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What is the procedure for the State of Malta to recognise ecclesiastical annulments or foreign divorces obtained outside the EU?

This article explores the legal processes outlined in Articles 23 and 24 of the Marriage Act, emphasising the significance of an Executive decision from the Ecclesiastical Tribunal and subsequent court registration. The article also addresses the recognition of foreign divorces obtained outside the EU, underscoring the importance of Article 33 of the Marriage Act and advising individuals to seek legal guidance for  subsequent recognition of decisions in Malta.

Recognition of ecclesiastical annulments

We need to point out that ecclesiastical annulments are recognized by Maltese law only when the state would have recognized their Catholic marriage in the first place. When the spouses would have  contracted a civil marriage first, an ecclesiastical annulment of their Catholic marriage would not be recognized.

Articles 23 and 24 of the Marriage Act (Cap. 255) regulate the recognition of annulments of Catholic marriages. A decision of annulment given by an Ecclesiastical Tribunal may be recognized, where one of the parties is a citizen of Malta or is domiciled in Malta. Moreover, a number of requirements need to be met. Firstly, the decision of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal must have become Executive.  Then, an application must be presented by either spouse before the Court of Appeal requesting recognition and is served on the Director of the Public Registry, the State Advocate as well as the other spouse. The  application must include an authentic copy of the decision of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal, the document issued by the Ecclesiastical Tribunal declaring that its decision is executable according to Canon Law, as well as an original marriage certificate. The other spouse has the right to file a reply to such application within 12 working days from service of such application.

If the court is then satisfied with the decision of the Tribunal in line with article 24(5) of the Marriage Act, it registers the decision by giving a decree declaring the decision to be enforceable in Malta and is subsequently registered in the Public Registry.

Recognition of divorces obtained outside the EU

When it comes to the recognition of foreign divorces which are obtained outside the EU, the relevant provision is article 33 of the Marriage Act. This provides that decisions of foreign courts or equivalent authorities, affecting the status of a married person, such as divorce, are to be recognized in Malta, so long as such a decision is given by a court or competent authority of the country of which either of the spouses is a citizen, or where he or she is domiciled.

It is therefore important for individuals to seek legal advice before filing for divorce or an annulment to ensure that they do so before the appropriate forum and that the eventual decision is recognized.