partners.
We can also remember that those who chose to live with someone outside of the sacrament of marriage whether separated or unmarried were defined as poġġut with all the stigma that came with it.
Way back in 2011 I was in separation proceedings and the referendum on divorce was finally being held. I was excited to take a step further in what I felt was getting my life back from a terrible marriage and I was looking forward to voting. It had become the topic du jour at work too and people were taking bets on the outcome (I won a chocolate cake for your information ladies and gentlemen). On the tenth anniversary of this landmark event, I am proud to say that I benefitted from the outcome of this referendum by a lot more than a delicious chocolate cake and I am so much happier for it.
I will always be grateful to the Labour Party for this battle it has fought on my behalf and that of every person suffering to remain bound to someone who they not only did not love anymore, but who had put them through a lot of hardship and abuse. This is no longer the time when the parish priest, your relatives or ‘friends’ can tell you to show the other cheek and go back home to the person who has bruised you and broken your bones. This is no longer the time when you have to go back to someone who mercilessly tears you down with their words, is unfaithful or simply ignores your existence. This is the time when you can leave, take back what is yours along with your life and move on.
New changes have just been introduced whereby separated couples shall no longer have to wait for four years to obtain divorce. In cases where both parties file for divorce, the waiting time will be cut down to six months. While where there is only one party seeking divorce, the waiting time has now been reduced to one year.
Four years are a very long time but when you have no feelings for someone, or worse still, this person is actively harming you, they feel interminable. Marriage can be a beautiful thing where two human beings can choose to share the good and the bad, having each other’s backs and making each other’s lives better. However this is the ideal and for some people this is unfortunately not the case. When things are bad, when there is no solution and things cannot get better only worse, then you need to have the option to leave without having to wait for those four long years.
So once again, even though I am now free, thank you Labour Party because I am sure that these significant changes will help people who need to move on and rebuild their lives.
About Dot Borg: Divorced, working mum, avid reader and sometimes angry writer. Loathes single socks, prone to bouts of road rage and selective amnesia.