Partner & Head of Muslim Law Practice, Abdul Aziz explains the Grounds of Divorce in the Syariah Court.
Divorce proceedings in the Syariah Court are quite different from divorce proceedings in the Family Court. There are several matters to take note of and certain procedural rules to comply with in order to ensure that your case runs smoothly and ends in the shortest time possible with the desired outcomes.
The main statute which governs divorce proceedings in the Syariah Court is the Administration of Muslim Law Act (Cap. 3) (AMLA). The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Rules (MMDR) prescribes the various processes and procedures, while the Syariah Court Practice Directions 2018 (SCPD) sets out the templates of the various forms used. You may view and read the AMLA, the MMDR and the SCPD at the Attorney General’s Chambers Singapore Statutes Online’s website at: https://sso.agc.gov.sg.
In making its decision on the various issues which typically arise in divorce proceedings which come before it – talak, nafkah iddah, mutaah, custody of children, etc. – the Syariah Court applies Muslim law (also known as Syariah law) as well as (where applicable) Malay custom. The recognised sources of Muslim law are the Holy Quran, the sayings and practices of the Prophet (pbuh) and the majority opinion of Islamic scholars. The AMLA itself contains several provisions dealing with some of these issues. The issues which typically arise in divorce proceedings in the Syariah Court are discussed in the article: Typical Issues And Claims In Syariah Court Divorce Proceedings.
Registration And Mandatory Counselling
The spouse wishing to apply for divorce in the Syariah Court must first submit a Registration Form. This form is downloadable from the Syariah Court’s website.
Once the Syariah Court has accepted and processed the Registration Form, both spouses will be contacted by one of the approved counselling agencies for them to undergo mandatory counselling. The following are a few of the approved counselling agencies: PPIS Family Service Centre (West) (65613462), Jamiyah Counselling Centre (67431211), Association of Muslim Professionals (64163960) and National Helpline (Family Service Centre) (1800 222 0000).
If you are the spouse who had filed the Registration Form (the Registrant) and you fail to attend the mandatory counselling, your case may be closed and you will not be able to subsequently proceed to commence divorce proceedings in the Syariah Court.
Commencement Of Divorce Proceedings In The Syariah Court
The primary objective of the mandatory counselling scheme is to assist the spouses to reconcile and to save the marriage. If the marriage cannot be saved, the mandatory counselling scheme serves also as a platform for the spouses to discuss, come to an understanding of, and (if possible) reach an agreement on the issue of the custody of the children of the marriage, if any.
If the spouses cannot be reconciled, then the Registrant has 6 months from the date of the final counselling session to commence divorce proceedings in the Syariah Court. If the deadline is breached, then a fresh Registration Form must be filed.
Divorce proceedings in the Syariah Court are commenced by either spouse (called the Plaintiff) filing the Case Statement (Form 7 for the Husband or Form 8 for the Wife) (CS), the Plaintiff’s Proposed Parenting Plan (Form 12) (PPPP) and the Plaintiff’s Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan (Form 15) (PPMPP). The PPPP need not be filed if there are no minor children (children below 21 years of age). The PPMPP need not be filed if the matrimonial home is not a Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat. Additional information on the matrimonial home must also be filed via the Particulars of Housing Arrangement (Form 14) (PHA).
In the CS, the Plaintiff is required to state, amongst other things, the grounds of the application for divorce and his/her position on the issues of nafkah iddah, mutaah, division of matrimonial assets, etc. The PPPP contains the Plaintiff’s proposal on the custody, care and control and access of the children of the marriage. The PPMPP sets out the Plaintiff’s proposal on the disposal and division of the matrimonial home.
There are several documents to be attached to the CS, PPPP and PPMPP. You are advised to refer to the Syariah Court’s website and comply with the Checklist for Plaintiff.
A total of 3 sets of the bundle comprising the CS, the PPPP, the PPMPP and the PHA (the original plus 2 copies) must be filed. The Syariah Court will keep the original set and return the 2 copies to the Plaintiff, one of which is to be served on the other spouse (called the Defendant). The Syariah Court will also issue a Court Attendance Notice for the Plaintiff and the Defendant to attend Mediation on a certain date and time.
Response By The Defendant
Upon being served with the CS and the other documents by the Plaintiff, the Defendant is required to file the Memorandum of Defence (Form 17 for the Husband or Form 18 for the Wife) (MOD), the Defendant’s Proposed Parenting Plan (Form 21) (DPPP) and the Defendant’s Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan (Form 23) (DPMPP). Additional information on the matrimonial home must also be filed via the PHA.
