Navigating Singapore’s Divorce Process: Essential Filing Guide.
AspectLaw | May 6, 2022
Despite vowing to have and hold our partner, and to love and cherish them until we are parted by death, many couples are unable to uphold their vows till the last moment because of a variety of reasons.
Getting married is an occasion that calls for celebration, but getting divorced is a stressful and heartbreaking process that only gets worse with the number of documents, hearings and emotional turmoil you have to get through. The fact that divorcing parties still have to get on with their lives amidst the storm makes the Singapore divorce process an even more dreadful journey.
Although filing for a divorce may sometimes be hard to avoid, especially when things between you and your spouse have hit rock bottom, it can be made a lot easier and less taxing on you and your family. Here is a complete guide on the Singapore divorce process, all the things you need to know about filing for a divorce, and links to different resources you can make use of along the way.
REQUIREMENTS FOR GETTING A DIVORCE
Eligibility for Divorce
In order to be eligible to file for a divorce in Singapore’s Family Courts, you or your spouse must exhibit the following grounds for divorce:
- Be a Singapore citizen or be habitually resident in Singapore for at least 3 years immediately before the filing of a divorce application.
- Have been married for at least 3 years.
- You cannot file for a divorce if you and your spouse have been married for less than 3 years unless you can prove “exceptional depravity” or “exceptional hardship” in the marriage.
- You are married under civil law.
- Parties married under Syariah law can only file for a divorce in the Syariah Court.
Once you have established that you are eligible to undergo the Singapore divorce process, you will need to prove an “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” in court in order to be granted a divorce. This is the only ground for divorce in Singapore.
Proving an Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage
Irretrievable breakdown of marriage is the only ground for divorce in Singapore. However, this implies a lot of things that can be considered as “examples”/ There are five facts outlined in section 95 of the Women’s Charter under the sole grounds for divorce, which divorcing parties can demonstrate to prove an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
*The Singapore Courts have recently approved a 6th fact: Divorce by Mutual Agreement, which will take effect in 2023. This allows couples to file for a divorce without putting blame on one another and causing distress to all parties involved.
Adultery can only be proven as grounds for divorce if the Plaintiff can produce evidence showing that the Defendant has had sexual intercourse with a third party. If there is only physical intimacy but no sexual intercourse, it will not be considered adultery.
The Plaintiff can hire a private investigator to gather evidence to use in court. A private investigator’s report, witness testimony, written evidence, forms of communication such as text messages, phone calls and emails can be adduced. In rare circumstances, a confession from the adulterers can help with your case.
If you intend to rely on adultery as a fact, you must file your divorce within six months of discovering the adultery. You can no longer rely on this fact if you continue to live with your spouse for more than six months of finding out.
“Unreasonable behaviour” is one of the top reasons cited amongst couples filing for divorce. This fact means that your spouse has behaved so badly that you cannot be reasonably expected to continue living with him/her. During the divorce process, the court will usually study the character of the Plaintiff to decide whether he/she can be expected to continue living together with the Defendant.
Examples of unreasonable behaviour include physical violence, verbal abuse, refusing to discuss marital issues, improper relationships with a third party whose identity is unknown, refusing to show respect, being financially irresponsible, failure to maintain the family, and more. We recommend speaking to an experienced family lawyer to find out whether you fall within the categories.
“Desertion” implies an abandonment of one party against his/her wishes. In a divorce case, “desertion” would mean that the deserting spouse has rejected the marital relationship.
You will need to prove that your spouse has deserted you for a continuous period of at least 2 years prior to the commencement of your divorce proceedings. This 2-year period can include “breaks” of up to only 6 months in total, where both parties continued to live together. Desertion can be proven by showing that the deserting spouse has packed up and left the marital home with no intention of continuing the marriage.
Separation (3 years) – if the Defendant consents to the divorce
The divorcing parties must have lived separately for a continuous period of 3 years prior to the divorce process. Your spouse will have to agree to a divorce and divorce papers must be filed in order to commence divorce proceedings.
Separation can happen in three main ways.
This is when couples decide to separate of their own will. However, informal separation can only be used as a reason for divorce if the parties show that their intent for separation is divorce. This can be done by physical separation or the absence of spousal duties.
Deed of Separation
If divorcing parties prefer to have their separation formally recorded without involving the court, they can draft a Deed of Separation with the assistance of a family lawyer. This document will record their mutual agreement to live separately, the details of the separation that may or may not constitute the grounds for divorce, including the date the separation begins and other separation-related details, such as their living arrangements.
Those who want to be legally separated can file for judicial separation instead of a divorce. Parties who wish to live separate lives due to the breakdown of their marriage but are unable to file for divorce may consider judicial separation.
To be eligible for judicial separation, the couple must have been married for three years and seek separation on the same grounds as a divorce. A judicial separation releases the couple from all marital obligations and allows both parties to live separate lives permanently. It also entitles them to similar claims as if they had filed for divorce. These include the division of matrimonial assets as well as ancillary issues concerning child custody, care, and control. However, judicial separation prevents them from remarrying.
