Can you get divorced in Singapore as a foreigner? What are the implications and the practical considerations you will need to consider? All these concerns and more will be addressed.
In 2015, it was reported that 1 in 3 marriages in Singapore (or 36%) is between a Singaporean and a foreigner. In absolute numbers in 2015, 8,562 partners in a marriage registered in Singapore was a foreigner. While there are no exact figures to the number of divorce cases in Singapore where one party is a foreigner, a total of 7,578 marriages ended in divorce or an annulment in 2017, of which it could be assumed that a significant number of them would have involved a foreigner.
Divorce in Singapore as a Foreigner
Are you eligible?
The basic criteria to get divorced in Singapore as a foreigner is if you have been “habitually resident in Singapore for a period of 3 years immediately preceding the commencement of the proceeding” (Section 93(1)(b) of the Women’s Charter)
What does ‘habitually resident’ mean?
In the case of Lee Mei-Chih v Chang Kuo-Yuan  4 SLR 1115;  SGHC 180, the Singapore High Court found that there were two necessary features to determine if a party is “habitually resident” – (a) if the residence is adopted voluntarily and (b) if residence is for settled purposes.
What this means is that,
- The residence must be voluntarily adopted and not ‘enforced’ by reason of kidnapping or imprisonment, or because you have been stranded in Singapore involuntarily, akin to Robin Crusoe stuck on a desert island with no opportunity to escape.
- A ‘settled purposes’ does not mean that you do plan to stay in Singapore indefinitely; you could even intend to stay in Singapore for a limited period. However, it should be clear that the purpose and reason(s) for which you are staying here, e.g. Education, business or profession, employment, health, family or even just your liking of Singapore must be clear for your living in Singapore. Additionally, there must be a ‘sufficient degree of continuity’ to be properly described as settled.
In the stated case of Lee Mei-Chih, although the wife did not have ‘more concrete settled purposes such as education, family or employment’ the mere fact that she had a pattern of always returning to Singapore whenever she travelled abroad demonstrated a certain degree of settled purposes.
I Often Fly In-and-Out of Singapore, how is the 3-years calculated?
Understandably, as a foreigner, you might take short trips back to your home country to handle matters or go on holidays to other countries. In such circumstances, how does these trips affect the 3-years qualifying period, i.e. affect the ‘requisite degree of continuity’?
As above in Lee Mei-Chih, the court held that the wife had failed to establish the requisite degree of continuity of habitual residence. While the court stated that each case would be judged based on its own facts, they concluded that ‘holidays abroad would not break an otherwise habitual residence’. However, the Singapore court would have to consider,
- The reason for the party being away; and
- The length of time spent away
In Lee Mei-Chih the court found that the wife failed to meet the qualifying period because,
- She spent 8 months in Taiwan living there and defending herself there in a divorce related proceedings and this could not be considered as being within the acceptable exceptions of a ‘holiday trip or business trip’. To bring things to its logical conclusion, while the divorce proceedings were out of the wife’s control, it could not be that if the legal proceedings had been 2 out of 3 years, that the wife still could have qualified as being habitually resident here.
- Additionally, the wife stayed 4 months in New Zealand as well to settle her daughter into school there.
In conclusion, it is important to seek the advice of a lawyer to whether the facts of your case fit into you meeting the ‘3 years habitual resident’ criteria. Should you not meet the 3-years habitual resident qualifying period, it would always be prudent to wait or consider getting divorced in your home country.
Should I Get Divorced in Singapore as a Foreigner?
Should you meet the criteria to get divorce in Singapore, the next question would be whether it is in your best interest to get a divorce in Singapore as a foreigner, i.e. if Singapore is the best forum (‘place’) to get divorce.
For sure, there are certain factors that you should consider when deciding on this question when comparing Singapore’s divorce law with the divorce law of another country:
How does the law treat the issue of custody, care and control and access of the children? It is best to make sure that you are not confused about the different terms used in Singapore and other countries to describe the same thing. For example,
The party who is care and control tends to be the party whom the children live with the majority of the week. However, in England, they use the term ‘parenting time’ while in USA, they use the term ‘physical custody’ whereas in Singapore, we use the term ‘care and control’ of the child. Similarly, the term ‘access’ in Singapore means who visits the children. In England it is termed as ‘contact’ and in the USA, it is called ‘visitation rights’
How does the law consider the splitting of matrimonial assets in Singapore versus other countries? For example, in Singapore, the overriding consideration that the court has to consider is that the result is ‘just and equitable’ whereas in California, the starting point is that both debts and properties are divided equally.
In Singapore, only the wife or an incapacitated husband would be allowed to claim maintenance against the other spouse whereas in Sweden, both the husband and wife can equally bring a case of maintenance against the other.
All in all, it would be in the best interests of all parties to seek the advice of both a lawyer from the jurisdiction where you are planning to get a divorce in as well as a lawyer in Singapore to make the best decision.
Have a question on cross border divorce?
If you have any questions regarding cross border divorce, you can get a Quick Consult with Chong Yue-En or with other lawyers. With Quick Consult, from a transparent, flat fee from $49, a lawyer will call you on the phone to give you legal advice.
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.