Divorce in Singapore

The process of applying for a divorce in Singapore: eligibility, division of assets and arrangements for the children

By Daniel Martin, Fernhill Psychology | Counselling | Psychotherapy

Eligibility: Who can apply for a divorce via the Singapore Courts?

  • Singaporean citizens
  • Couples who have lived in Singapore at least 3 years
  • Couples who have been domiciled in Singapore at least 3 years? Domiciled means that Singapore is the couples ‘homebase’ regardless of other countries they may reside in. However, if one or both persons have lived outside of Singapore for an extended portion of the 3 years this could break the “habitually resident” criteria. Things such as business trips or holidays would not be an issue but longer stays outside the country may be problematic.
  • Must not be Muslim or married under Muslim law.

For couples who married under Muslim law

Persons seeking a divorce who were married under Muslim law will need to contact the Kadis for their district. The Kadis will arrange a meeting with them and determine what documentation they will require as part of the application for divorce. If both parties agree to the divorce and the Kadis consents it will be  approved for entry in the divorce register. Parties would then need to appear before the Syariah Court to finalize the process. If both parties do not agree the matter will be referred to the Syariah Court to review. Also if one party wishes to appeal the decision of the Kadis that would be dealt with by the Syariah Court.

What are the grounds for divorce in Singapore?

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour making the marriage unsustainable. E.G verbal or physical abuse
  • Deserted for over 2 years
  • Have been legally separated at least 3 years prior to applying
  • Have been legally separated at least 4 years if one party doesn’t agree to divorce

What types of divorce exist in Singapore

Broadly speaking, divorce in Singapore is either contested and uncontested.

A no-faults divorce can only take place if the couple has been separated for 3 years (or 4 years if one party objects to the divorce). If both parties agree to an uncontested divorce it is of course an easier process than if it is contested.  It may even be possible to have a nonpublic court date where the attorneys present the documents in the judge's chambers instead of appearing in open court. It can be as straightforward as filing and having one court appearance. If there are details to clarify an actual hearing may be necessary.

As well as contesting the divorce itself it is also possible to contest a Writ for Divorce (the initial divorce application). This results in a hearing to review the application. If both parties do not agree it also extends the time of separation required to be eligible to file the Writ for Divorce in the first place from 3 years up to 4 years if separation time is the basis for the application. The overall time necessary to complete a contested divorce process is considerably longer and therefore more expensive. In these situations there will be hearings as well as a trial that can take a few full days in court. One may also expect to attend extra meetings, hearings and mediations in an attempt to draft an agreeable parenting plan and property plan which are also part of the process..

What are the steps to getting a divorce?

Once the Eligibility Requirements have been met an application for divorce can be filled.  Depending on whether it is contested or uncontested it may be a while before the divorce filing is approved. After the Divorce is approved the next step is  to address what are called ancillary matters. Ancillary matters relate to assets / finances and children.  For parents who have children under 21 years old a Parenting Plan detailing the care plans for children will need to be created.

The Parenting Plan

The philosophy of the court is that divorce is a child-focused process. For couples with children under 21 years old counselling and/or meditation is required. Psychologists may meet with the children and/or parents as part of the court process and development of an appropriate parenting plan for the child. The Parenting Plan will be in place til the child is 21 and is generally 10-30 pages in length depending on the level of detail required for the family.

Custody, access and daily decisions on raising the children

Custody refers to who is responsible for the child and who makes decisions about major issues e.g. health, schooling, religion etc. This may be joint even if the care and control is primarily with one parent. The Parenting Plan must detail  how each parent will have access to the child, where each parent will typically reside and how handovers will take place. This falls under the section on Care and Control. Care and control also pertains to the authority to make day to day decisions for the child as well as addressing details about religion, education, health care, travel and extracurricular activities. Care and control includes with which parent the child lives, and when the noncustodial parent would be allowed access to visit them. The custodial parent would determine all day to day decisions about the child’s life.

