How does the Family Court make parental custody decisions?
Following a divorce, if children are involved then there will have to be decisions made about who gets custody, care and control of them. It is always preferable that the parents make these decisions and agree between them amicably, as part of the divorce deal. This is because nobody knows the children better than their own parents.
Sadly, sometimes these joint decisions are not possible, and a judge has to intervene to make the decisions on behalf of the parents. This isn’t ideal because clearly the judge will not know the children in any great detail, yet they are required to make decisions of the most profound importance which will affect the children for years to come.
Judges will usually base their decision on what they believe to be in the child’s best interest, and not on what the parents want. You may find it surprising that no weight is given to the parents’ wishes, but the law in Singapore requires judges to think only of what is best for the child’s interests, not the parents’ wishes in deciding matters of care and control.
Factors used to determine the child’s best interests:
To work out what is best for the child, the judge may consider the following:
- The emotional ties and love which exists between each parent and the child
- The wishes of the child (providing they are mature enough to express them)
- The nature of each parent’s relationship with their child
- The ability a parent has to spend time with their child
- During the marriage, which parent was the primary caregiver for the child?
- Where the child lives – if the child is settled, residing only in one place, then the judge may be reluctant to change the status quo
- Siblings should ideally be kept together rather than separated
- Whether the relationship between a child and one parent is being obstructed by the other parent
Appointing a Child Representative
Sometimes the court may appoint a third party individual to act in the child’s best interests. This person is known as a Child Representative, and can act in any proceeding or action which involves the custody or welfare of a child; they are effectively the voice of the child in court.
The Child Representative will make decisions based on what they think is in the child’s best interests, based on their observations of the child. They do not take into account what the parents may want for themselves.
Custody Evaluation Report (CER)
Sometimes, in situations when there is a dispute over child custody matters, the courts will ask the Ministry of Social and Family Development to investigate and produce a report to be used to decide on custody matters. This report is known as a Custody Evaluation Report.
The report usually contains some of the following information:
- The wishes of the child
- The interactions the child has with its parents
- Investigations into any allegations of a parent mistreating the child
In this way, the report becomes represents an objective insight into matters which involve the child, and acts as the voice of the child in court.
We would advise anyone who is going through a divorce, and who has children, to contact us and seek professional advice from our leading divorce lawyers.