Obtaining financial relief in Singapore after a foreign divorce
Singapore is a very globalised country and marriages within Singapore are also increasingly international. Out of all the marriages registered in Singapore in 2018, more than 1 in 4 marriages involved a Singapore citizen or PR marrying a foreigner. Naturally, this also means that people getting divorced overseas are rising in number. One problem that may arise for such couples is that many foreign courts may choose not to, or be unable to, make financial relief orders that deal with matters in Singapore. Prior to 2011, this was a major problem affecting many who had divorced overseas, because only parties who had divorced locally could apply for financial relief in the Singapore courts. This meant that if parties had not divorced in Singapore, local courts would have no jurisdiction to make orders on the maintenance of wife and children, or on the division of matrimonial assets, such as HDB flats. However, this gap in the law was addressed by the Women’s Charter (Amendment) Act 2011, which gave Singapore courts jurisdiction to grant applications for financial relief even for parties who had divorced overseas.
A common concern if your foreign divorce did not provide for financial relief – what can you do?
If you have already obtained a divorce order overseas, but the divorce order (1) made no orders for financial relief; or (2) did grant orders for financial relief, but are clearly inadequate or unfair, you may seek to remedy this problem by applying for financial relief in the Singapore courts.
Requirements for application for financial relief
There are several requirements for such an application to be made. These requirements are laid out in the Women’s Charter. First, there is a threshold requirement that the parties had their marriage dissolved, annulled, or were legally separated overseas. These proceedings must also be recognised as valid under Singapore law. Second, at least one party to the marriage must have been:
- Domiciled in Singapore on the date of the application or the date of the divorce; or
- Habitually resident in Singapore for one year preceding the date of the application or the date of the divorce.
Third, the Court must first grant leave for the application to be heard. This requires that the applicant shows that he has at least a “substantial” or “solid” case. The application for leave is not meant to be a high threshold, but only to sift out plainly unmeritorious cases. At this stage, the applicant need only show that on the face of the facts, it is appropriate for a Singapore court to grant relief. Finally, even if leave is given, before the Court will grant the application order, it must be satisfied that it is the appropriate forum for the application and will look to several factors in its deliberation. While these factors are numerous and wide-ranging, they essentially seek to mitigate against manifestly inadequate awards in foreign proceedings, but will guard against applicants trying to get a “second bite of the cherry” who are simply arguing the same case in a different jurisdiction and hoping for a better result.