Getting a divorce in Singapore in 2020
Preliminary requirements for a divorce application in Singapore
In Singapore, a divorce is the legal process that terminates a marriage. Either party to the marriage may file a divorce application in court to begin divorce proceedings. Before you file for divorce in Singapore, the Singapore Family Justice Court must have the jurisdiction to hear the matter. The preliminary requirements to be met for the Singapore Family Justice Court to have jurisdiction over a divorce application are:
- Either party is domiciled in Singapore at the commencement of the divorce proceedings; or
- Habitually resident in Singapore for at least 3 years immediately before the commencement of the divorce proceedings.
Parties must have also have been married for at least 3 years in order to file for a divorce in Singapore.
2-stage process of a divorce
If the preliminary requirements for jurisdiction are met, parties may then file the divorce application and begin proceedings. The divorce process in Singapore consists of 2 stages. The first stage of the divorce proceedings deals with the dissolution of the marriage itself. The second stage deals with the ancillary matters of the divorce, including custody of the children, division of the matrimonial home and assets, and maintenance for the spouse and children.
Stage 1 – Grounds for Divorce
At the first stage, the party applying for divorce, also known as the plaintiff, must satisfy the court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This is the sole legal ground for divorce. The plaintiff may prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage by relying on one of the following reasons:
- Adultery – The Plaintiff finds it intolerable to live with the Defendant due to the Defendant having committed adultery.
- Unreasonable behaviour – The Defendant has behaved in such a manner that the Plaintiff cannot reasonably be expected to live with them.
- Desertion – The Defendant has deserted the Plaintiff for at least 2 years and demonstrated no intention of returning.
- 3 years’ Separation – The parties have been living separately for at least 3 years, and the other party consents to the divorce.
- 4 years’ Separation – The parties have been living separately for at least 4 years.
Commencement of divorce action
The Plaintiff commences the divorce proceedings by filing the Writ for Divorce and other relevant legal documents in court. The same documents are served on the Defendant, who then has to decide whether they wish to contest the divorce and/or the ancillary matters. They may do so by filing the Memorandum of Appearance and state the issues that they wish to contest. In the event that the Defendant finds that they are unable to agree to the Plaintiff’s claims on the reasons leading to the divorce, the first stage will proceed on a contested basis. This means parties will have to go to trial and have the court decide if the marriage has indeed broken down irretrievably. Even if the Defendant chooses not to contest the divorce, they may still file Memorandum of Appearance to indicate they wish to be heard on ancillary matters. At the divorce hearing, the court will determine if the marriage has broken down irretrievably, whether by way of trial or through agreement between parties. If it is satisfied, the court will grant the Interim Judgment and order that the marriage be dissolved. The case will then be able to proceed to the second stage to deal with ancillary matters.
Stage 2 – Ancillary matters
Ancillary matters of a divorce proceeding will involve the following:
- Division of matrimonial assets, including the matrimonial home;
- Maintenance of the spouse;
- Maintenance of the children, if any; and
- Custody, care and control, and access to children.
In preparation for the hearing on ancillary matters, the court will direct for parties to file their Affidavit of Assets and Means. In this document, parties will have to disclose to the court all information relating to their assets, liabilities, income, expenses, as well as their financial and non-financial contributions made to the family. This information would be relied upon by the court to arrive at a fair outcome in deciding on the ancillary matters, in particular (1) and (2).
(i) Division of matrimonial assets
Matrimonial assets are defined as assets of any nature acquired during the marriage, but may also include assets acquired before marriage when it has been substantially improved during marriage. Examples of matrimonial assets include the family car, bank savings, stocks and investments, insurance policies, and the sums in the parties’ Central Provident Fund accounts. The matrimonial home typically constitutes the largest part of the matrimonial assets. Upon determining the pool of matrimonial assets to be divided, the court will then look at various factors to determine a just and equitable division of the matrimonial assets between parties. These factors will include, among others:
- The extent of financial contributions made toward acquiring, maintaining, and improving the matrimonial assets;
- The extent of non-financial contributions made toward the welfare of the family, such as taking care of the household and any aged or infirmed family member;
- Any debts that were incurred for the benefit of the parties jointly, or their children;
- The length of the marriage;
- The needs of the children (if any) of the marriage; and
- The existence of any agreement between parties on the division of assets in contemplation of divorce, such as pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements.
(ii) Maintenance of the spouse
Under the Women’s Charter, the court is empowered to make orders requiring a man to pay maintenance to his wife or former wife. It was only recently that the law has been amended to also allow men to apply for maintenance from their wives, but only in limited circumstances, where the husband is:
- Incapacitated by a physical or mental disability, before or during the course of marriage;
- Unable to earn a living as a result of the disability; and
- Unable to support himself.
