Sham Marriages in Singapore – Illegal and Carry Heavy Penalties
What does a sham marriage mean?
Between March and July 2017, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) uncovered one of the largest sham marriages to date. Some 17 syndicate members were arrested and 12 of which were convicted.
A sham marriage, which is legally referred to as “a marriage of convenience”, is used to help foreigners stay or work in Singapore. Section 57C of the Immigration Act (IA) defines it as one where an individual contracts or enters into a marriage knowing or having reason to believe that the purpose of the marriage is to help one of the parties to the marriage obtain an immigration advantage, and one where gratification is offered, given or received as a result. In 2012, the Bill criminalising sham marriages was passed, promising heavy penalties on what seems to be an increasingly common phenomena in Singapore.
What are some of the reasons for sham marriages?
Investigations made by authorities to uncover sham marriages often find that the common denominator is when one party in the marriage (in most cases, Singaporean men) is in financial difficulties or wants to earn some extra income. The women would either want to stay in Singapore permanently or find work legitimately. Both parties are not required to meet any marriage commitments.
How do sham marriages work?
Often, sham marriages involve a middleman who will arrange for the wedding to take place. The middleman will look for the two parties to marry, namely a Singapore citizen who is facing financial distress or who wants to make some quick money, and a foreign spouse who is looking to obtain citizenship status, extend work or visa permits.
The commitment level for each marriage may vary from some simply signing the papers in Singapore while others even flying to the country of their foreign spouses to know more about their background. The latter of which increases the difficulty of detection by enforcement agencies.
After the wedding has taken place, the foreign spouse will then pay a sum of money to the middleman and the Singapore citizen. The two will then register their marriage and it is then considered legally binding. Sometimes, the couples will also stay together or change their addresses in their identification card to reflect that they are staying together.
Sham marriages are illegal in Singapore and have grave consequences
As of 2012, sham marriages are illegal in Singapore and entering a sham marriage comes with heavy penalties. If convicted, errant couples, middlemen or agencies involved in these marriages face fine not exceeding S$10,000 or jail term not exceeding ten years, or both.
Section 11A of the Women’s Charter states that a marriage will also be considered void if a party to the marriage enters it knowing or having reasons to believe that the purpose is to help the other party obtain an immigration advantage and if any gratification has been offered, given or received as a reward for entering the marriage. This is provided that the marriage happened after 1 October 2016.
However, if it is proven that both parties to the marriage believed that the marriage would result in a genuine marital relationship, the marriage will not be void.
Can I get out of a sham marriage?
If you are in a sham marriage, one possible way to dissolve it could be to nullify the marriage pursuant to Section 105 of the Women’s Charter. However, in doing so you may be opened to criminal liability pursuant to Section 57C IA if you have not been convicted because of the agreement to enter the sham marriage. Alternatively, you can proceed to file for divorce in order to get out of the arrangement, provided you are able to fulfill the conditions required to get the divorce, as provided for in Sections 94 and 95 of the Women’s Charter. Following which, there may also be legal implications against you.
When do I need a lawyer?
You should speak to a legal counsel once you suspect you are in a sham marriage, or if you are being convicted for being in one. It is always important to seek legal counsel before making the choice to apply to annul the marriage or file for divorce. There can still be several legal implications even if your motive for entering the marriage was genuine.
Have a question about sham marriages?
If you have any questions, you can request a quote with Dorothy Chai or get a Quick Consult with other lawyers from a transparent, flat fee from S$49. You can expect a call back within 1-2 days on the phone to get legal advice and have your questions answered.
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.