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Italians Get Their Marriages Dissolved Abroad — And I Can See Why

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A legal divorce is apparently very difficult to procure in Italy. Upon deciding on divorce, an Italian couple must endure a three-year separation in accordance with Italian law in the hopes that the couple will reconcile. Mind you, this separation doesn’t involve any legal proceedings, which tack on another year. At best, a consensual Italian couple looking to end their divorce will see it finalized in four years, and as many as 10 years if the split is not unanimous.

The New York Times reports that the mandatory separation period used to five years until 1987, and even with the period being shortened, the law is used to appease The Vatican. Yet even with these lengthy requirements, divorce is still up in Italy while the marriage rate is down:

Even without including foreign divorces, divorce has been increasing in Italy as marriage has tapered off. In 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available, 478 couples separated or divorced for every 1,000 who married, about twice the rate in 1995.

Considering that a couple has made the decision between them to split, dragging out the process with mandatory separations can only make circumstances worse for the couple — and the odds of reconciling are slim:

Apart from time and legal bills, separation also exacts a psychological cost, some divorce lawyers say.

“Once you’ve decided to split, those three years can feel very long, and often lead to more serious family crises, with continuous fights,” said Francesca Zanassi, a lawyer in Milan.

Delaying the end of a marriage rarely saves it, she said. She said that she had worked on countless divorces in the past 20 years, and could only think of one case where the couple got back together.

Marzio Barbagli, a sociologist, attests that maintaining these legal barriers “safeguard” the institution of marriage in Italy — a valid priority for many. But forcing citizens to uphold vows that that they have personally chosen to break seems like an intrusive, and rather needless, use of government resources. Respect for promises made between spouses cannot be legislated, and dragging out the process — as this Times piece proves — just encourages those set on divorce to pursue those same intentions elsewhere.