We’ve all seen movies or heard stories about bad divorces where the divorcing parties are enraged with each other, arguing furiously over the division of matrimonial assets, maintenance and child custody amongst many things. Going through a divorce can be a very painful and sometimes, cruel process for all parties involved. There can also be profound and lasting negative impact on the well-being of the divorcing parties’ children. But is this necessarily a destined path that all divorcing couples are bound to go through? While a divorce is naturally emotionally-charged, the path can be less treacherous through mediation which facilitates parties in reaching an amicable resolution.
Divorce mediation is a dispute resolution process where a neutral third party (the mediator) helps the divorcing parties work through the issues they need to resolve to end the marriage as amicably as possible. Mediators help to keep the parties focused on the issues, encourage communication and allow for them to explore mutually acceptable and sustainable solutions.
In Singapore, the Family Justice Courts of Singapore (FJC) and the Ministry of Family & Development (MSF) recognise the negative impact that divorce may bring to children and introduced the Mandatory Parenting Programme (MPP) in 2016 to encourage divorcing couples to make informed decisions which prioritise the well-being of their children. Parents with at least one child below 21 years of age and who wish to either commence divorce proceedings or file a counterclaim to a divorce proceedings commenced by his or her spouse will have to attend the MPP. In the MPP, parents are informed about the possible negative impact divorce can have on children, even before divorce proceedings have been commenced. Through MPP, parents can be reminded of the importance of maintaining a civil relationship and keep their children’s welfare as their priority even while engaging with their spouse in the course of the divorce proceedings.
Pursuant to section 50(3A) of the Women’s Charter, all parties with at least one child below the age of 21 are required to attend mandatory mediation and counselling, post-commencement of divorce proceedings. Such mediation is facilitated by judges in the FJC as well as Court-appointed and accredited mediators while counselling is conducted by Court-appointed professionals with expertise in child welfare and family matters.
Aside from Court-mandated mediation and counselling, private organisations such as The Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC) also offers family mediation services. The SMC has a board of family mediators and Collaborative Family Practitioners who are able to assist parties reach a mutually satisfactory settlement. Parties who value privacy on their personal matters will opt for private family mediation options as the entire process is confidential and held in an environment conducive to resolving complex familial issues amicably.
Why is mediation such a highly recommended option?
Mediation is highly recommended as court battles can be contentious and could result in a long, tedious and costly process. In 2018, the Straits Times cited the FJC in a report that seven out of ten divorce cases that went to mediation were resolved through the process last year, without the need to go to contested hearings. Reports in the United States and the United Kingdom have also echoed that mediation can be significantly cheaper compared to court battles.
What are the options for mediation available to me?
In general, there are two options: Court-based mediation and private family mediation.
- Court-based Mediation Programmes
All incoming divorce cases are actively managed by judges from the start, and where required, the Court may direct parties to undergo counselling and mediation at the Family Dispute Resolution Division (FDRD) of the FJC. These programmes seek to derive an amicable outcome before proceeding on to litigation.
At the FDRD, three different mediation programmes are available:
|Maintenance Mediation Chambers (MMC) Programme||The MMC deals with the resolution of disputes over maintenance (i.e. monetary support) for both the spouse and child. It manages disputes in relation to post-divorce settlements and help facilitate and resolve pre-divorce disagreements with regards to maintenance.|
|Family Resolution Chambers (FRC) Programme||At the FRC, the mediation and counselling services provided by the Court generally follow a process.
1. The Court directs both parties to a Family Dispute Resolution Conference, where a judge and a family counsellor will meet both parties and their lawyers to set out the issues and agenda.
2. After the agenda is drawn up, both parties will undergo counselling with the family counsellor. The family counsellor will help parties identify their new parental roles, and work on a care and access arrangement for their children.
3. The parties will then undergo mediation to discuss and agree on the legal aspects of the case. The mediator may also help with issues related to the children of the marriage.
*For unique situations where complex emotions are involved, the mediator may co-mediate with the family counsellor periodically.
|The Child Focused Resolution Centre (CFRC)||If a couple’s marriage has at least one child under the age of 21, and their divorce proceedings are likely to be contested, the divorcing couple will be required to attend mediation sessions at the CFRC. These mediation sessions, which involve trained judge-mediators and counsellors, are likely to be conducted at the early stage of the divorce proceedings.
