The divorce process in Singapore is governed by a well-structured legal framework designed to protect the people involved, ensure fairness, and provide a just resolution for both parties. However, reaching the end of the ordeal and achieving favourable outcomes for oneself requires navigating through a series of complex procedures. This guide aims to provide a roadmap for divorcing couples at the crossroads of a broken marriage to help you make informed decisions that’ll assist you in breezing through this difficult chapter of your life.
1.1. The Emotional Impact of Divorce
Aside from the complicated legal proceedings and financial considerations, divorce is often a life-changing event accompanied by a slew of emotions ranging from grief to resentment. Nobody vows to have and to hold their partner with the intention of splitting. However, life has its ups and downs, and some relationships do come to an end.
When this happens, it becomes important for parties involved to prioritise their emotional well-being in order to have a smoother journey through the dissolution of their marriage. The emotional toll of a divorce can be overwhelming, and may hinder you from proceeding with legal processes efficiently. Besides seeking support from friends, family, or professional counsellors, it’s critical that you engage the assistance of experienced divorce lawyers to understand and better manage the legal procedures.
1.2. Importance of Understanding Singapore’s Divorce Process
Comprehension of the divorce process in Singapore is essential to protect your own rights. Aside from that, being well-informed can help you benefit in various ways, enabling a smoother and more positive resolution to the challenging situation.
Gain Awareness of Your Legal Rights and Protection
From issues such as child care and custody to the division of matrimonial assets, being aware of your rights is the first step towards ensuring a fair and equitable outcome.
Effective Case Preparation
A thorough understanding of the divorce process guides you through preparing your case. Whether it’s gathering necessary information or adhering to procedures, you’ll be able to navigate the legal system much more effectively.
Knowledge of the legal landscape helps you better evaluate your options and make decisions that best align with your interests, as well as those of your loved ones.
Protect Financial Well-Being
With a clear idea of the financial implications involved, you can work towards securing a fair share of the assets accumulated during the marriage, ensuring your own financial health post-divorce.
Sense of Control and Clarity
Feelings of anxiety and uncertainty are often associated with divorce. Knowing what your next steps are in this process will reduce this emotional burden and allow you to approach the situation with a level head, making it easier to cope with potential challenges.
Preparing for Divorce
2.1. Requirements to File for Divorce
As outlined in the Women’s Charter, couples must meet certain criteria in order to be able to file for divorce in Singapore.
- The couple must have been married for at least three years, immediately prior to the filing of divorce. If you and your spouse have been married for less than 3 years, you may file for divorce if you can prove “exceptional depravity” or “exceptional hardship” in the marriage.
- At least one spouse must be domiciled in Singapore, or have resided in Singapore for at least three years before the commencement of divorce proceedings.
- The Plaintiff (person filing for divorce) must demonstrate that the marriage has broken down irretrievably (Singapore’s sole ground for divorce).
There are six facts you can rely on to prove an irretrievable breakdown of marriage. They include:
Your spouse has committed adultery, and you find it intolerable to live with them. Evidence, such as text messages and photographs, demonstrating adultery must be presented in court.
Your spouse has behaved in a way that you cannot be reasonably expected to live with them. Such behaviour can include various forms of abuse, neglect, or actions that have led to the breakdown of marriage. Similarly, evidence of unreasonable behaviour must be provided.
Your spouse has abandoned your marital relationship and the home with no intention to return.
Separation of 3 Years (With Consent)
You and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of at least three years, and there is a mutual agreement to divorce. There must be no reconciliation or maintenance of a marital relationship during this period. Parties do not have to be living apart in different houses if they can prove that they’ve lived separate lives even in the same household. For example, not communicating, doing household chores or cooking for each other.
Separation of 4 Years (Without Consent)
You and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of four years. Even if one spouse doesn’t consent to the divorce, the court may grant a dissolution if it is satisfied that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
Expected to come into effect in 2023, parties who mutually agree to a divorce may have their marriage dissolved without putting blame on each other.
2.2. Counselling and Mediation Services Available for Couples
If divorce isn’t the ultimate route you want to go down, or if you hope to resolve disagreements amicably without prolonging the process, there are counselling and mediation services available to help couples navigate through their challenges. Here’s a look at them:
Family Mediation Scheme
The Family Mediation Scheme is designed to assist couples in resolving disputes related to divorce, custody, and other family matters through mediation. It is a voluntary process, where an impartial third party will facilitate communication and negotiation between you and your spouse.
Collaborative Family Practice
The Collaborative Family Practice (CFP) is an alternative dispute resolution method where both parties will commit to resolving issues outside of court with the company of their assigned CFP lawyers. The collaborative team may include mental health professionals, financial experts, and child specialists to address various aspects of the divorce process. If settlement cannot be reached and court intervention becomes necessary, the CFP lawyers must withdraw from the case, and both you and your spouse will have to engage separate divorce lawyers for future litigation in court.
More information about Family Mediation and Collaborative Family Practice can be found on the Singapore Mediation Centre website.
