Introduction to Divorce in Singapore
In Singapore, divorce through civil proceedings involves 2 steps:
Step 1: Dissolution of Marriage
Step 2: Ancillary Matters (matters regarding custody of a child, division of matrimonial properties and spousal maintenance)
At the end of Step 1, if the court decides that the divorce is successful, the court will grant an Interim Judgment, which is an order to dissolve the marriage.
The Interim Judgment is a temporary judgment and it is not a final judgment.
After the court has granted an interim judgment, the court will proceed to Step 2, which is to settle the ancillary matters.
Parties are required to wait for 3 months (from the date of Interim Judgment is granted) in order to apply for converting the Interim Judgment to become the Final Judgment.
In order to commence civil proceedings for divorce in Singapore, one of the parties filing for divorce is required to fulfil the requirements as follows (sections 93 and 94 of the Women’s Charter):
- Be domiciled in Singapore during the commencement of divorce proceedings (‘domicile’ means to treat Singapore as a permanent home) ;
- Residing in Singapore for a minimum of 3 years, before divorce proceedings are commenced; and
- Have been married for a minimum of 3 years, except the party filing for divorce has suffered unbearable hardship or exceptionally cruel behaviour.
Note: If you were married under Muslim Law, the previously mentioned requirements may not apply to you. Please check on how to divorce under the Muslim Law instead.
Grounds for Divorce
Furthermore, it is compulsory for the party filing for divorce to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down due to one or more of the reasons as follows (section 95(3) of the Women’s Charter):
- Adultery: The Plaintiff finds it intolerable to live with the Defendant due to the Defendant has committed adultery. Adequate evidence is required to prove the Defendant’s act of adultery. The Plaintiff may hire a private investigator to gather evidence. If the Plaintiff could not provide adequate evidence, it is advisable for the Plaintiff to opt for another ground.
- Unreasonable behaviour: The Defendant has behaved in an unreasonable manner that the Plaintiff finds it impossible to continue living with the Defendant.
- Desertion: The Defendant deserted the Plaintiff for a minimum of 2 years where the Defendant shows no intention or sign of returning.
- Separation: The parties have lived apart for at least 3 to 4 years and both parties have agreed to divorce.
Party filing for divorce needs to file 3 types of documents as follows:
- Writ for Divorce
- Statement of Claim
- Statement of Particulars
Party filing for divorce also needs to pay for the relevant filing fees.
Step 1: Dissolution of Marriage
After serving the above-mentioned documents on the Defendant, the Defendant gets 8 days to decide whether to contest the divorce.
If the Defendant decides to contest the divorce, the Defendant is required to file 2 types of documents as follows:
- Memorandum of Appearance
Before the parties trudging into the court trial, which can turn out to be a bitter battle, parties can try to reach an amicable settlement by the following alternatives:
- Resolution Conference with a Family Resolutions Chambers’ judge
- Counselling Session with a Court Counsellor
If such alternatives cannot resolve the divorce case in an amicable manner, the divorce case will be transferred to the court. The court will examine whether the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
However, if the Defendant decides not to contest the divorce, but intends to challenge the ancillary matters, the Defendant should file the Memorandum of Appearance to highlight the ancillary matters he/she intends to challenge.
If the court concludes that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, the court will grant an Interim Judgment, which is an order to dissolve the marriage. The court then proceeds to decide the ancillary matters.
Step 2: Ancillary Matters
Before the court decides on the ancillary matters, both parties must file the document of Affidavits of Assets and Means. The parties shall disclose all assets and liabilities, earnings and expenditure in their affidavits. The parties may exchange their affidavits for a maximum of 3 times.
If the total net value of the matrimonial asset(s) is exceeding SGD 1.5 million, the divorce case will be transferred to the High Court.
After the filing and exchange of documents, the court will set a date to hear the ancillary matters.
After the settlement of all ancillary matters, parties are required to wait for 3 months (from the date of Interim Judgment is granted) in order to apply for converting the Interim Judgment to become Final Judgment.
Why you should hire a Lawyer
You may file a divorce without hiring a lawyer in order to save costs. However, please take note that you are still subject to the procedures, formalities and technicalities of the court proceedings. The court will treat you the same as the one who was represented by a lawyer and the Family Justice Courts will not provide legal advice for any divorce cases.
Please be advised to seek help from a lawyer, especially if you can foresee that your spouse is going to contest the divorce. As the contest may lead to complicated and prolonged court proceedings.