What’s in this guide?
In the first part of our guide to the Women’s Charter, we discussed the history of the Women’s Charter and the rights and obligations of husband and wife. In this second part, we will discuss divorce proceedings as set out in the Women’s Charter.
Irretrievable breakdown of marriage as the sole ground for divorce
Under s.95 of the Women’s Charter, a person may only file for divorce on the sole ground that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
In order to persuade the Court that your marriage has irretrievably broken down, you will have to satisfy the Court of one of the following facts:
- Your spouse has committed adultery, and you find it intolerable to live with your spouse;
- Your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with your spouse (otherwise known as your spouse’s “unreasonable behaviour”);
- Your spouse has deserted you for a continuous period of at least 2 years before the date you filed for divorce;
- Your spouse and you have lived apart for a continuous period of at least 3 years before the date you filed for divorce, and your spouse consents to a divorce; or
- Your spouse and you have lived apart for a continuous period of at least 4 years before the date you filed for divorce. In this case, your spouse’s consent is not required.
The Court’s jurisdiction to grant a divorce
The Courts have jurisdiction to grant a divorce if either party to the marriage is domiciled in Singapore at the start of the divorce proceedings; or is habitually resident in Singapore for a period of three years before the start of the divorce proceedings. These criteria are usually satisfied if either party is a Singaporean Citizen or Permanent Resident, or has been living in Singapore for at least three years.
You may not apply for a divorce if you have been married for less than three years, unless if you have the Court’s permission to do so. In such a case, you will have to claim that you have suffered exceptional hardship or claim exceptional depravity on the part of your spouse, in your application for permission to claim for divorce.
Mandatory parenting programme
In addition to the above requirements, a party is also required to complete a parenting programme before he may file for divorce. The parenting programme provides information on how the divorce may affect the children of the marriage.
Dispute management for couples
Before commencing divorce proceedings, a party should consider the reconciliation measures offered by the Family Justice Courts. Matrimonial proceedings invariably are emotionally charged; litigation may also cause acrimony as both parties contest each other. As such, it is generally advisable for parties to first consider the counselling offered by the Family Justice Courts to find resolution – at least for the majority of issues.
In most instances, mediation and counselling in the Family Justice Courts are voluntary. Mediation is facilitated by legal professionals, and counselling is conducted by Court-appointed medical professionals with expertise in child welfare and family matters. From time to time, the Court may direct parties to mediation and counselling if there is a chance for an amicable resolution on some issues. Counselling and mediation are mandatory when the parties have a child below the age of 21.
The mediation and counselling provided by the Court generally follows a process:
- The Court may direct both parties to a Family Dispute Resolution Conference. At this stage, a judge and a family counsellor will meet with both parties and their lawyers to set out the issues and agenda.
- After the agenda is drawn up, both parties undergo counselling with the family counsellor. The family counsellor will help parties identify their new parental roles, and work out a care and access arrangement for their children.
- The parties will then undergo mediation to discuss the legal aspects of their matter. The objective of mediation is to agree on the legal aspects of the case. The mediator may also help with issues related to the children of the marriage.
- From time to time, the mediator may co-mediate with the family counsellor if there are complex emotional issues.
If an agreement can be reached during counselling or mediation, the terms of that agreement may be recorded as an Order of Court. Such an Order will be legally binding on both parties.
How to apply for a divorce?
Either party may commence divorce proceedings by filing the following documents at the Family Justice Courts:
- Writ for Divorce;
- Statement of Claim;
- Statement of Particulars;
- Proposed Parenting Plan or Agreed Parenting Plan (if there is at least a child under 21);
- Matrimonial Property Plan (if a Housing and Development Board flat is a matrimonial asset);
- Acknowledgement of Service; and
- The Memorandum of Appearance for your spouse.
The Statement of Claim sets out the reasons for the irretrievable break down of the marriage. Typically, the reasons will refer to one or more of the facts to be proven in s.95 of the Women’s Charter.
