The time couples must live apart to qualify for divorce has been slashed to six months if the request is joint and to one year if it is made by one of the parties, according to a new bill published by the government.

If backed by parliament, it will end the minimum period of four years that had been included in the original divorce law introduced following a referendum on the subject. 

The government explained that, for the first time, a distinction is being made between the time periods for the submission of joint and unilateral divorce claims by people who are not legally separated.

Where the parties are already legally separated, through a court judgment or a contract, there should be no waiting period for a person to be able to file for divorce.

However, if no such document exists, and in cases where parties are only de facto separated, and the request for divorce is made by both parties together, they should have lived apart for at least six months in the last 12 months. 

If the request is filed by one party against the other, on the date of commencement of the divorce proceedings, the couple must live apart for at least one year out of the previous two years.

The bill was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday and published on Thursday.

In a statement, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said that the changes are necessary amendments that respect the private lives of individuals and families.

Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar said that the government remains committed to implementing the necessary reforms and changes so that everyone can live in a country where the protection of civil rights reigns supreme.

"We all have the fundamental right to private and family life, with no unnecessary interference from government. This bill reinforces our commitment to safeguard this right," she said.

She noted that the bill built upon previous major landmarks, including the Cohabitation Act and the Civil Unions Act. 

"The revisiting of Malta’s divorce proceedings upon their 10-year anniversary is driven by our progressive politics, as well as our social pact with the people we represent," Cutajar said.


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