Guide to Divorce in Singapore

At I.R.B. Law LLP we know that almost everyone would have come into contact with someone who has either been through a divorce or who are going through a divorce in Singapore. If you have any questions about divorce, this article may help answer some of your questions.

What is a Divorce in Singapore?

In Singapore, Divorce is the legal procedure to end a marriage. Once a Judge of the Family Justice Courts grant your divorce, you will receive an Interim Judgement of Divorce. It is important to note that this does not end your divorce proceedings but only the first stage of divorce.

The second stage of divorce handles matters that concern the children, assets of the marriage and maintenance for the wife/husband and children. These matters are known as ancillary matters. These matters are dealt with after you have been granted the Interim Judgement.

How do you qualify for a Divorce in Singapore?

For anyone to file for a divorce with his or her spouse, the couple has to be married for at least three years. If you have been married for less than three years you may wish to scroll down below on the part relating to annulment).

What are the grounds for Divorce in Singapore?

The only valid grounds for divorce, according to Section 95 of the Women’s Charter (Cap. 353) is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. To prove the irretrievable breakdown of marriage you would need to prove at least one of the following:

that your spouse has committed adultery, and you find it intolerable to live with him or her· that your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with him or her· that your spouse has deserted you for at least two years· if your spouse agrees to the divorce, that you and your spouse have been separated for at least three years· if your spouse does not agree to the divorce, that you and your spouse have been separated for at least four years.

Annulment in Singapore

Annulment is also a means of legally separating from your spouse if you have been married for less than 3 years. However in order to be eligible or to have a good chance of having your marriage annulled you would need to prove that certain specific circumstances are present, i.e. showing that your marriage was void or voidable. You can find examples of void or voidable marriages listed below.

What is a void Marriage?

It is worth taking note that a void marriage is a non-marriage and the law in Singapore will deem that both parties had not entered into a valid marriage at all. Some examples of a void marriage include:

– Underage Marriage

– Incestuous marriage

– Polygamy

– Marriage not between man and woman (i.e Marrying someone of the same gender as yourself)

What is a voidable Marriage?

While a voidable marriage is a marriage that is legally valid until it is annulled by a judgment of nullity. For voidable marriages, some recognized examples include:

– Non-consummation of marriage due to inability
– Non-consummation of marriage due to refusal
– Lack of fitness for marriage due to mental disorder
– Spouse has a sexually-transmitted disease at time of marriage

It is usually harder to seek an annulment of a void marriage than a voidable marriage as a marriage license would not be issued to parties who belong to the above-mentioned categories.

What is the effect of an annulment?

The effect of an annulment is that the marriage had never existed at all. This means that the Singapore Courts will assign all property back to the original owner as it was before the marriage. This may be an advantage if you want to retain ownership of your original assets.

How are the Singapore Courts involved in Divorces or Annulment Proceedings?

Singapore’s Courts has jurisdiction divorce cases if either party is domiciled or habitually resided in Singapore for at least 3 years. (According to Section 3(5) of the Charter, Singapore citizens are deemed to be domiciled in Singapore unless proven otherwise).

It is important to take note the difference between domiciled or “habitually residence” lies in the fact that domiciles require the proving of intention for permanent or indefinite residence.

Which Court will Handle these Divorce / Annulment Matters ?

Family Justice Courts in Singapore are divided into three Courts – the Family Courts, the Youth Courts, and the Family Division of the High Court. There is also the Syariah Court of Singapore which handles, amongst other matters, Muslim Divorce.

The Family Court of Singapore

The Family Courts is the primary Court where cases regarding family matters are heard, except for cases pertaining to the Children and Young Persons Act (Cap. 38, 2001 Rev. Ed.), which are referred to the Youth Courts instead.

The High Court of Singapore

The High Court primarily hears appeals against decisions ruled by the Family Courts, but claimants may apply to have their cases transferred to the High Court, such as for complex cases.

What happens to my House/Car/Bank Account?

Assets such as your matrimonial home, the family car or motorbike and even the balance in your bank account may be considered as Matrimonial assets which may be divided between you and your spouse.