When calculating the quantum of maintenance to be awarded, there is no strict formula that the court will adhere to. Instead, the court will look to a number of factors to determine the appropriate quantum, including:
- Income and earning capacities of the parties;
- Value of assets owned by either or both parties;
- Expected financial needs and obligations of the parties in the foreseeable future;
- If there are any physical or mental infirmities suffered by parties;
- Standard of living enjoyed by the family before the marriage broke down;
- Contributions of each party toward the marriage; and
- The age of the parties and the length of the marriage.
In addition, the court may also order the maintenance to be made by periodic payments or by a lump sum payment. The court typically orders the latter when the relationship between parties is particularly poor and a lump sum payment would allow parties to have a clean break after the divorce.
(iii) Maintenance of the children
Singapore law mandates that every parent has the legal obligation to contribute to their children’s maintenance until they turn 21. This duty continues to subsist whether the parents are married, divorced, or even if they have remarried. In certain circumstances, the court may even find that it is necessary for the child maintenance order to be extended when the child turns 21, where the child:
- Has a mental or physical disability;
- Is or will be serving full-time national service;
- Is still receiving schooling or some form of vocational training; or
- Has any other circumstances that would justify the extension of the child maintenance order.
As with spousal maintenance, child maintenance may also be made through periodic payments or a lump sum payment. The court similarly does not rely on a fixed formula for deriving the quantum for child maintenance but considers a list of factors that will include the child’s general living, educational, and medical expenses. The court will aim to put the child in a position where they are able to continue to enjoy a similar standard of living before the breakdown of the marriage.
(iv) Custody, care and control, and access to children
When there are children involved in a divorce, the matters involving the children are often the most contentious. These matters are namely the custody, care and control, and access to the child. Distinguishing between these different concepts is important. Custody is the parental right to be involved in the making of major decisions for the child for matters such as religion, education, and medical treatments. In most circumstances, the court will make a joint custody order and grant custody to both parents, as it is often in the child’s best interests to have the continued participation of both parents in the raising of the child. In contrast, care and control is normally awarded to one parent, who then becomes the primary caregiver of the child and the child will live with them. The parent with care and control is responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the child, such as what they eat or when they should go to bed. The non-custodial parent without care and control will be granted reasonable access to the child. Access is a term which refers to the allocated time periods that the non-custodial parent will have to spend with their child. Access orders will typically cover how much time the non-custodial parent will have with the child on weekdays, weekends, school and public holidays, and even special occasions such as the parent’s or the child’s birthday. In certain situations, the court may choose to grant a shared care and control order, instead of awarding it solely to one parent. Under such an order, both parents will take turns to the primary caregiver and have the child live with them. The child will spend approximately equal amounts of time with both parents, staying with one parent for 3-4 days and with the other parent for the remaining days of the week. When deciding on the most appropriate care and control orders, the welfare of the child is of paramount importance to the court. While it may seem that a shared care and control order is the most fair arrangement for both parents, this may be disruptive to the child’s schedule if he has to shuttle between two different homes in the middle of the week, packing and bringing all his school uniforms and materials with him each time he moves. Other factors that the court will look at in making the care and control order will include:
- The parents’ wishes;
- The wishes of the child, especially if they are sufficiently mature to form their independent opinion;
- The parent primarily involved in raising the child during their formative years; and
- If there is caretaking support from other family members, such as grandparents.
Uncontested v Contested Divorce
The divorce may proceed on an uncontested basis if parties are in agreement, before filing for divorce, on all of the issues in both stages of the divorce proceedings, that is, the grounds for the termination of the divorce and the ancillary matters. However, if parties find that they cannot agree on some or all of these matters, the divorce will proceed on a contested basis. The table below illustrates some of the main differences between an uncontested and a contested divorce.
|Control over the outcome||Parties are able to decide and arrange the outcome of their post-divorce lives||The Judge, a third party that may be unfamiliar with the circumstances of the marriage, makes an order that parties may not be satisfied with|
|Privacy and confidentiality||Greater privacy as hearings are typically held in the private chambers of judges and not open to the public||Divorce Hearings may be held in open court.|
|Duration of process||Approximately 4 months for proceedings to be finalised||If parties are unable to resolve disputed issues at mediation, a contested divorce may span 6 months at least.|
|Legal costs||PKWA Law offers fixed fee arrangements at either $1,200 all in or $2,200 all in||Fees are significantly higher, depending on the complexity of the case|
|Relationship between parties||Divorce is resolved amicably by agreement between parties||Relies on litigation and is highly adversarial, creating greater stress on the already troubled relationship|
It is important to get legal advice if you are thinking of getting a divorce. Our experienced divorce lawyers at PKWA Law will guide you through the divorce process in the most timely and affordable way possible. Our first consultation is free.
Disclaimer: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only, and to enable you to learn more about our firm, our services and our lawyers. Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information. Readers of this website should engage a lawyer to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter.
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