2.3. Contested or Uncontested Divorce?
Divorces in Singapore are classified into two categories—contested or uncontested—based on the level of agreement between you and your spouse.
When disagreements involving matters, such as child custody, matrimonial assets, or any allocation of debt, arise in a divorce and cannot be amicably resolved, the divorce is deemed contested. A divorce is also contested if the Defendant wishes to remain married or refute the ground for divorce stated in the divorce papers. This often leads to a more adversarial and lengthy process, where the court steps in to make decisions on the unresolved matters. We recommend consulting with a contested divorce lawyer for legal guidance.
Conversely, an uncontested divorce, or simplified divorce, occurs when you and your spouse can reach an agreement on all aspects of your divorce. If you’re wondering how long uncontested divorces last in Singapore, such cases usually progress more smoothly and are less time-consuming because the court is not required to intervene.
Recognising the difference between contested and uncontested divorce in Singapore will influence your decision-making processes.
Filing for Divorce
3.1. Initiating Divorce Proceedings
Commencing divorce proceedings in Singapore involves a series of legal steps and the preparation of specific documents. Here is an overview of the process and the documents required:
Writ for Divorce
The divorce process begins with the filing of a Writ for Divorce, a document that officially initiates the legal proceedings and sets out the intention to dissolve the marriage. It should contain the names and details of you and your spouse, the ground for divorce, and what you seek from the court. For instance, the custody of children, maintenance, or division of matrimonial assets.
Statement of Claim
In the Statement of Claim, you’ll have to provide elaborate details about the grounds for divorce and the relief sought, supporting your request for divorce with facts and circumstances.
Statement of Particulars
Additional details and specifications related to the claims made in the Statement of Claim should be detailed in the Statement of Particulars, clarifying the facts and circumstances surrounding the divorce.
Proposed or Agreed Parenting Plan
In cases involving children, a Proposed or Agreed Parenting Plan is required. This plan outlines arrangements for the care, custody, and access to the children after the divorce, covering issues such as education and medical care. If a divorce is contested, each party will have to submit a Proposed Parenting Plan. In the case of an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse can jointly produce an Agreed Parenting Plan.
Proposed or Agreed Matrimonial Property Plan
If you and your spouse own a matrimonial property, a Proposed or Agreed Matrimonial Property Plan stating how the marital assets and liabilities will be divided should be provided.
After filing these documents in court, a copy of them must be served on the Defendant. Within eight days, the Defendant must decide whether to contest the divorce and/or ancillary matters. If they choose to contest, they are required to file a Memorandum of Appearance along with either a Defence or a Defence and Counterclaim. Alternatively, if the Defendant opts not to contest the divorce but wishes to be heard on ancillary matters, they may file a Memorandum of Appearance outlining the specific issues they seek to address.
If your spouse ignores the papers or goes uncontactable, you can file the Request for Setting Down Action for Trial to request a hearing date even in their absence. However, you’ll be required to demonstrate through evidence that your attempts to reach your spouse are futile.
3.2. Legal Process and Timeline
First Stage: Dissolution of Marriage
In the case of a contested divorce, you and your spouse will be required to attend a Pre-Trial Conference or a Mediation prior to the court hearing. This is to encourage both of you to reach an agreement on certain matters. If settlement is unsuccessful, the court will set a trial date.
You’ll then have to file and exchange an Affidavits of Evidence-in-Chief stating reasons for your divorce. During the hearing, witnesses may be called to the stand. If the court is satisfied that your marriage has broken down irretrievably, it will grant an Interim Judgement dissolving the marriage. The hearing may take several days, depending on case complexity.
In a simplified divorce, you must file a Request for Setting Down Action for Trial to initiate divorce proceedings on an uncontested basis. An Agreed Parenting Plan and Agreed Matrimonial Property Plan (if applicable) should then be filed. You may also file a Draft Consent Order if you and your spouse agree on all ancillary matters too.
The court will then schedule an uncontested divorce hearing in chambers to review your documents and assess whether the marriage has broken down irretrievably. Your attendance is not necessary. However, if the court is unconvinced, you and your spouse may be summoned to an open court hearing to present more evidence.
If the court is satisfied that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and all ancillary issues have been agreed upon, it will dissolve the marriage by granting an Interim Judgement.
Second Stage: Ancillary Matters
Once the marriage has been dissolved, the proceedings will progress to the second stage—Ancillary Matters. A Case Conference will be conducted during commencement. Your attendance is not required if you have a representative lawyer.
During this stage, issues relating to child custody, care and control, and access, spousal and/or child maintenance, and the division of matrimonial assets will be dealt with.
In a contested divorce, the Assistant Registrar may refer your case for mediation if the court deems settlement possible. Similarly, if matters cannot be resolved privately, a court hearing date will be set. You and your spouse will have to file an Affidavit of Assets and Means detailing the assets, liabilities, any direct and indirect contributions to the marriage, and your proposed plan for any ancillary matters. For example, child custody, access arrangements, and maintenance.
