The way forward for Singapore’s family justice


The Presiding Judge of the Family Justice Courts, Justice Debbie Ong, recently gave a seminar on 21 May 2020 charting the way forward for the family justice system in Singapore.  The judge was speaking at the Family Justice Courts’ Workplan 2020 seminar, which was conducted via Zoom for the first time.

In her speech, Justice Ong repeatedly emphasised that family proceedings in our legal system cannot be viewed in the same way as we do other civil matters. Both family judges and lawyers must discourage parties from taking an adversarial approach in court.

Justice Ong was clear that divorce proceedings should not be thought of as a fault-finding process. While she acknowledged that parties should be given the space to vent their frustrations and their griefs with the marriage, people should not see the court as the most appropriate forum to do so.

It is not reasonable to allow divorcing parents to dig up evidence revealing the worst of the other party, make hurtful and damaging accusations of how they have been a horrible spouse or bad parent, and then expect them to leave the courtroom able to continue cooperating with each other to raise their children.

The presence of children in a marriage requires that we reduce acrimony in divorce proceedings as far as possible. The interests of the children are best protected when the family justice system ensures that their parents can still work together and be deeply involved in their lives even post-divorce.

As Justice Ong quotes from a joint article she co-authored:

“Divorce should be no worse than a re-organisation of family members’ living arrangements and the divorced spouses should still be able to continue to discharge their parental responsibilities with some degree of co-operation.”

Our family justice system must encourage a non-adversarial culture and be equipped to help the family transit into a new season of their lives. The way forward for our family justice system would be one that aims to deliver “Therapeutic Justice,” distinct from the rest of our civil legal system.

Justice Ong explains that “Therapeutic Justice seeks to address the family’s inter-related legal and non-legal issues to reach an outcome that improves the whole family’s functioning beyond breakdown. Parties should be assisted with developing their skills to resolve their own disputes, to co-parent after divorce, to be familiar with how to access appropriate support services.”

To that end, therapeutic justice will require a multi-disciplinary approach, where counselling, therapy, mediation and adjudication are provided for those who need them. In this system, “upstream” services will be provided to support families, long before the parties begin divorce proceedings. Counselling and therapeutic services will be available to help parties grieve over the loss of the marriage, to heal, and to smoothen the transition into their post-divorce lives.

Family lawyers will play a hugely significant role in this process. Rather than merely providing litigation services and fighting tooth and nail for every last bit of the matrimonial assets, family lawyers will be called upon to apply their extensive experience and help their clients reach agreements that are reasonable, fair, workable, durable and good for the children. Such agreements are ultimately in the best interests of the clients and their children. Family lawyers adept at avoiding litigation and encouraging parties towards harmonious outcomes will be greatly valued in our family justice system moving forward.



PKWA Law Practice is a firm specialising in family law, with a strong reputation for facilitating the peaceful resolution of marital disputes.

At PKWA Law, our team of Family Lawyers are consistently named as leading Singapore family and divorce lawyers by respected legal publications such as Benchmark Litigation Asia Pacific, Straits Times, Asian Legal Business, Singapore Business Review and Doyle’s Guide.

Our divorce lawyers are trained family divorce lawyer mediators and have specialist accreditation in family law.

Contact us at tel 6854-5336 for a free first consultation.


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