This court is sometimes referred to as the Family Court. The present structure of the Family Section of the Civil Court came into being in December 2003, when the Civil Court was split up into three sections: the General Jurisdiction Section – also known as the First Hall of the Civil Court – the Family Section and the Voluntary Jurisdiction Section. Prior to this date matters concerning family relationships and duties were heard before the First Hall of the Civil Court, with certain preliminary procedures, however, having to be conducted before the Second Hall of the Civil Court (which is to-day called the Voluntary Jurisdiction Section of the Civil Court). Thus, for instance, if spouses wanted to separate they had first to obtain the consent of the Second Hall of the Civil Court. The Judge sitting in this court would attempt to reconcile the parties, and if reconciliation failed he would authorise them to proceed to the court of contentious jurisdiction, that is to go before the First Hall of the Civil Court, where the plaintiff would commence litigation by writ of summons. In December 2003 the Second Hall (now styled Civil Court, Voluntary Jurisdiction Section) ceased to have anything to do with separation proceedings, and instead compulsory mediation before specially trained mediators was introduced as part of the set up of the Family Section of the Civil Court.
The Family Section of the Civil Court deals with cases of annulment of marriage, personal separation, custody and maintenance of children (whether born in or out of wedlock), paternity and filiation, and matters which are regulated by the Child Abduction and Child Custody Act. Adoption, however, is dealt with by the Voluntary Jurisdiction Section of the Civil Court. The Judge sitting in the Family Section also has to approve deeds of personal separation, that is when the spouses agree to what is called “separation by mutual consent”. Even in this kind of separation, however, the spouses must first go before a mediator of this court.
In matters involving children the Family Section of the Civil Court can appoint an advocate to represent, and promote the best interests of, the children concerned notwithstanding that for the purpose of the litigation in hand they may be represented by one of the parents.
If any question arises whether a particular matter falls to be determined by the Family Section or by some other section of the Civil Court, such a question is referred by the registrar to the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice decides the matter, and no appeal lies from that decision.
In Gozo, matters which would be dealt with in Malta by the Family Section of the Civil Court are dealt with by the Family Section of the Court of Magistrates (Gozo) in its Superior Jurisdiction, with the same structure, including mediators, as in Malta.
Two Judges ordinarily sit, separately, in the Family Section of the Civil Court. At present these are the Hon. Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro and the Hon. Mr Justice Robert Mangion. In Gozo, the Magistrates currently sitting in the Family Section are Magistrate Dr Paul Coppini and Magistrate Dr Josette Demicoli.