Divorce in Singapore: Relocation of Children
When it comes to divorce, many forget that children are not pawns to be used against each other. Often at I.R.B. Law LLP we see couples asking for children to be split up like assets. We sincerely hope that this article will shed some insight into why children should not be split up and why having both parents in the child’s life is important.
The Court of Appeal on Custody
The landmark Court of Appeal decision of CX v CY held that joint parenting is to be adopted and that it is in the child’s welfare to have both parents in their lives. The Court found that the law should be slow to intervene in order to deprive a child of any one parent. One must give appropriate consideration to the child’s need to have both parents present in their lives.
Parents are essential to raising children. They love them, make major decisions for them, provide a roof over their heads. They offer emotional, educational, and economic support. In “intact” families, parents make decisions for their children jointly. There is no issue about where a child lives because parents live together with the child in the same place.
However, many families throughout the world do not remain “intact” — the parents separate or divorce and live apart. However, in Singapore, the Courts are of the view and opinion that the family unit is necessary and the child’s needs must be taken into consideration even when couples separate or divorce.
When separating or divorcing parents cannot agree on who should make decisions for their child (e.g., medical care, religion, or schooling), where the child should live, or how much one parent should see the child, they are in dispute over the Custody and Care & Control of the child.
Parents are an integral element in the development and raising of a child. The bonds between parent and child is priceless, and it is this very bond that the child will anchor to for the rest of their life. They provide emotional, educational, and economic support for them.
However, not all families are the perfect families. So what then happens if your ex-spouse wishes to leave Singapore with your child?
Legal Position of Relocation in Singapore
In Singapore, the guiding principle of the Courts concerning relocation applications is the welfare of the child. What is best for the child is taken into account. The challenge comes when tension arises between both parent over the relocation of the child.
The Court of Appeal in Re C (an infant)  SGCA 50, has some guiding principles on this 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 purpose of the party seeking to take the child out of jurisdiction were to end contact between the child and the other parent, then that would be a powerful factor to refuse the application.”
What this means is that unless it can be shown that the relocation by your ex-spouse who has custody is unreasonable or was done in bad faith, the Court will reject the application to relocate with your child. Your child’s interests are always put first, and if it is incompatible with the reasons that your spouse is relocating overseas, then you have every right to dispute it.
An example would be if your child has settled well into school and that it would be disadvantageous for them to relocate and move into a very different educational system, you can cite this as a reason to contest your former spouse.
Do I Have a Say?
Relocation is a major issue that affects the livelihood of all the parties involved. As it involves matters of your child, what you have to say matters, even if your former spouse is the one with custody of your child. Relocation of children with one of the parent can only take place if 1) The relocation is allowed by an Order of Court, or 2) by having the consent of the other parent.
Factors that Would Affect the Relocation
The Court’s principal consideration is the welfare of the children. With that said, the Court looks to many other factors to flesh out the pros and cons of allowing the relocation application, some of these other factors are as follows:
1. Is the Relocation permanent or short-term
Similar to the case of Liew Kah Heng v Kwok Fong Ee, where the mother intended to relocate to Malaysia for a new job assignment lasting 10 months, if your ex-spouse intended to stay overseas for a temporary period due to a work assignment for example, and that the well-being of your child such as education is adequately taken care, it is very likely that the relocation application will be allowed.
2. Remarriage of Relocating parent
If your spouse who has custody of your children is relocating as he/she is getting remarried, the Court will take into account whether the welfare of the children is met and whether you would still have access to your Children. If it can be shown that the relocation does not affect your access to the children, then it is likely that the Court will grant the application for relocation.
3. Better familial support
If your former partner intends to relocate as they would have a better support network of family members to rely upon, it is possible that the Courts will allow their application for relocation. Reasons such as financial security abroad as compared to being in Singapore, or that there are relatives which can provide your child with a house to live in as well as childcare assistance or even a better education would be factors that the Court will take into account.
4. Child’s education
Relocation for the purpose of the child’s education is also a strong reason for the Courts to allow for the relocation. For example in the case of Tan Kah Imm v D’Aranjo Joanne Abigail, the Court had accepted that the mother truly believed that it was in the best interests and welfare of her children that they are allowed to pursue their choice of study in the US. They had considered it highly beneficial to the children and in turn, their application for relocation was granted.
5. Relationship between parent and child
Similarly, in Tan Kah Imm v D’Aranjo Joanne Abigail, the daughters were not close to their father. The youngest son in the case however, had constant interaction with the father and he would have lost the relationship that they had cultivated should he relocate with the mother. Regardless, the Court still allowed for the relocation. The Court was of the view that the relocation was not permanent, considering that it will only be for the period of the study and that the relationship could be re-established in the future.
6. National Service enlistment
If a male child that has reached 18 years of age does not return to Singapore to enlist for National Service when required to, will be considered to have committed an offence under the Enlistment Act. It is important to note that if the reason to relocate was to prevent the child from his obligations to National Service, then it is unlikely that the Court would allow for the relocation.
How we can help
At I.R.B. Law LLP we know that it is difficult to see your pride and joy being taken away. Issues on the relocation of children should not be taken lightly, the matter is relatively complicated and you should seek legal assistance as the outcome of such an application could mean that your children are either a short bus ride away or a long flight away.