In the US, divorce petitions rise by around 40% around Valentine’s Day. To drum up business, a law firm there even runs a competition every year, to give away a free Valentine’s divorce.
So why does cupid’s arrow go so disastrously awry in this most Hallmarky of months? And, more importantly, will Malta see an equally large seasonal jump now that divorce has been legalised?
Los Angeles divorce attorney Kelly Chang Rickert says of the trend: “Around Valentine’s Day, people start questioning their relationships and wondering what their rights are if they leave.”
Alarmingly, she adds: “There is a small percentage of people who want to get their ex back around Valentine’s Day, so domestic violence restraining orders are also popular around this holiday.”
And with the idea of divorce cemented by the upcoming prospect of a miserable dinner for two (or perhaps worse, no dinner at all), security companies also report increased sales of spy items that can be used to check up on maverick marrieds, according to Todd Morris of www.BrickHouseSecurity.com.
Morris sells just what the suspicious spouse needs; hidden cameras, a sperm detector kit called the ‘check mate’ (as seen on CSI), an iPhone Spy Stick and GPS tracking devices that can be hidden in a husband’s bag or even a wife’s boot, allowing you to track their every move online (and yes, they do ship overseas).
Of course, if it’s got to the point where you’re searching the sheets with an infrared light or spying by internet on Valentine’s night, you may as well pre-book your appointment at the divorce lawyer for the next day regardless.
Romance; the devil in disguise?
As for why Valentine’s Day pushes couples over the edge, Mark Vernon, author of Love: All That Matters thinks he has identified the problem.
“Our idealised notion of romantic love is actually the biggest enemy of long-lasting relationships,” he said in an interview on BBC.
Around Valentine’s Day, people start questioning their relationships
“Romantic love is widely celebrated as the pinnacle of love”, he says. “It is marketed as the peak experience without which you cannot say you have lived.”
Vernon feels that this is “socially corrosive because it idealises love, rather than understanding that love is made, not found. Love is made in the gritty ups and downs of being with someone who is as flawed as you. The romantic myth would have us fall in love with love, paradoxically not with one another. I suspect that the desire for a peak experience of love has eclipsed the fact that love is primarily about others.”
But of course, many people do feel that romantic love is, and should be, a defining feature in our lives. We wonder what a life without romantic love means, and whether it is a life that we want to live. And like it or loathe it, the cheesy chocs-and-flowers love fest that is Valentine’s Day can crystalise these feelings.
Divorcing your Valentine
All the signs are that Malta is catching up on divorce trends across Europe. According to reports, there were 1,211 separation cases filed in 2013, the highest in a decade. Couples have had a chance to absorb the implications of the divorce laws, and given that they have to be separated for four years before divorce can be finalised, are thinking ahead.
Lawyer Rita Mifsud of lawfirm Iuris Malta (www.iurismalta.com) says that her firm has dealt with around 15 divorce cases since legalisation. She says that in general, the firm has not noted any particular trends “apart from the fact that most clients are filing for divorce shortly after the lapse of four years since obtaining personal separation”.
Mifsud notes that with a couple of exceptions, “the new provisions regulating divorce have not affected the substantive provisions regulating personal separations under our law. Matters such as the division of common property, maintenance obligations of the spouses, and rights and obligations of the spouses with regards to the children are determined in separation proceedings and not divorce. Divorce is simply a request to court to dissolve the marriage which otherwise would still remain valid through personal separation.”
In other words, it’s virtually business as usual except that the marriage itself ends, leaving couples free to marry again.
She says that most cases are uncontested, but notes: “In some cases, especially when the divorce is not filed jointly, there may be resistance by the other party towards the divorce.
“In such a case however, mediation is not usually required, reason being that even if the divorce is contested, the grounds for such contestation are very limited. The party contesting the divorce may only do so on the grounds that either the time periods established by law for filing a divorce have not lapsed or that the spouse demanding divorce has not paid the maintenance due and that, if the demand for divorce were to be accepted, it would be more difficult for the person contesting the divorce to obtain the maintenance payment.”
So with divorce in Malta a relatively civilised business by international standards, separating spouses might like to consider a Valentine’s gift to help straighten out their differences.
What to buy when cupid has died
The website www.startingovershow.co.uk can help there. They’ve come up with the gimmicky but apparently effective ‘divorce in a box’.
The idea of founder Suzy Miller is to end up with an extended family rather than a broken one. The box promises “a holistic approach to divorce and family break-up” and contains information booklets, DVDs and a meditation CD, as well as vouchers for sessions with lawyers, financial planners and parenting experts.
Obviously, a similar offering here would need to be tailored to Maltese laws, but it’s a thought. If all hope is lost in your relationship, a guide to a civilised divorce could be just what you need. And while slogans in the box like, “Please don’t fight – break up right”, might not be for everyone, especially if you’re in the mud-slinging, screaming, pre-divorce stage, some of the tools in the box are actually useful, such as advice on how to spend less on lawyers.
There’s a gap here in a market which looks set to grow very quickly in Malta, whether driven by Valentine’s Day or not.