The Statement of Particulars details the circumstances of the reason referred to in the Statement of Claim. For example, if a party claims that the marriage has broken down because of separation, he ought to state when the separation occurred, and how both parties lived apart during this period of separation, among other things.
These documents must served on the other spouse after they are accepted and approved by the Court. The divorce process begins after the divorce papers are served on the other spouse. The service of these documents may be done in-person by yourself, or through the respective lawyers of both parties. In some cases, an application will have to be made for substituted service (i.e. in substitution of personal service) if the other spouse cannot be contacted, or is avoiding being served with the documents.
What to do if my spouse filed for divorce?
#1 Do not ignore the divorce proceedings
It is unwise to ignore your spouse’s divorce application, as the Court may proceed to decide on the divorce and the ancillary matters (such as maintenance, division of matrimonial assets, and care and control of children) without your input.
#2 Decide if you agree to the divorce
If you do not agree to the divorce, you will need to contest the divorce. In your defence (i.e. your response to your spouse’s Statement of Claim), you will have to state that you disagree with the facts pleaded by your spouse, and why you disagree with them. You may also decide that you should be the claimant for divorce instead of your spouse – which, in that case, you will have to submit a counter-claim setting out your grounds for divorce.
IIf you agree to the divorce, but wish to be heard on ancillary matters, you will need to indicate the claims that you wish to be heard on, in your Memorandum of Appearance. In general, it is a good idea to indicate that you wish to be heard on all the ancillary matters, so that you may have time to consider them later, or seek legal advice on them.
#3 Find out your first Court Date.
If the divorce is uncontested, you will have to submit a request to have the matter set down for hearing. If no such request is made, the Court may schedule a status conference to check on the case. The status conference is primarily administrative, so that the Court is made aware of the progress of the matter, and may give directions for parties to proceed on the matter.
#4 Prepare for ancillary matters
Parties usually deal with the ancillary matters (such as maintenance, division of matrimonial assets, and care and control of children) after the divorce is granted. In these ancillary matters, both parties will have to deal with dividing matrimonial assets, assigning parental roles and access, and determining what maintenance ought to be paid (if any). Since these matters usually involve an account of the finances during the marriage, it is a good idea to start taking an account of matrimonial assets, as well as the family income and expenses once divorce proceedings begin.
Frequently asked questions
Question1: How long does it take to get a divorce?
If the divorce is uncontested, it may take as little as two months for parties to set down the matter for hearing. The Court will then fix a date to give interim judgment on the divorce. The divorce is only made final after the ancillary matters are dealt with, or after three months from the interim judgment for divorce – whichever is later.
Question 2: Must I engage a lawyer for a divorce?
There is no requirement for a party to be represented by a lawyer in a divorce, and you may act in person. However, it is a good idea to seek legal assistance as divorce is procedural and missteps will cost time and expense. The decisions made in the course of divorce can also have long-lasting effects.
Question 3: I was not married in Singapore, can I still get a divorce here?
Yes, you can apply for a divorce in Singapore as long as you are domiciled in Singapore at the start of divorce proceedings, or habitually resident in Singapore for a period of three years before the start of divorce proceedings. However, you should consider whether Singapore is the right place for a divorce, especially if your matrimonial assets are elsewhere. If you have plans to relocate after divorce, it may be useful to consider separation first – so that you have time to adjust to the new circumstances.
Although divorce may be the right step to take for parties to move on with their lives, it is important for both parties to ensure that their children will be taken care of, and to have their wishes heard. The welfare of the children should be at the forefront of all discussions towards the resolution to the divorce. In our third and final article, we will be discussing how maintenance is handled under the Women’s Charter.
Speak to Wayne about Family Law
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This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.
You may be interested in these articles:
- How to Resolve Parenting Conflicts Out of Court
- Dividing Matrimonial Assets in a Divorce in Singapore