Division of matrimonial assets is one matter which comes under the jurisdiction of the Courts during divorce proceedings. Such assets include assets acquired by either party during a marriage, commonly enjoyed by both parties or significantly improved by one’s partner during the marriage. (Women’s Charter, Section 112(10)) Gifts from third parties are commonly not included, unless significantly improved as stated above.

The division of such assets is not necessarily aimed at equal but equitable division, and considers the following (Women’s Charter, Section 112(2)).

– Contributions made by each party to acquire, improve or maintain the assets
– Debts and obligations undertaken by each party for the sake of the family
– The needs of the couple’s children
– The extent of contribution by each party to the welfare of the family
– Agreements made between the couple regarding the division of assets
– Grace periods of occupation and other benefits in matrimonial homes enjoyed by one party which exclude the other
– Support given by one party to the other
– Other determinants of maintenance orders (see below, What maintenance is a partner obliged to provide?)

How is the custody of children awarded in Singapore?

The Court has jurisdiction over matters involving the custody of children. The starting position of the Courts is to award joint custody to both parents.

If there is a risk of abuse against spouses or when cooperation between both parents seems impossible, access to the children is usually granted to the party to whom custody was not awarded. Supervision of access may be ordered if there is a risk the accessing party may abuse the children.

Past cases have shown the Court awarding custody while including the following orders:

– Non-separation of siblings
– Preservation of status quo living conditions
– Need for maternal care in young children

Can you bring your Children out of Singapore without your Spouse’s consent?

Removal of children subject to such custody orders from Singapore is generally not permitted unless 1) given written consent by both parents or 2) the granting of leave by the Court. (Women’s Charter, Section 126(3)) In granting such leaves, the Court considers the benefit of the removal of the child, and if the removal is an action of goodwill.

What measures are in place to ensure the welfare of children?

Couples filing for divorce who have children under the age of 14 have to attend compulsory mediation and counselling sessions. Such sessions will help them work out child care and access arrangements. Additionally, the Courts may order couples to attend such sessions as they see fit. (Women’s Charter, Section 50(3A-3E))

What maintenance is a partner obliged to provide?

Maintenance is yet another matter given to the jurisdiction of the Courts in divorce proceedings. Only females and incapacitated males may claim spousal maintenance from their ex-spouses (Women’s Charter, Section 69).

In ordering maintenance payments, the Courts aim to preserve status quo financial positions of both partners as far as possible. During divorce proceedings, Courts may order interim maintenance payments of conservative amounts.

According to Section 114(1) of the Charter, factors taken into consideration for orders of spousal maintenance include:

– Financial resources and earning capacity of each party as far as foreseeable,
– Financial needs of each party as far as foreseeable,
– The status quo living conditions of the family,
– The age of each party and the duration of the marriage,
– Physical or mental disabilities in each party, if any,
– Contributions by each party to the welfare of the family, and
– Value of the marriage to each party.

Courts may also order child maintenance to be paid for any child of the couple, by birth, adoption, or membership of the family, under the age of 21. Children over the age of 21 are also entitled to such maintenance if (Women’s Charter, Section 69(5))

– They are mentally or physically disabled,
– They are serving full-time National Service,
– They are undertaking education or vocational training, or
– Any other special circumstances necessitate.

According to Section 69(4) of the Women’s Charter, in addition to the considerations for spousal maintenance, another consideration is the ordering maintenance for the education of the child.

Is there a way for my spouse and I to come to an agreement so that we can avoid a contested divorce?

Yes, Contested Divorce and Ancillary matters take a long time to get resolved and you can expect to spend more on legal fees when going through such matters. If you and your spouse are able to come to an agreement on how the matrimonial assets are to be divided and how the Custody, Care and Control & Access Arrangements for the Children you can consider going through an Uncontested Divorce.

An Uncontested Divorce is a simplified divorce process. The entire process will take you about four months long. You will receive your interim judgement within one months from the date of filing your documents and your final judgement.

So should I file for divorce in Singapore?

Ultimately, the decision lies in your hands. We understand that these are emotional times and we strive to make this process are painless as possible. Our lawyers are highly qualified to handle such cases on your behalf.

Should you need consultation or even a lawyer to act on your behalf, we are your go-to people. Reach us at [email protected] or 6589 8913 to schedule an appointment.

The information contained in this article is provided for general information only and may not reflect current status about applicable law, cases, settlements or judgement.

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