If you find yourself wanting to divorce in Singapore, you’re likely to have lots of questions about the process. If you are contesting a divorce, or it isn’t amicable, then you’re likely to have even more concerns. These might include:
- Am I eligible to divorce?
- How much will it cost me?
- What can I expect to receive?
- What will happen to my children?
- How might our assets be divided?
- How long will it all take?
In this article we’ll explain the process for a contested divorce, as well as an uncontested divorce, and look at what usually takes place at the Family Justice Courts.
Eligibility requirements to divorce
There are certain criteria that anyone wishing to divorce in Singapore must satisfy. These are set out in the Women’s Charter, and include:
Attending the Mandatory Parenting Programme (MPP)
If the divorcing couple have at least one child younger than 14 years of age, and the parties don’t agree on the divorce or ancillary matters, then the parties must attend the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s Mandatory Parenting Programme (MPP). This aims to help the parties make informed decisions which put the children’s bets interests first. Only once the MSF has certified your attendance can the divorce proceed.
Here at PKWA we can help parties in the MPP application. The MPP only has to be attended once, and the session lasts a maximum of 2 hours. The following link gives further information on the MPP: https://www.msf.gov.sg/divorce-support/pages/mandatory-parenting-programme.aspx
To have your divorce proceedings heard in the Family Justice Courts, you or your spouse must be:
- A citizen of Singapore; or
- Domiciled in Singapore; or
- An habitual resident of Singapore for at least 3 years prior to the start of divorce proceedings.
‘Domiciled’ in Singapore means that you can demonstrate you are settled in Singapore and don’t intend to move away in the near future. For instance, an established community of friends and family, or substantial assets in Singapore are things that can prove that you are domiciled here.
Finally, remember that if you were married under Muslim law, then you cannot apply to the Family Justice Courts for a divorce. Only the Syariah Court can accept your divorce application.
Three years of marriage
In order to file for divorce, the marriage must have lasted for a minimum of 3 years.
Couples who have been married less than 3 years must get permission from the Court in order to start divorce proceedings. An application for leave represents the filing of an originating summons, as well as a supporting affidavit, which sets out the reasons you are seeking a divorce. For instance, one ground for divorce could be exceptional hardship that you have suffered.
The Family Justice Court will only grant a divorce if you can prove that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, or one of the following facts has occurred, set out in the Women’s Charter, section 95(3):
- Your spouse acted in such a way that it isn’t reasonable to expect you to continue living with them;
- Your spouse committed adultery, making it intolerable for you to continue living with them;
- Your spouse has deserted you for at least 2 years (a continuous period of two years);
- You have lived apart from your spouse for a continuous period of at least of 3 years, and your spouse has consented to the granting of a judgement;
- You have lived apart from your spouse for at least 4 years, continuously.
What divorce papers must be filed?
To commence divorce proceedings, your lawyer will electronically file the following papers in the Family Justice Courts:
- Writ for Divorce;
- Statement of Claim (setting out the circumstances you’re relying on to divorce);
- Statement of Particulars (giving details of the circumstances you’re relying on);
- Proposed Parenting Plan (if the divorce involves one or more children under the age of 21 years);
- Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan (if you and your spouse jointly own a housing & Development Board flat);
- An Acknowledgement of Service;
- A Memorandum of Appearance.
Serving divorce papers on your spouse
Following acceptance of these documents by the Family Justice Court, they should be served on your spouse so that they are notified that you’ve started divorce proceedings. Your lawyer will serve the sealed copy on your behalf. They will be served using one of the following methods:
- Electronically, to your spouse’s lawyer (if the lawyer has stated expressly that they will accept service on behalf of your spouse); or
- Registered Post – only if the defendant signs and returns the Acknowledgment of Service to us); or
- Personal Service – personnel authorised by your lawyer hands the documents directly to your spouse.
If, as a defendant, you want to contest the divorce, then within 8 days you must file the Memorandum of Appearance.
If you don’t do anything and ignore the papers, a divorce hearing can be requested by your spouse by completing a Request for Setting Down Action for Trial. A hearing date will be fixed by the court, and in your absence the divorce will be granted. As you can see, it’s not a good idea to ignore the divorce process – you risk the court hearing the case without you present, provided the papers were properly served on you.
From here, the divorce proceedings generally follow two routes: either Uncontested or Contested.
