MaltaToday | 22 June 2008 | Family snapshot on a fantasy island

EDITORIAL | Sunday, 22 June 2008

Family snapshot on a fantasy island

This week, the results of a recent study among schoolchildren aged 11, 13 and 15 revealed that Malta has the highest incidence of youngsters living with only one biological parent.
The study was conducted by HSBC over 41 countries, taking a local sample of 1,500 schoolchildren. Of these, 37.6% claim that they live with only one natural parent. Considering that the corresponding statistic for the United States is just 24%, the impression one gets is that of a drastic deterioration in the one thing most Maltese claim to cherish the most: family values.
Having said this, the statistics do require some qualification. For one thing, the claim that this represents a 30% drop since the national census in 2005 is at best misleading: for the national census was not limited to the same age-bracket, making any like-with-like analysis of the figures highly suspect.
Furthermore, it is debatable whether the 37.6% refers to children who live with only one parent. It is perfectly possible that some of the children who ticked off the single biological parent option were born out of wedlock to a mother who afterwards married or cohabited with someone other than the child’s biological father. There could even be cases where one of the biological parents would have passed away, and the remaining parent remarried or started a new extra-marital relationship. In these scenarios, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that the children in question are not being raised in a salutary family environment.
But the survey does nonetheless present yet another snapshot in a national family photo album, and taken as a whole the picture that emerges is one of a family model which is changing at a very fast rate indeed. It seems we are dealing with the social upheaval brought about by a massive increase in broken marriages over a relatively short time-frame, and the ensuing social pandemonium as couples try starting a new life, only to find that there are not many legal options available to them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the above study was almost immediately used to illustrate that much of this confusion arises from this country’s dogged resistance to the introduction of divorce. But there is a danger in this line of reasoning.
While this newspaper has long campaigned for divorce legislation, we acknowledge that it would be unwise to introduce divorce merely as an antidote to the prevailing chaos. If divorce is to be introduced at all, it should be done for the correct and proper reasons: i.e., that like any other contract entered into of one’s own free will, a marriage bond also has to be dissoluble; that citizens in a free country must have the right to be able to start afresh if their previous marriages fails... regardless of the views or feelings of the majority.
Having said that, this week’s revelation has brought home to a wider audience the disquieting results of our national obsession with keeping divorce out at all costs. It seems we have pitched ourselves so deep into the anti-divorce side of the argument, that we little realise how much damage this attitude may cause to individual lives.
The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that in the absence of divorce, only two legal options present themselves in the case of a failed marriage: separation, and annulment. Whereas the latter effectively quashes the previous marriage, the former does not. This means that separated couples, even if living apart, are still considered as married in the eyes of the law: a fact which carries serious legal implications, unfairly affecting the ability of one or both of the spouses to embark on a new relationship. Ironically, the victims are often the selfsame children whose interests the anti-divorce camp claims to represent.
Take the hypothetical example of a separated mother who is granted custody of her children after an acrimonious separation. The mother benefits from maintenance from the ex-husband, who for his part enjoys visiting rights over the child. But if the mother continues to live in the couple’s former house, which is legally defined as the conjugal home, she will theoretically continue to be bound by the marital responsibilities of fidelity.
This has resulted in cases where “new” couples cannot live under the same roof, for fear of forfeiting maintenance from the former spouse. This state of affairs de facto condemns children to live in a single-parent household, even if the biological parent is in a stable relationship.
An alternative scenario involves a child raised by an unmarried couple under the same circumstances, but warned to keep the existence of the new partner a secret from his other biological parent: again, for fear of legal repercussions.
From this perspective, the results of the HSBC study, as well as the reactions to date, say a good deal more about our national obsession with keeping divorce illegal, no matter the cost, than it tells us about the real state of the Maltese family.

Any comments?
If you wish your comments to be published in our Letters pages please click button below.
Please write a contact number and a postal address where you may be contacted.




MaltaToday News
22 June 2008

MLP ready for “everything” in the national interest… like parents do

Labour, AD in “political symbiosis” – Joseph Muscat

Building boom: 65,373 new dwellings in 10 years

St Helena men remembered… with fireworks fundraiser!

From Pinto’s battery to fish farm store

Sliema house collapse relatives still living ‘heartbreaking ordeal’

Heritage superintendent calls for total ban on Ta’ Cenc development

Ombudsman’s decision still preventing
Sant Antnin finalisation

Balzan gardens: new DCC board ignores predecessor’s decision on Polidano project

Facing the MEUSAC: Forum Malta fl-Ewropa scuttled

The real life or death matter

Who to blame for the shipyards?

Govt to meet GWU on Friday over Dockyards

Copyright © MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016, Malta, Europe
Managing editor Saviour Balzan | Tel. ++356 21382741 | Fax: ++356 21385075 | Email