Malta has the lowest divorce rate in the European Union, balking trends as marriages decline and divorce is on the rise in most other member states.

According to Eurostat statistics, Malta only has 0.7 divorces per 1,000 people, putting it on a par with Ireland, which registered the same rate.

On the lower end of the scale came Slovenia, with a divorce rate of 1.1, followed by Italy, Croatia and Bulgaria, all on 1.5.

Conversely, Latvia and Lithuania had the highest rates of divorce at 3.1, followed by Denmark at 2.6 and Sweden at 2.5.

The average divorce rate across the EU stood at two per 1,000 people, more than doubling since records started being kept in 1965, where the rate stood at 0.8 at the time.

Malta only introduced legal provisions for divorce in October of 2011, after then Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando tabled a private member’s bill on the issue.

A hot-button topic at the time, the Nationalist administration put the debate up for a national referendum, which was approved by 53% of voters in a turnout of 71.57%.

The criteria to obtain a divorce are somewhat restrictive in Malta, with spouses having to have lived apart for at least four of the preceding five years, or have four years elapsed since the date of their legal separation in order to be eligible.

The court must also be satisfied that there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation for the couple, making divorce somewhat less accessible.

The Philippines and the Vatican City are now the last states not to allow divorce.

According to Eurostat, marriages were also trending downward on average, with the crude marriage rate across the EU trending at 4.4 marriages per 1,000 people, declining by some 50 per cent since 1965.

Cyprus had the highest marriage rate at 7.8, followed by Romania at 7.4. The lowest rate was registered in Luxembourg at 3.1.

Statistics also registered a rise in extra-marital births across the EU.

In France the rate stood at a high 60%, Bulgaria at 58.5%, Slovenia at 57.7%, Portugal at 55.9%, Sweden at 54.5%, Denmark at 54.2%, Estonia at 54.1% and the Netherlands at 51.9%.

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