The focus of these sessions is on the children in the aftermath of a divorce. Parents at these sessions are given guidance through mediation and counselling to identify the unique needs and best interests of their child .This programme also aim to establish a co-parenting agreement that allows the child to build and maintain a positive relationship with both parents.
The CFRC programme comprises three or four essential elements, depending on the specific circumstances:
A. Initial Child Focused Resolution Centre Conference
At this preliminary stage, both a judge-mediator and family counsellor will meet the parties and their lawyers to discuss the case details and any potential issues which may arise. This stage is intended to assess the services and resources which are needed to support the parties in the case, and allocate it accordingly. Appointment dates for subsequent counselling, mediation and co-mediation sessions may also be fixed. If no lawyers are engaged, the divorcing couple and the children will meet a family counsellor, who will gather information about the children and address any concerns.
The family counsellor will help the parties make decisions on co-parenting and draw up plans for parenting care.
The judge-mediator will meet all the parties and their lawyers to discuss and resolve any ancillary issues that are still in dispute. The number of sessions varies depending on each unique situation.
D. Co-Mediation (if required)
The judge-mediator and counsellor will continue to work with the parties if complex and legal issues are not resolved at this stage.
Parties are not required to attend all four elements of the CFRC programme, with the exception of the Initial Child Focused Resolution Centre Conference. It may not be necessary for the parties to attend counselling, mediation or co-mediation if the issues are resolved at this conference.
If counselling or mediation was effective and an agreement has been reached, the terms of that agreement will be recorded as an Order of Court.
In the event that mediation fails, divorce proceedings will be litigated in FJC. However, any information shared during the mediation will not be admitted as evidence in Court.
2. Private Family Mediation Programmes
Private family mediation is voluntary. Parties will have a certain degree of flexibility in determining the time frame for the mediation process – as opposed to fixed deadlines set by Court-based mediation. If proceedings have been commenced, the Court does give a time frame for parties to go for private mediation, and the Court usually does not grant too long an adjournment to ensure that the matter is not protracted unnecessarily. As such, parties will have to try and fix a mediation time within the adjournment period.
Mediation not only offers privacy, it also serves as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, which helps create an amicable atmosphere that is conducive to resolving complex familial issues. Since all matters would have been addressed in the course of private family mediation, parties can file for an uncontested divorce and not incur additional legal fees should the mediation be successful.
There are two widely recognised private family mediation programmes which are developed by the SMC:
|The Family Mediation Scheme||The Family Mediation Scheme involves a neutral third party who will act as a mediator to the couple. These mediators include judges, family law practitioners and legal professionals jointly accredited by the SMC and the FJC.
Each session is conducted in strict confidentiality, and all forms of recording are prohibited. If both parties manage to reach an agreement after mediation, then they can make it binding by recording it down in writing and having both of them sign it.
|Collaborative Family Practice (CFP)||The CFP is usually undertaken before the commencement of any Court proceedings. A selected group of lawyers will be assigned to help the divorcing couple negotiate related issues by playing a facilitative role to encourage communication between the divorcing parties and providing legal advice, where necessary.
Parties will sign a written agreement when consensus has been reached under the CFP. The terms of this agreement will then be incorporated into the divorce papers which can be filed on the simplified track.
However, for parties who fail to reach an agreement, they will not be allowed to retain their representing lawyers under this scheme. They will need to engage another lawyer to represent them in the divorce proceedings. The idea behind this arrangement is that it would provide a greater incentive for feuding parties and lawyers to settle all their disputes.
How much should I expect to pay?
Court-ordered mediation is free-of-charge, however, if you decide to proceed with private family mediation programmes, you would need to pay the following amounts to the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC):
- Non-refundable filing fee of S$267.50 (inclusive of GST) for administrative and support services;
- Mediation Fee of S$2,732.50 (inclusive of GST) per party per day; and if necessary,
- Overtime charges of S$428 (inclusive of GST) per two hours or part thereof for mediator(s), and S$214 (inclusive of GST) per two hours or part thereof for SMC staff
- These overtime charges will only kick in if a mediation last beyond 6pm on a weekday, or takes place on a weekend or public holiday.
If you wish to engage a Collaborative Family Practice lawyer, the parties will need to pay an hourly rate of $428 (includes GST) when SMC refers a CFP lawyer and/or another professional.
Have a question about divorce issues?
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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 a 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.