Separation for at least 4 years
If you and your spouse have been living separately for the last four years, then your spouse’s consent to the divorce is not required. The same rules apply for four years of separation as grounds for divorce.
DIVORCE PROCESS IN SINGAPORE
How to Apply for a Divorce?
In order to commence the divorce process, either spouse will have to prepare and file a number of documents in the Family Justice Courts. It is advisable to enlist the help of a family lawyer to ensure that your documents are filed correctly and in accordance with the court’s requirements.
In a divorce case, the person filing for a divorce is the “Plaintiff” and the other spouse is known as the “Defendant”.
1. Writ for Divorce
A court document that the Plaintiff must first file in court in order for divorce proceedings to formally begin. This document must also be served on the Defendant.
2. Statement of Claim
A document listing information about the case such as the parties’ particulars, details of their marriage, the Plaintiff’s claims for ancillary relief as well as highlights the facts relied upon for proving irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
3. Statement of Particulars
A document providing a more in-depth explanation to support the facts outlined in the Statement of Claim and other relevant information.
4. Proposed Parenting Plan
A document prepared by the Plaintiff outlining how the children of the marriage, who are below 21 years of age, should be parented after the divorce. An Agreed Parenting Plan will be filed instead if both parties are able to come to an agreement on the parenting plan.
5. Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan (only if the parties own an HDB flat)
A document outlining the Plaintiff’s proposal for what should happen to the HDB flat after the divorce. An Agreed Matrimonial Property Plan is filed instead if both parties are able to come to an agreement.
The divorce process then proceeds to the two main stages: Dissolution of Marriage and Ancillary Matters.
First Stage of Divorce Proceedings – Dissolution of Marriage
The Writ for Divorce and other accompanying documents must be served on the Defendant after they have been filed in court. He/she will then have eight days to decide whether to contest the divorce and/or the ancillary matters. The Defendant may agree to the divorce but contest the grounds for divorce highlighted in the court documents.
If the Defendant wishes to contest the divorce, he/she must file the following documents:
- Memorandum of Appearance within 8 days of being served with the divorce papers
- Defence or Defence and Counterclaim within 22 days and serve it on the Plaintiff
The Defendant may also choose not to contest the divorce but still have his or her say on the ancillary issues. He or she must then file a Memorandum of Appearance outlining the issues on which he or she wishes to be heard.
If the Defendant ignores the divorce papers, the court can still hear the case in his or her absence. The court orders will still be binding on him/her.
Divorcing parties may also request for a Resolution Conference with a Family Resolution Chambers judge or a counselling session in order to reach an amicable settlement.
After you file your divorce papers and serve them on the Defendant, the divorce process can proceed in one of two ways – contested divorce or uncontested divorce.
The court will schedule a case conference if the Defendant chooses to contest the divorce. To determine whether a settlement can be reached on certain issues, both parties must attend a Pre-Trial Conference of a mediation. A trial date will be set if mediation is unsuccessful.
Both parties must file and exchange an Affidavits of Evidence-in-Chief stating their reasons for the court to grant a divorce. Hearings will be held, and witnesses will be called to the stand. If the court is satisfied that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, it will grant an Interim Judgment and move on to the Ancillary Matters stage. On the other hand, should the court be of the opinion that the marriage has not broken down irretrievably, the application will be dismissed.
If the Defendant agrees to the divorce and does not contest any issues, both parties are required to file an Agreed Parenting Plan and an Agreed Matrimonial Property Plan. A Draft Consent Order can be filed once all ancillary matters have been agreed on. The court will then set a date for the uncontested divorce hearing, which will take place in chambers. The attendance of both parties is not required at the hearing.
If the court is not convinced, the divorcing parties will be summoned to an open court hearing or by way of additional affidavits to present any additional evidence to support their divorce case. Once the court is satisfied that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and all ancillary issues have been resolved, it will grant an Interim Judgment confirming that the marriage has been dissolved.
Second Stage of Divorce Proceedings – Ancillary Matters
An Ancillary Matters Case Conference will be held when the second stage of the Singapore divorce process commences. This conference prepares both parties for the ancillary matters hearing, which will be held in chambers before a Family Justice Courts District Judge. You may not be required to attend the case conference yourself if you have a lawyer to represent you.
This stage of the proceedings deals with issues relating to the following:
- Custody, Care and Control and Access to children of the marriage
- Maintenance for spouse and/or child
- Division of matrimonial assets
Both parties must disclose all assets and liabilities, earnings and expenditures in the Affidavits of Assets and Means before the court decides on the ancillary matters. Divorcing couples will also be required to attend a Mandatory Parenting Programme if they have at least one child under the age of 14. This programme encourages divorcing couples to make informed decisions in the best interests of their children.
The court will order both parties to exchange proposals and determine whether or not a settlement is possible. If mediation is successful, the court’s order will be obtained. Three months after the Interim Judgment is granted, both parties can apply for the Final Judgment. If mediation fails and there is no settlement, the court will schedule an Ancillary Matters hearing (which consists of numerous stages and may stretch out over a course of 6 to 12 months or even longer).
