With almost every third person in Singapore coming from abroad, marriages between foreigners and Singaporeans are not uncommon. When expats marry in Singapore, they have to account for all local regulations not only to have a valid marriage but also to manage all after marriage issues, including sharing finances or handling a potential divorce.
Requirements for a valid marriage
A valid marriage creates legally binding consequences that can be dissolved only through a divorce procedure. In order to have a valid marriage in Singapore, it must be registered with the Registry of Marriages (ROM). Those expats who wish to register a Muslim marriage in Singapore should turn to the Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM).
The authorities in Singapore would solemnize a marriage if spouses meet the following minimum requirements:
- Both spouses should be at least 21 years old. Marrying a minor below 21 requires consent from parents or guardians; marrying a person under 18 requires a Special Marriage License.
- In Singapore, only heterosexual marriages are allowed.
- One of the spouses should be a Singapore citizen or a permanent resident, and at least one of them should be physically present in Singapore during a minimum of 15 days before filing the Notice of Marriage.
Although in most marriages involving expats, one of the spouses is a Singaporean citizen, two foreigners can marry in Singapore as well provided they meet the above requirements, and one of them stayed 15 days before sending a marriage application.
Procedure for getting married in Singapore
The procedure for marriage in Singapore for foreigners is similar to that for Singapore citizens. It starts from filing an online Notice of Marriage to the Registry of Marriages (ROM) with complete information about spouses and their two witnesses.
A notice of marriage must be filed a minimum of 21 days in advance of the desired day of marriage solemnization. Future weds can choose the date of their marriage within the period starting on the 21st day and ending in three months after the marriage notice is filed.
Most marriages in Singapore are solemnized in ROMs. Expats, who want to have a wedding ceremony outside ROMs, should get separate approval from a solemnizer. Those who wish to have a religious ceremony should plan it after the official solemnization has taken place.
After-marriage considerations for foreigners marrying in Singapore
Unlike many other jurisdictions, Singapore doesn’t grant citizenship or permanent resident status to foreigners marrying a Singaporean. Expats who plan to continue residing in Singapore with their spouses should secure the long term stay in the country well in advance.
One of the ways to do so is to apply to the Ministry of Manpower for a Long Term Visit Pass (LTVP), which is provided for a one-year period. As getting an LTVP can be a complicated and lengthy process, continuing up to six months, it would be advisable to apply for a Pre-Marriage Long-Term Visit Pass Assessment (MPLA) before solemnization. Getting an early MPLA assessment would not only build confidence in after-marriage plans but also cut the period for getting an LTVP down to six weeks.
Expat divorce in Singapore
Prudent marriage planning should always account for the consequences if the spouses decide to divorce. When one of the divorcing spouses is a foreigner, the issues might get even more complicated.
In a general case, a divorce can be granted if the spouses were married for at least 3 years. The courts can make an exemption from this rule only in cases of unbearable hardship or exceptionally cruel behavior. Another option is getting an annulment that doesn’t include the requirement for a 3-year marriage but is granted only under specific circumstances.
Singapore courts have jurisdiction over divorces if at least one of the following requirements is met:
- Either of the spouses is a citizen or a permanent resident during the commencement of the divorce procedure.
- One of the spouses should be habitually resident in Singapore for at least 3 years before divorce proceedings are started.
Some expats might wish to petition for a divorce to a foreign court if they feel that they may get better terms abroad. At the same time, a court in Singapore would only recognize the decision of a court from another country if one of the parties was the resident in that jurisdiction. Finally, it is possible for Singaporean residents to ask the local court to prevent their spouses from filing for divorce abroad.
Drafting a prenuptial agreement
Drafting a plan to manage properties or a path to retreat may not sound like the most romantic idea when planning a marriage. Meanwhile, signing a prenup agreement may save a lot of time and create more confidence between the spouses both during marriage and in case of divorce.
The prenup can help to clarify the financial rights and savings, which might be important when, for example, an expat marries a Singaporean who has to allocate 20% of income to a personal pension account in the CPF fund. It also helps to stay safe with the matrimonial property as well as pass property to children from previous marriages. The prenup agreement might also be helpful to those expats, divorcing in Singapore, who would like to turn to a court in their home country.
Keeping in mind all the legal aspects of marriage may be overwhelming, not to say about those when marrying in a foreign country such as Singapore. Realising all the legal consequences of new relations as well as potential outcomes if a marriage ends in the divorce may be above what many would like to handle on their own.
In such a situation, turning to an experienced lawyer for a consultation and drafting a prenuptial agreement may help not only to navigate new relations but also to avoid potential pitfalls. Those expats who feel that they might need legal assistance for going through legal aspects of marrying in Singapore, preparing a prenuptial agreement, or handling a divorce case, are encouraged to call our lawyers at +65 6298 2537 or send us an email at [email protected], and we will be there to help.