How Janet Jackson’s inter-faith divorce may affect you in Singapore.
Janet Jackson’s split with her billionaire husband months after giving birth to their first child raises several legal issues. Instead of treating this as celebrity trivia, our legal minds went to work, and we began exploring the matrimonial law related matters that the couple could be facing. Would their prenuptial agreement adequately cover all the issues about the “split”? Were the couple married under Islamic law? What are the applicable laws to the dissolution of their marriage?
We encounter situations like this in our profession regularly. It becomes even more complicated when the parties are from different faiths marry under different religious laws, for example, Islamic laws. In such a situation a different set of laws may apply to the divorce, custody of children, division of assets/matrimonial property and maintenance.
Inter-Faith Marriages & Divorces in Singapore
In Singapore, there are dual systems that apply to marriages – Civil and Syariah marriages. In an inter-faith marriages between two non-Muslims, the civil law will apply in all matrimonial proceedings including divorce. However, in cases where couples are married under Islamic laws (i.e. under the Administration of Muslim Law Act (Chapter 3)), the parties must make the application to the Singapore Islamic Court (called the Syariah Court) for the dissolution of the marriage. All final decisions on the dissolution of marriage, the payment of maintenance for the wife (nafkah iddah and nafkah mutaah), division of matrimonial assets and property and custody care and control of the children will be made by the Syariah Court.
The Family Court’s Jurisdiction in Syariah Divorces (Maintenance of Children)
Curiously though, even if parties married under Islamic Law, the decision on the maintenance of the children of the marriage is a matter for the Family Courts and not the Syariah Court. Hence, this means that where there is a dispute over the maintenance payable to the children, the parent having the care and control of the child (i.e. the parent with whom the child lives on a day to day basis) will have to make the application for maintenance at the Family Justice Courts. Similarly, if maintenance is not paid on time or there are arrears, the parent having care and control must make the application for the enforcement of maintenance at the Family Justice Courts.
Safeguards against removal of children by one parent
However, what happens, if before divorce proceedings are commenced, one parent decides to “split” from the spouse and take the child away with him/her? Generally, parties are not allowed to make unilateral decisions on the children. Any decisions on where a child lives and the care arrangements for the child (i.e. who looks after the child, does it go to nursery or childcare, etc.) must be jointly made by the parties. Where parties are not able to come to any conclusion and decide to “split”, then the parties may make an application to Court under the Guardianship of Infants Act (Chapter 122) for the Court to make any orders in relation to the “custody, upbringing or the administration of any property belonging to or held in trust for an infant” or “upon the application of either parent or of any guardian appointed under this Act, make orders as it may think fit regarding the custody of such infant, the right of access thereto and payment of any sum towards the maintenance of the infant…”. Any infant here refers to children and young persons under the age of 21 years of age. The Guardianship of Infants Act (Chapter 122) declares that the welfare of the child is to be the paramount consideration for the court in making any decisions.
The following self-explanatory paragraphs taken from the said Guardianship of Infants Act will be useful for parents to consider:
- “…the father of an infant shall not be deemed to have any right superior to that of the mother in respect of such custody, administration or application nor shall the mother be deemed to have any claim superior to that of the father.” (Section 3);
- “The mother of an infant shall have the like powers of applying to the court in respect of any matter affecting the infant as are possessed by the father.” (Section 4);
Mechanisms to Resolve Disputes
It is important to note that generally, the Courts are more inclined towards mediation to solve family/matrimonial disputes rather than by way of litigation in Court. In that spirit, where an application is made under the Infants and Guardians Act (Chapter 122) for any orders for the custody, care and control or access to children, the Family Justice Courts will direct that the parties also attend (concurrently with the court process) a Child Focused Resolution Centre (CFRC) conference and mediation. On our own estimates, this is a very successful programme which allows for the resolution of disputes by a Judge (who plays the role of a mediator) and who is supported by a counsellor of the Family Justice Courts. We note that 50 percent of our cases are settled amicably at the said CFRC.
Putting the Interests of the Child as a Paramount Concern
Coming back to the topic at hand, it would be interesting to watch how any potential matrimonial or custody issues between Janet Jackson and her husband will be resolved. In Singapore, the Courts have repeatedly emphasised that parties should put aside their differences and work toward the welfare of their young child, and this ought to be the guiding principle even in high-stakes divorces. As often is repeated in the Family Justice Courts, people may stop loving each other as husband and wife but they can never stop being parents and parenting is a joint effort.
At I.R.B Law we have experienced lawyers who are well versed in Civil and Syariah divorce proceedings who will be able to guide you through and explain to you through out each and every stage of your divorce. We understand that going through such an event in your life is heart wrenching and emotional, so contact us so that we can advise you on your matter and help you focus on getting back up on your feet. Our first consultation is usually free as we wish to focus on you and not your wallet. Don’t hesitate and reach us at Hello@irblaw.com.sg or call us at 6298 2537.