If one can present proof of an official change in their surname abroad, its registration and proof that the changes were effected according to a foreign law, then Maltese law will recognise the change in surname. This was held by Hon. Judge Lorraine Schembri Orland during the proceedings concerning the parties Dr David Zahra (on behalf of Lidija Cvijetic) vs Director of the Public Registry.
On the 27th of February, the Court heard the pleas by the plaintiff who complained that she could not receive a Maltese passport because the name that she used to register her Certificate of Marriage in Malta did not match the name on her official documents in Serbia, the country where she got married. It was explained to the Court that the plaintiff had married her husband, a Maltese citizen, in Serbia and had retained her maiden surname because she had to travel not long after and did not make the effective changes to her name.
After registering her marriage in Malta, she returned to Serbia and added her husband’s surname to her official registered name. Issues arose when she was informed that although she has acquired Maltese citizenship, she could not obtain her passport. She therefore pleaded with the court to effect the changes to her name, adding her husband’s surname after her maiden one, under a procedure in Article 253 of the Civil Code where the Court may effect necessary changes to a name.
The Court then heard the counterclaim by the defendant who explained to the Court that such changes could only be made effective to names that one uses in everyday life and could not apply to surnames. It was furthermore claimed that authorised changes abroad in the form of Deeds of Change of Name (more commonly known as ‘deed polls’) are not recognised in Malta.
The Court made reference to previous judgements concerning ‘deed polls’ where it was explained that insufficient proof of a registered change in name abroad will lead to a refusal in the official recognition of such changes by Maltese authorities.
Once the defendant received the original marriage certificate and registered the plaintiff under that name, it would not be legally possible for Maltese law to allow the abandoning of a surname in exchange for another. The Court affirmed that the claim that foreign law is to be applied, in this case that the changes should be made effective in Malta in recognition of the Serbian legal changes, must be proven as a fact. It was held that the plaintiff managed to prove, to the satisfaction of the Court, that all of her official documents were changed in Serbia and that she obtained official authorisation from Serbian authorities.
She was therefore granted an official recognition of her change in surname. The Court did, however, hold that expenses were not to be paid by the defendant since there were no mistakes made in the official marriage registration document and therefore all expenses were to be paid by the applicant.
Av Malcolm Mifsud
Mifsud & Mifsud Advocates
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