Additionally, you and your spouse must attend the Mandatory Parenting Programme organised by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) if you have at least one child below the age of 14. It is designed to assist divorcing couples in making informed decisions with their child’s best interests in mind.
The court will then decide on all ancillary matters while taking into consideration certain factors. They include:
- You and your spouse’s financial contributions towards the acquisition of matrimonial assets.
- Any non-monetary contributions made by you or your spouse to the welfare of the family.
- Any debts owed by you or your spouse for the benefit of the other or the children of the marriage.
- Any agreement regarding the division of matrimonial assets made between you and your spouse.
This process may last more than a year, depending on the complexity of your case.
You may apply for a Final Judgement once the court’s order is obtained. If you do not agree with the court’s decision, you may file a Notice of Appeal to the Family Division of the High Court.
In an uncontested divorce, the entire process is significantly simplified. Once a Draft Consent Order is prepared, a hearing will be held in chambers for the court to review your documents. If the court finds the terms fair, the marriage is dissolved and you may apply for a Final Judgement three months after the Interim Judgement is granted.
4.1. Modification of Orders for Child-Related Matters or Maintenance
Circumstances may evolve, and when existing orders pertaining to child custody, access rights, or maintenance become challenging to manage, you may apply to modify them. The Singapore court recognises this need for flexibility. Hence, if there are income adjustments, relocation, or a change in the child’s need, you may file for a modification of orders. The court will assess all aspects of the application and situation while taking into consideration the child’s welfare when making decisions.
Before initiating this process, do consult with a divorce lawyer for guidance on whether these changes are substantial enough to warrant a modification. Prepare a formal application to the court outlining the issues and reasons for seeking an alteration. File the documents at the Family Justice Courts and serve a copy of them on your ex-spouse.
Similar to divorce proceedings, parties may be required to attend mediation sessions to attempt to reach an agreement if they are unable to resolve disputes. If a settlement cannot be reached, a court hearing will be scheduled and the court will decide on all matters.
4.2. Counselling and Support Services for Divorced Couples
As the divorce proceedings conclude, counselling and support services can be helpful in guiding you through the emotional challenges and transitions associated with the end of a marriage. Here are some resources you can leverage:
Family Service Centre
These are community-based services that offer a range of social and counselling help to individuals or families facing various difficulties. They may include counselling, parenting support, as well as financial and legal assistance.
Marriage and Family Therapists
As trained professionals specialising in helping couples and families navigate relationship problems, these therapists can provide therapy to address emotional issues, offer counselling to guide parents towards an effective co-parenting strategy, and foster better understanding between both you and your ex-spouse to build healthier post-divorce relationships.
Support groups provide a valuable platform for individuals going through divorce to connect with others who share similar experiences. You can look for online communities, or turn to your loved ones for help. Having a support system empowers you to rebuild your life, focusing on promoting emotional healing and personal growth.
4.3. Estate and Will Planning
Following the conclusion of divorce proceedings, you’ll need to ensure that your will and last testament reflect your new circumstances. Hence, estate planning is an important task to take care of.
Estate planning is the process of drafting a will and ensuring that your estate (assets, finances and personal affairs) will be distributed in accordance with your wishes in the event that you become incapacitated or die. Ensure that the beneficiaries of your insurance policies, accounts, properties, and more are updated.
If you have children, estate planning becomes even more critical. With a will, you can name guardians for your children and establish trusts to manage their inheritance, ensuring that their well-being is protected in the event of your passing.
Additionally, if you have previously designated your ex-spouse to make financial or healthcare decisions for you, you’ll want to assign another trustworthy person to take on these responsibilities.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can I still file for divorce if my spouse doesn’t want to get divorced?
Yes. However, the divorce may go down the contested route and drag on for months or even up to a few years, depending on what your spouse wishes to contest.
2. Does adultery affect who gets custody of the child?
The grounds for divorce usually do not affect ancillary matters. But, one may prove that the cheating spouse is neglectful of the child, which can affect the court’s decision.
3. If my spouse and I can reach an agreement, do we still have to go to court?
Divorce proceedings will go down the simplified (uncontested) route. Both parties will not need to attend court, but the court will still have to be involved in the dissolution of marriage and granting of Interim and Final Judgement. Couples with children below 21 years old will need to attend a mandatory parenting programme.
4. Are there alternatives to divorce?
Yes. You may choose to separate or annul your marriage. However, both have different eligibility requirements and restrictions.
5. How much does a divorce cost in Singapore?
It depends. Contested divorces are usually more complex and costly as compared to uncontested ones. Contact us to find out more about the costs of divorce in Singapore.
By gaining a thorough understanding of the divorce procedure, you can better protect your rights, make informed decisions, and navigate the complexities of the legal processes more effectively.
However, the assistance of an experienced divorce lawyer is important. They can provide invaluable support and guidance throughout your journey to make it easier for you to manage.
Family Law Specialists has a team of experienced family lawyers equipped with the expertise to help you through the divorce process. Curious about how much does a divorce cost in Singapore or how to file for divorce? Get a free consultation with our divorce lawyers today for more assistance.