During the hearing, the court will review all evidence presented, the proposals, and take into consideration other factors when deciding on the division of matrimonial assets. These factors include the following:
- The parties’ financial contribution towards the acquisition of the assets
- Non-monetary contributions made by the parties to the family’s welfare
- Any debts owed by either party that was contracted for the benefit of the other; and
- The needs of the marriage’s children, especially minor children
- Any agreement reached between the parties regarding the division of matrimonial assets upon divorce
Parties may appeal to the Family Division of the High Court by filing a Notice of Appeal if they are not satisfied with the court order.
ISSUES RELATING TO YOUR CHILD
Couple with their child family law in Singapore
What is Custody?
Having legal custody of a child means having the authority and obligation to make major decisions regarding a child’s upbringing, such as the child’s education matters, religious upbringing, medical care, and more. Child custody should not be confused with care and control of the child.
There are 4 types of child custody orders given in Singapore courts.
Sole Custody Order
The court will grant sole custody only when the couple’s relationship has deteriorated to the point where they cannot communicate amicably despite several counselling and mediation sessions. Sole custody will also be granted in exceptional cases where one parent has abused the children physically, sexually, or emotionally. The parent with sole custody of the child has the authority to make major decisions without the consent of the other parent. In rare circumstances where the children cannot be entrusted to either parent, the court may grant custody to another suitable relative.
Joint Custody Order
In most cases, both parents are granted joint custody of their children, where both parents have the right to jointly decide on major issues regarding their children.
This order grants custody of the child to one parent, but the custodial parent must consult the other parents on matters concerning the child.
Split Custody Order
This order grants one party the custody of one or more children and custody of the other children to the other parent. For example, the daughters to the mother and sons to the father. This order is uncommon and is only granted when it can be demonstrated that it is the preferred order that will serve the best interests of the children.
The court will consider the best interests of the child when deciding on the type of custody order and which party is to be granted custody. The court will not simply measure suitability based on money or physical comfort, but also in terms of the child’s well-being. The judge may request reports or counselling sessions in order to assess the family’s current situation and determine the most suitable custody order.
The court will not put the parents’ wishes and preferences ahead of the child’s welfare. Having a higher financial ability or the citizenship of one’s parents does not guarantee a competitive advantage.
We advise you to speak to a family lawyer if you are fighting for your child’s custody
What is Care and Control?
This order specifies which parent the child will live with. The parent who has been granted custody and control of the child will be the primary caregiver, responsible for the child’s daily needs. The other parent will be granted access to the child on a reasonable basis.
What is an Access Order?
The parent not given care and control of the child will be granted an access order. Access may be given on part of the weekends, half of the school holidays and alternate public holidays and birthdays of the children. The order may also include conditions such as supervised access, which requires the guardian or a third party to be present during access sessions. This is usually only granted in exceptional circumstances, such as when the parent and children need to get used to each other or when there is abuse involved.
RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO DIVORCING PARTIES
Couple in counselling or mediation in Singapore
Mandatory Parenting Programme
The Mandatory Parenting Programme is a two-hour consultation session divorcing parties with minor children are required to attend. The consultation aims to help parents understand:
- The financial challenges of a divorce
- How divorce affects living arrangements
- Child custody and access
- The importance of co-parenting and having a sustainable parenting plan
In most cases, the court will refer suitable cases to mediation or counselling services provided by the courts. Such cases would have started proceedings and would most likely be in the middle of hearings. Unlike court-based mediation sessions, which are mostly directed, private mediation sessions are entirely voluntary, and applicants must sign up for such mediation schemes on their own initiative.
Divorcing parties may choose to go through mediation before filing any court papers, which may result in an uncontested divorce if the mediation is successful. It is good to note that private mediation sessions come at a fee. You can find a list of mediation schemes here.
Personal Protection Order
Family member attempting to abuse another family member
If you or your child is a victim of family violence, you can apply for a personal protection order. It is a court order against family violence available under Section 65 of the Women’s Charter. To be granted a personal protection order (PPO), applicants must prove that
1. Violence has been/is likely to be committed against a family member; and/or
2. The Personal Protection Order is necessary for the protection of the family member
Applying for a PPO
Applicants are required to provide documents to support their case. The documents should outline the following:
- Latest and past incidents of family violence, including details such as the type of violence, injuries sustained, as well as date, time and place it happened
- Nature of your relationship with the respondent (abuser)
- Details of family members involved
- The orders you are applying for (e.g. PPO only)
- Police and/or medical reports (if applicable)
Family violence is a serious problem that should not be tolerated. If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence, do not hesitate to seek help. Here’s how you can apply for personal protection order.
The Singapore divorce process is a lengthy and arduous one that takes up a lot of time and places a lot of emotional stress on not only you but also your children and family. Seek the help of a family lawyer to help you get through the process smoothly.
Aspect Law has a team of experienced family lawyers in Singapore who can guide you through your divorce process and help lessen the burden on you. Seek legal assistance today.
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