Singapore Divorce & Family Law

Singapore operates a two-step divorce process. Firstly, the court will deal with the divorce itself, and in the second stage associated issues such as child custody and division of assets will be considered. Our guide to divorce and Singapore looks at the divorce laws and grounds for divorce. You’ll also find out how child custody and contact arrangements work, and how property is divided upon divorce.


Divorce laws and grounds for divorce in Singapore

To get a divorce in Singapore you must have been married for at least three years, and prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down.

The exception to the three-year rule is if you can evidence you are suffering from exceptional hardship or exceptional depravity.

The grounds you can use to demonstrate that your marriage has irretrievably broken down are:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion for 2 years
  • Separation for 4 years (or 3 years with consent).

Adultery

If your spouse has committed adultery, and you can no longer live with them, you can file for divorce. You will need to provide evidence of the adultery.

If you live with your spouse for more than 6 months after the alleged adultery you can no longer use this as a ground for divorce.

Unreasonable behaviour

If you can’t be expected to carry on living with your spouse’s unreasonable behaviour, then you can use this as a ground for your divorce.

Unreasonable behaviour is subjective, although common examples include:

  • Violence
  • Drug or alcohol addiction
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Refusal to have sexual relations
  • Working too many hours.

If your divorce is uncontested, your spouse does not have to admit to the behaviour outlined in the petition.

Desertion for 2 years

If your spouse has deserted you for a continuous period of 2 years or more you can cite this ground for your divorce.

You need to show that you have been living separately for at least 2 years, and that your spouse intended to desert (normally by proving that they do not intend to return).

Separation for 4 years (or 3 years with consent)

If you have lived apart for 3 years and you consent to ending your marriage, you can divorce on this ground. If you have been separated for 4 years or more, you don’t need consent.

You will have to evidence that you lived separately and that this was by choice. If you lived in the same property you must show that you did not share any domestic responsibilities and that you lived separate lives.

A two-stage divorce process

Once this stage of the divorce has been concluded, you will receive an interim judgement.

You can then move onto the second stage to deal with associated matters such as child custody and maintenance, spousal support, and the division of your property.

How child custody and contact are decided on divorce in Singapore

In Singapore, ‘child custody’ is different to ‘care and control of the child’. Custody gives parents authority in making major decisions that relate to their child, for example how they are educated. ‘Care and control’ is only given to one parent, who will look after the child’s day-to-day routine.

In Singapore, ‘care and control’ is given to the mother in most cases. Unless the mother is abusive, agrees to the father’s request, or the child is old enough that they can express a wish to the Court to stay with their father, it is unlikely that the Court will award care and control to the father.

There are generally 4 types of child custody order in Singapore.

1. Sole custody order

This type of order is likely where mediation has failed, and the relationship between the parents has completely broken down and cooperation is unlikely.

A sole custody order means that the parent who is granted custody of the child will be the sole decision-maker for major decisions concerning the child. In some instances, the court can require the parent with sole custody to inform or consult the other parent regarding specific important decisions.

2. Joint custody order

Here, both parents retain equal decision-making rights concerning the child.

Joint custody is becoming more common as courts recognise the importance of a child retaining a good relationship with both parents. You will need to be able to cooperate and communicate with the other parent.

If the court orders joint custody, it will also issue separate orders on ‘care and control’ (for the parent with custody of the child) and ‘access’ (for the non-resident parent).

3. Hybrid order

Under a hybrid order, one parent will be granted custody. However, they must consult the non-resident parent on issues that relate to the child’s welfare.

4. Split custody order

Under a split custody order, custody of one or more sibling children is granted to one parent, and custody of the other siblings to the other parent.

This order is rare as courts prefer to keep siblings together.

How a court in Singapore decides on child custody and contact

When deciding which order to make, courts consider the best interests of your child. This includes not only financial considerations, but also your child’s emotional and physical welfare and their relationship to each parent.

Courts often order a Social Welfare Report, through which officers meet the child and parents and observe the child’s interactions.

The parent who is not awarded ‘care and control (see above) is normally granted ‘fair and reasonable’ contact as this is considered beneficial for the child. The court has discretion as to what is fair and reasonable.

Singapore is a signatory to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction. If your child is wrongfully removed from Singapore, you can apply to the relevant authorities for help in ensuring the return of your child under the Convention. The same principle applies if your child is taken to Singapore from another Hague Convention country.

How assets are divided on divorce in Singapore

When dividing assets on divorce, the court in Singapore has the primary objective of ensuring property is split in a ‘just and equitable manner’. Factors the court will consider include:

  • the contributions each spouse made to the marriage in financial terms
  • the contributions each spouse made to the welfare of the family
  • the needs of your children
  • any agreement you have already made with your spouse.

Assets that are considered ‘matrimonial property’ include assets that either of you acquired during the marriage, assets used by one or both spouses, and assets you acquired before you married but have ‘substantially improved in quality during the marriage’. Gifts and inheritances are excluded.

When dividing assets, the court will also consider the length of your marriage, the total value of assets, and the extend and nature of any ‘indirect’ contributions (for example, looking after the home or children).

The court can also grant spousal maintenance, and has discretion to decide on the amount based on the facts of your specific case.


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