Many Singaporeans have dreams of that perfect wedding – in a beautiful church with the bride dressed in white, with the heartiest of celebrations and yum sengs through the night. However, after the party is over and the haze from a night of celebration fades, where the couple finds themselves is at the start of a long journey called marriage. In some cases, the marriage would last all the way ‘till death do us part’, but in other cases, personality differences, unresolved hurts, the cooling of passion and/or the lack of emotional intimacy leads the once very much in loved couple to want to move on in, hopefully, the most painless way possible.
Definitely, there have been an increasing number of couples who opt to cohabit rather than to be legally conjoined in marriage. The presumption being that out of the legal constrains of marriage, the messiness of a divorce could hopefully be avoided – just the ending of the relationship, the mutual splitting of assets and the moving on with life. The issue of cohabitation and the ending of it is another discussion altogether, with its pitfalls and cautions to be explored. Yet many couples still choose to go the conventional route of marriage and this would be the focus of this article to what to take note of, if the marriage does go south.
But First, Why marriage?
Just to caveat, the marriages we are discussing are Women’s Charter Civil Marriages. Marriages under Syariah Law would be a different discussion altogether. With the pro-family policy that the Singapore government takes, many policy advantages are provided to couples who choose to get married. And these include:
Income Tax Reliefs
Wife of NSmen Relief
If you are the Wife of a NSman, you would be able to claim relief on your income tax as long as you are a Singapore Citizen in the preceding year and your husband is eligible for NSman Self Relief. Widows of deceased NSmen may also be eligible for the relief unless they have re-married.
You could be able to claim spouse relief for supporting your husband or wife if you meet these conditions:
- Your spouse was living with or was supported by you in the previous year; and
- Your spouse did not have an annual income* exceeding $4,000 in the previous year. This condition does not apply to handicapped spouses.
*Annual income includes the following:
- taxable income (e.g. trade, employment, rental and SRS withdrawals);
- tax exempt income (e.g. bank interest, dividends and pensions); and
- foreign-sourced income (regardless of whether it has been remitted to Singapore)
There are employers who will allow your partner to apply for health coverage through the existing plan you are covered under. If your spouse’s health is ailing, there are also leave periods that can be provided for by your employer. These also include maternity and paternity benefits that usually accompany legally married couples.
Buying a New HDB Flat
Under the current HDB policies and regulations, you have to form a family nucleus first before you and/or you and your partner are eligible to own a HDB flat. However, the options that you have buying a new HDB flat that is heavily subsidized by the government is different if you apply as a soon-to-be married couple viz-a-viz as joint singles.
As a married or engaged couple, you would be allowed to make an application for a new HDB flat, of any size, under the Public Scheme or under the the Fiance/Fiancee Scheme where you would have to solemnise your marriage within 3 months of collecting your keys to the flat. Apart from this, the only under scheme is the “Orphans Scheme” where you and your siblings are orphaned and unmarried and all the siblings who are single must be listed in the same application.
However, if you are a single, you can only apply for a brand new 2-room flat in a non-mature estate. You would have to be a first-timer, single (i.e. unmarried, divorced or widowed) and be Singapore citizens, at least 35 years old and apply jointly as co-applicants.
From the above 3 policy decisions, getting married would seem to be the best way to start on a new chapter in life. However, having said these, getting married simply to benefit from these policies is often not the best reason to get married and there are couples who then realise that they are still not able to work out their differences after being married for a short period of time.
What happens then if I do want to change my mind about the marriage?
As discussed above, after the wedding dust has died down and the realisation of being with another person (forever) has settled in, there can be difficulties in the marriage that are not easily overcome (that is why pre-martial counselling is always recommended as a time of ‘self-introspection’ before saying “I do’’.) With miscommunications, misunderstandings or pure unfaithfulness (whether physically or emotionally being unfaithful), it is understandable that doubts can set in very early on in the marriage.
The next course of action that you would take would then very much depend first if three years has passed since the date of the registration of the marriage. Under Singapore Law, you are only able to file the Writ of Divorce if 3 years have passed since the date of the registration of your marriage. To clarify, the registration is the date where your marriage certificate is signed.
- No writ for divorce shall be filed in the court unless at the date of the filing of the writ 3 years have passed since the date of the marriage.
Are There Exceptions?
If you wish to commence divorce proceedings before the 3 year-time frame, you would have to obtain the leave of the Court. You would have to show that you have suffered exceptional hardship or exceptional depravity on the part of your spouse. If there are any children, the court will consider the interests of the child as well as whether there is any reasonable probability of a reconciliation before the 3 years-time bar ends. Therefore, even if you succeed in proving exceptional hardship or exceptional depravity, the court retains a discretion in deciding whether or not to grant you leave (Zhao Lu v Lee Yong Kwong Johnson  SGDC 99).
This 3-year time bar is intended to promote the sanctity of marriage and ensure that parties do not rush into and out of marriage capriciously (Ng Kee Shee v Fu Gaofei  4 SLR 762).
Past cases have shown that it is extremely hard to obtain leave of court to file the writ for divorce before the 3 year-time bar, and the outcome turns on the specific facts of each case. You would have to show the court that the hardship or depravity suffered is “something out of the ordinary and more than what an ordinary person should reasonably be asked to bear” (Ng Kee Shee v Fu Gaofei). Some hardship is expected in marriage, and would be expected in virtually all cases of marital breakdown (Wong Pee Wei v Ho Soo Hua Anna  SGDC 239). Therefore, leave would only be granted if the court is satisfied that the degree of hardship or depravity suffered is “out of the ordinary”.
As the outcome of each case turns on its specific facts, it is important that you seek the advice of a lawyer to whether your case fits into
What can I do if I am unable to obtain leave – Annulment?
If you are unable to obtain leave, you may consider obtaining an annulment if any of the following grounds listed in s. 106 Women’s Charter is applicable:
- The marriage has not been consummated owing to the incapacity of either party to consummate it;
- The marriage has not been consummated owing to the wilful refusal of the defendant to consummate it;
- Either party to the marriage did not validly consent to it, whether in consequence of duress, mistake, mental disorder or otherwise;
- At the time of the marriage either party, though capable of giving a valid consent, was suffering (whether continuously or intermittently) from mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act 2008 of such a kind or to such an extent as to be unfit for marriage;
- That at the time of the marriage the defendant was suffering from venereal disease in a communicable form; or
- That at the time of the marriage the defendant was pregnant by some person other than the plaintiff.
If you wish to further explore the option of an annulment, or you are unsure about which option to proceed with, it would be good to approach an experienced lawyer who will be able to provide advice based on the specifics of your case.
If you find yourself in a fix and realise that your marriage relationship is not working out and you need to stay separate from your partner, do consider approaching a lawyer for further advice.
Have a question on ending your marriage?
If you have any questions regarding ending marriages, 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.