If the Defendant agrees with the PPPP then he/she is required to file the Defendant’s Agreement to the Plaintiff’s Parenting Plan (Form 20) (DAPPP). Likewise, if the Defendant agrees with the PPMPP then he/she files the Defendant’s Agreement to the Plaintiff’s Matrimonial Property Plan (Form 22) (DAPMPP).
In the MOD, the Defendant is required to state, amongst other things, his response to the Plaintiff’s position on the grounds of the application for divorce and the issues of nafkah iddah, mutaah, division of matrimonial assets, etc. The DPPP contains the Defendant’s proposal on the custody, care and control and access of the children of the marriage. The DPMPP sets out the Defendant’s proposal on the disposal and division of the matrimonial home.
There are several documents to be attached to the MOD, DPPP/DAPPP and DPMPP/DAPMPP. You are advised to refer to the Syariah Court’s website and comply with the Checklist for Defendant.
A total of 3 sets of the bundle comprising the MOD, DPPP/DAPPP, DPMPP/DAPMPP and the PHA (the original and 2 copies) must be filed. The Syariah Court will keep the original set and return the 2 copies to the Defendant, one of which is to be served on the Plaintiff. The Defendant is required to file and serve on the Plaintiff these documents within 21 days of his/her receipt of the Plaintiff’s documents as discussed above.
If the matrimonial home is a HDB flat, for the Plaintiff, the bundle must include the Returned HDB Standard Query Form (RHSQF) and the Returned Housing Guidance Form (RHGF). The Defendant is required to file the RHGF only. However, if the spouses do not have minor children, the RHGF need not be filed by them. Both forms are downloadable from the Syariah Court’s website.
The role of the Mediator is to facilitate a settlement of all the issues between the Plaintiff and the Defendant. The parties may be required to attend several Mediation sessions in order to achieve full settlement. The parties attend the Mediation with their lawyers (if any).
If there is a settlement, the terms of the settlement will be recorded by the Mediator in a draft Decree of Court/Order of Court. The Plaintiff and the Defendant will then appear before a judge (called President). The husband will then pronounce the talak before the President if he had not already done so previously. The President will then confirm the divorce and the terms of the settlement with the Plaintiff and the Defendant and the divorce proceedings end here.
If there is no settlement at Mediation, the Plaintiff and the Defendant will be required to attend several Pre-Trial Conferences (PTCs) over the course of the next several months. At these PTCs, the Registrar of the Syariah Court will give instructions for affidavits and possibly other documents to be filed and for other things to be done in order to prepare the case for hearing.
At the hearing, the President hears arguments by the Plaintiff and the Defendant or their lawyers on the various issues which have arisen. By this time, the President would have already read all the documents and affidavits filed by the parties. Oral evidence is rarely taken at the hearing unless the case is one of breach of taklik or fasakh. For an explanation of these and other related terms, refer to the article: Grounds for Divorce in Syariah Law.
The husband may be required to pronounce the talak at the hearing if he had not already done so previously.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the President makes his decision on the issues and announces them in open court in the presence of the Plaintiff and the Defendant.
Appointment Of Hakams (Arbitrators)
The President may on his own motion or on the application of the Plaintiff and/or the Defendant order the appointment of a Hakam for each of the parties. The appointment of Hakams generally takes place when, at the hearing, the husband refuses to pronounce the talak and where the evidence presented does not give rise to any of the other established grounds of divorce (breach of taklik, fasakh, etc.).
The role of the Hakams is to facilitate a reconciliation between the Plaintiff and the Defendant, and if that is not possible, to facilitate a dissolution of the marriage by way of the husband’s pronouncement of talak, or by khuluk or by talak tafweed. If none of these modes of dissolving the marriage is applicable or suitable, the Hakams may himself pronounce the talak, more commonly known as “talak wajib”.
Once the marriage has been dissolved, the other issues will be dealt with and decided by the President.
If the Plaintiff or the Defendant is dissatisfied with any decision of the President on any of the issues, he/she may appeal against that decision by filing a Notice of Appeal (Form 53) with the Appeal Board within 30 days of the date of the decision.
The appeal will be heard by 3 judges and the hearing of the appeal will be held at the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura.
There is no right of further appeal.
Collection Of Decree of Court/Order of Court and Divorce Certificate
At the conclusion of the divorce proceedings, the Plaintiff and the Defendant will be informed when they can collect the Decree of Court/Order of Court and the Divorce Certificate. Usually, the Decree of Court/Order of Court may be collected at the Syariah Court within 1 to 2 weeks of the hearing. The Divorce Certificate will usually be ready after 3 months from the date of hearing if the divorce is a talak raji’e (revocable) divorce.
To get a better understanding of divorce proceedings in the Syariah Court, you are also advised to read the article: The Syariah Court Divorce Process.