Typical access arrangements

The arrangements for when a child sees each parent varies quite a bit. It would be fairly common for the mother to have the child a majority of the time and the father to have visitation every other weekend and on one weeknight. However the courts may choose to place the child with whom they feel is best positioned to provide for their material needs. In this case a child would be placed with a working parent rather than a stay-at-home parent. Access arrangements also details the care arrangements for things like holidays, birthdays, weddings etc. There may also be a mention of how both parties agree to communicate and how they agree to address disagreements in the future e.g. schedule mediation. Arrangements will need to be made for how to meet the financial responsibilities of raising the children e.g. school fees, medical care, clothing, housing etc. If the parents can’t agree on an amount that is suitable a judge will determine this amount for each parent.

Property, assets, and finances

A plan for how marital assets will be separated must submitted to the court.  If an agreement cannot be reached a decision will be made during the trial. If the parties still cannot agree on a division of assets a contested ancillary matters hearing will be held either in the Family Court or High Court depending on the value of assets to resolve the matter.

Spousal maintenance

Spousal maintenance is implemented in Singapore. One spouse (usually the wife although a husband is also eligible to apply) may be granted an amount of money from the divorcing partner to help him or her successfully move on from the marriage. This can be paid monthly or received as a lump sum. Determining whether spousal maintenance is appropriate and the amount may involve a variety of hearings, case conferences and court dates in an attempt to resolve disputes.

Tips to consider

  • Documentation of separation time will be helpful especially if wanting to count “separated under the same roof” time. The more formal the documentation the better. The documentation establishes when the couple stopped presenting as a couple and may include separate bank accounts or removal of one name from a lease.
  • Developing an interim parenting plan with a counsellor or mediator before the divorce is finalized may be necessary, and practical, especially for couples who are living in separate households for 3-4 years before filing for divorce.
  • If the couple hasn’t been married for at least 3 years there is an additional process to undergo. The court will not allow an application for a divorce if the parties  have not been married for more than 3 years. The exception is if it is proved to the court's satisfaction there is exceptional hardship suffered by the plaintiff or of exceptional depravity by the defendant. For those married less than 3 years repair attempts will also be required by the court. The couple may have meetings with a Conciliation Officer in an attempt to repair the relationship before the court would consider processing their application for divorce.
  • It is not required to use a lawyer.  However,  it will be expected that all forms, protocols and procedures are followed as if done by a lawyer. There is not a separate standard or process if one chooses to represent themselves through the process.

Who can help with the process?

  • Mediators (May be mandated by Family Court)
  • Family Counselors (May be mandated by Family Court)
  • Financial Planners / Accountant
  • Family Lawyers

Related matters

  • When the divorce is granted a person’s eligibility for a dependant’s pass to stay in the in country ends. This will require that individual to leave Singapore or obtain another form of Visa to remain in the country.
  • Wills would need to be revised since  it is not uncommon for Wills to include a clause stating they are void if a divorce occurs.
  • This is a good time to consider if there should be a change of beneficiaries on life insurance, retirement accounts etc.
  • Selecting a new Power of Attorney to make decisions about removing life support in hospital, settling business affairs etc. will be necessary. This is like the Will and may have a clause built in making it void if the parties become divorced.
  • The court may award Maintenance to provide financial support to children or one spouse if the couple cannot agree on these matters. This is a separate process from the basic divorce filing.

Further Reading

  • View the required forms for divorce in Singapore and additional information on the Family Court website
  • If general legal information or assistance with understanding details of the process, completing forms, referrals etc. is needed the Community Justice Centre can help
  • If the couple is considering an uncontested divorce and prefer a non-adversarial approach it may be worth consulting lawyers affiliated with Collaborative Practice (an international network of divorce professionals). See the Angloinfo page on Divorce resolution in Singapore for more details

Further Information

Find reputable Family, Marriage & Divorce Lawyers through our local business listings.

by Dan Martin MS Psych (Clinical)

Fernhill Psychology & Counselling

+65 9623 4461
27 Woking Road, Wessex Estate, Singapore, 138705