In this article, we will run through the general laws surrounding spousal and child maintenance in Singapore. Singaporean family law places a strong focus on spousal and children’s maintenance both during the marriage (i.e. interim maintenance applications) and after the divorce. The aim of such maintenance is to ensure a “reasonable” standard of living for the family and its members at all times.
What’s more, in the case of child maintenance, the law aims to protect the welfare and interest of children and that principle takes priority over any agreements made between spouses or ex-spouses (as the case may be). In other words, if the maintenance is not enough, the Court has the power to order more. What is “enough” is determined by what is reasonable in all the circumstances, bearing in mind the expenses of the child, the spouses and the standard of living the family is used to. The enforcement measures following a failure to pay maintenance are also quite stringent and can result even in the arrest of the defaulting spouse in case the maintenance is not provided. Please note that it is a wrong assumption that serving jail time for defaulters of maintenance waives the liability to pay. The liability to pay maintenance will subsist even if one is bankrupt.
Spousal Maintenance in Singapore
The law of spousal maintenance is provided in the Women’s Charter. Generally, it is the wife who is entitled to receive maintenance during marriage and/or after divorce. It was only recently that the Singaporean Parliament had made several amendments into the law, enabling husbands to file claims for maintenance under specific circumstances. These include cases when a husband is incapacitated, disabled or otherwise unable to support himself.
Amount of Spousal Maintenance
There is no rate or formula to pre-determine the quantum of maintenance for a spouse or ex-spouse in Singapore. The court will define a monthly payment or order reimbursement upon production of receipts or a lump sum based on a number of factors, including:
- income, property, and other finances of the spouses;
- earning ability of both spouses;
- financial needs and responsibilities of the spouses existing during the marriage or expected in the foreseeable future;
- standard of living enjoyed by the family before the divorce;
- age of spouses and the duration of the marriage;
- any physical or mental disability;
- contributions made by spouses to family’s welfare, which include managing the home or caring for the family, among others; and
- value or benefit that would be unobtainable for any of the spouses after the dissolution of marriage.
For example, in the case of Lee Yong Chuan Edwin v Tan Soan Lian (2000) SGCA 68, the court was reviewing the appeal for decreasing maintenance to be paid in a lump sum for 10 years. The respondent, who was married to the appellant for 12 years and had 2 children from this marriage, was a housewife who has contributed to the welfare of the family by managing the house and taking care of the children. The couple was used to a lavish lifestyle as the husband was employed as an executive in a large construction corporation. The court has accounted for all these circumstances as well as the fact that the wife didn’t possess the skills to become employed after divorce and has allotted her the maintenance of $960,000, calculated at the rate of $8,000 a month, dismissing the appellant’s claim to decrease the alimony to $4,000.
Other Things to Consider for Spousal Maintenance in Singapore
Generally, having a Maintenance Order from the court for a symbolic amount is definitely better than having no maintenance order at all. In the APE v APF case, the Court of Appeals stated that it would be impossible to receive any maintenance in the future without the maintenance order from the court at the initial stage, reaffirming the decision in well-known Tan Bee Giok v Loh Kum Yong 1997 case.
In the case of maintenance for the wife after Muslim divorce, separate considerations apply. Muslims, divorcing in Singapore and seeking maintenance, are entitled to different types of marital support specified in the Administration of Muslim Law Act (Singapore).
Singapore takes children’s rights for support as a priority obliging parents to pay maintenance even for children born outside marriage, as well as supporting adopted children and even grown-up adult children under specific circumstances.
In Singapore, children are eligible for maintenance until reaching the age of 21, and this is the situation whether they live with their parents on not. Adopted children and birth children have the same rights for support even when the former move out from their adoptive parents home. The same applies to children born inside and outside marriage provided the biological paternity is established.
The cases when children have the right to receive maintenance after reaching the age of 21 include:
- Mental or physical disability,
- Undergoing tertiary education,
Who Can Apply for Children’s Maintenance
In Singapore, the list of persons who can apply for receiving child support includes:
- a parent who continues to live with the child after divorce,
- a lawful guardian who takes care of the child on behalf of parents,
- any sibling who is more than 21 years old,
- the child himself or herself, for example, after reaching the age of 21 if the eligibility criteria are met.
Determining The Amount of Children’s Maintenance
As in the case of spousal maintenance, there is no fixed rate or formula to determine the amount of maintenance that will be ordered by the court. In general, the sum transferred for child support shall cover medical costs, essential costs of living and education. It must also provide for the same lifestyle the children had been accustomed at all times.
Other Considerations Regarding Children’s Maintenance
The family law in Singapore includes special provisions regarding child support, which generally does not allow divorcing parents to decrease or otherwise minimize the amount paid for children’s maintenance as a result of any divorce arrangements unless mutually agreed by the ex-spouses. In case the ex-spouses make any agreement that infringes on children’s right to maintenance or decreases the amount beyond the valid requirements, such agreements may be set aside.
Applying for Maintenance for Spouse and Children
The application for either or both spousal and children’s maintenance can be filed before or during the divorce proceedings.
One of the ways to apply is to use the Integrated Family Application Management System (google “IFAMS”) which streamlines the process of filing and helps to structure all relevant data pertaining to the application.
After the application is submitted, the court will serve the Summons to the respondent obliging them to be present during the hearing. Before the hearing, parties attend mandatory mediation with a court mediator who will ask the parties to state their expenses and income and propose a settlement of the maintenance claim of the spouse. If the parties come to an agreement, the agreement will be recorded as an order of court in Family Court 1 of the Family Justice Courts. If there is no agreement between the parties, the proceedings will be adjourned for the parties to exchange documents evidencing their incomes, expenses, and claim. The maintenance will be decided by a District Judge at a hearing (half-day or full-day hearing) where the parties will be cross-examined on their evidence.
Enforcement of Maintenance
The Singaporean law not only provides strong support for ex-spouse and children but also includes strict enforcement measures to ensure that the obliged party fulfills his obligations.
In a general case, maintenance is paid monthly or as a one-time payment depending on the decision by the court. In case of default, the recipient of maintenance can make a Garnishee Order or an Attachment of Earnings Order (AEO), which obliges a bank or an employer to deduct a portion of funds or salary and make transfers for maintenance.
Other enforcement measures against defaulting spouse include:
- imprisonment for a defaulted monthly payment of maintenance;
- ordering the defaulting parent to set up security against any future delay;
The family law in Singapore includes a pre-determined set of requirements for strong spousal and children’s maintenance. In most cases, ex-spouses are required to provide enough support for children to have the same lifestyle they enjoyed before the divorce. The law is particularly strict about child maintenance ensuring maintenance not only to children born inside marriage but also to illegitimate children, adopted children, and grown-up children after the age of 21 if they have specific requirements as defined in the legislation.
Whether you are the recipient spouse, child guardian looking for reasonable maintenance, or a paying ex-husband, it’s advisable to consult an experienced family lawyer to make certain that the application process is adequately followed in the shortest possible time and ensure that all obligations are met.