By Mr Lim Chong Boon, Head of Family Law, PKWA Law
Child Custody and Child Relocation – Singapore Law
The Singapore Legal Position
In Singapore, the legal principle guiding the courts in relocation applications is similar to that in many countries: the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration. This principle itself is simple enough in concept but very challenging in its application to each unique case. The main difficulty rests in the tension between upholding the primary carer or custodial parent’s freedom to relocate and the child’s interest in maintaining a relationship with both parents within the same country.
In Singapore, the Court of Appeal in Re C (an infant)  1 SLR(R) 502 (“Re C”), has given these guiding principles in determining relocation issues:
“It is the reasonableness of the party having custody to want to take the child out of jurisdiction which will be determinative, and always keeping in mind that the paramount consideration is the welfare of the child. If the motive of the party seeking to take the child out of jurisdiction was to end contact between the child and the other parent, then that would be a very strong factor to refuse the application.
“Therefore, if it is shown that the move abroad by the person or parent having custody is not unreasonable or done in bad faith, then the court should only disallow the child to be taken out of jurisdiction if it is shown that the interest of the child is incompatible with the desire of such person or parent living abroad. As quoted by Ormrod LJ in Chamberlain v de la Mare (1983) 4 FLR 434 from his decision in Moodey v Field (unreported judgment dated 13 February 1981):
“The question therefore in each case is, is the proposed move a reasonable one from the point of view of the adults involved? If the answer is yes, then leave should only be refused if it is clearly shown beyond any doubt that the interests of the children and the interests of the custodial parent are incompatible. One might postulate a situation where a boy or girl is well settled in a boarding school, or something of that kind, and it could be said to be very disadvantageous to upset the situation and move the child into a very different educational system. I merely take that as an example.
Short of something like that, the court in principle should not interfere with the reasonable decision of the custodial parent.”
What Happens if my Ex-Spouse Wishes to Migrate with our Child?
With Singapore becoming increasingly cosmopolitan, it comes as no surprise that child relocation disputes between former spouses are becoming more common place in the Singapore courts. Here are some practical considerations:
Do I have a say?
Yes you do, even if your former spouse is the one with care and control of the children.
While the parent with care and control of the children has the responsibility of caring for their day to day needs (the “custodial parent”), relocation is a major issue which involves both parents.
As the law in Singapore stands, relocation of children with one parent can generally only take place if either:
- The consent of the other parent is obtained in writing; or
- If it is permitted by an Order of Court.
However, majority of child relocation cases end up being disputed, where the parent who wishes to relocate with the children brings the issue to Court, seeking the Court’s permission to relocate with the children pursuant to (ii) above.
Unwillingness to agree to one party relocating with parties’ children is not surprising, given that relocation gives rise to practical issues regarding access for the parent that is left behind (the “non-custodial parent”). With so many interests and wishes in conflict with one another, the next question is therefore, “How will the Court deal with the problem?”
The Court’s relevant considerations
More often than not, the parent seeking to relocate with the children, have reasons such as:
- Better job prospects overseas;
- Better family support in that parent’s home country;
- Wanting to live together with a new spouse residing overseas; and
- In the interest of pursuing the children’s educational interests.
From the examples above, it is clear that the parent seeking to relocate may not wish to do so primarily for the children’s interests.
However, the Court’s paramount consideration is the welfare of the children. As such, the Court looks to many factors to flesh out the pros and cons of permitting the relocation:
- Is the intended relocation permanent or only a short term one?
- Is the parent intending to relocate, seeking to relocate to be with a new spouse living overseas?
- Is there better familial support available to the parent intending to relocate, so as to better provide for the children in question?
- Would relocation bring about better educational outcomes for the children?
- What is the relationship of the children with the parent opposing the relocation?
- Will the non-custodial parent be able to have regular contact and access to the child?
With a fuller understanding of the facts and circumstances surrounding the parents and the children, the Court then proceeds to decide if permitting the relocation would be in the best interests of the children. Where the Court finds that the proposed relocation is not in the interests of the children, the parent seeking the relocation cannot proceed with the intended relocation, unless with the consent of his or her former spouse.
What if my ex-spouse kidnaps our children?
If your ex-spouse removes the children without your permission, this amounts to child abduction. You should immediately seek legal advice to have the child brought back asap.
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