Uncontested divorce process
Providing you and your partner agree to divorce, and your spouse raises no issues with what you put in your Statements of Claim and Particulars, then you can tell the court your case is ready to be heard, on an uncontested basis. Your lawyer will submit the Request for Setting Down Action for Trial on your behalf, and a date is then set for the hearing of the uncontested divorce. No members of the public can attend the hearing, as it is held in chambers. If the proceedings are in order and the court is satisfied, the Interim Judgement for divorce will be issued.
Within six weeks of filing the Writ for Divorce, your case should be set down – if it isn’t, then an electronic Registrar’s Notice will be sent, telling you to either set down your case for hearing, or inform the Court of the matter’s status.
Remember that the Interim Judgement is only issued after 3 months. You must wait until the Interim Judgement has been made final before you can remarry.
Contested divorces take longer
Your spouse may contest the Divorce and your reasons for requesting it. If they do, then they can file a Defence, or Defence and Counterclaim, within 22 days of receiving the Writ. They’ll file and service it on your lawyer. The same duration applies to your spouse for the purposes of filing their Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan.
When replying to your spouse’s Defence or Defence and Counterclaim, you’ll have 2 weeks to reply. Once you’ve replied and it has been filed, a date for a case conference in chambers will be set by the Court. A lawyer will attend on your behalf. During this conference, the parties will be prepared for the contested hearing, which takes place as a trial in open court.
Sometimes a possibility for a settlement may arise. If so, the case may be referred for counselling by the Assistant Registrar. This is done by a professional Court counsellor, and increases the likelihood of settlement, which in turn saves time and money, compared to if you proceed to trial.
No settlement – contested divorce trial
Sometimes a settlement is not possible, in which case parties will be directed by the Assistant Registrar to file and exchange Affidavits of Evidence-in-Chief. Here you will give your reasons for the court to allow your divorce. Your lawyer will advise you on the important points to include, to give you the maximum chance of success.
Both parties are required to attend contested divorce hearings, as well as any witnesses you or your spouse want to rely on. Therefore, the duration of the trial can vary from between one day to several days, according to its complexity and number of witnesses.
If the judge is satisfied that the marriage has indeed irretrievably broken down, then they will issue an Interim Judgement. An adjournment will take place so allow for any ancillary matters to be heard in chambers.
Stage 2 of divorce proceedings – ancillary matters
The court will grant the Interim Judgement and then set a date for a case conference in chambers to deal with Ancillary Matters. Thus the second stage of the divorce proceedings begin. The purpose of this Ancillary Matters conference is to allow the parties to be prepared by the Assistant Registrar for the Ancillary Matters Hearing. The hearing happens in chambers in the presence of a District Judge from the Family Justice Court.
A settlement is possible even now, just as in the first stage of the divorce proceedings. If so, the Assistant Registrar will refer the case to a counsellor. But in acrimonious cases, or those cases with children involved, a professional social worker may be brought in by the Registrar so a confidential report is made to allow the Court to evaluate the best custody or access arrangements. The court may also appoint a Child Representative to ensure the children’s best interests are represented. The representative will file written submissions for this.
Settling before the ancillary matters hearing
Sometimes parties are able to settle before the ancillary matters hearing happens. If so, the Court will order a consent ancillary matters hearing to be fixed. A Draft Consent Order will need to be drafted, and signed by both parties. If your spouse isn’t represented by a lawyer, they must sign this document in the presence of a Commissioner for Oaths.
If no settlement – proceed to file the affidavit of means
If settlement is just not possible, parties are directed by the Court to submit their Affidavits of Assets and Means. In this document, you lay out all your assets and liabilities, as well as direct and indirect contributions to the marriage, and what you propose to do about the outstanding ancillary matters. Parties are also directed by the court to file the Ancillary Matters Fact and Position Sheet (known as Form 242). As expert divorce lawyers, we at PKWA Law Practice will help you to put your best case forward at all times.
Hearing for Ancillary Matters
If there is no agreement, a contested ancillary matters hearing is fixed for your case. Here, the Assistant Registrar orders parties to file a Summary of Relevant Information (known as Form 243) which lays out the issues being contested, the net value of the assets of the marriage, and the status of the proceedings.
Written arguments should be prepared (by your lawyer) regarding the evidence contained in the affidavits and how the law applies to them.
Depending on the complexity of the issues, the Ancillary Matters hearing could last either several hours, or several days. At the conclusion of the hearing, the case is considered by the judge who will then make their decision.
Certificate of Making Interim Judgement Final
You must wait for 3 months after the court has made their Interim Judgement, or decided on ancillary matters, before you can proceed to get the Certificate of Making Interim Judgement Final.
The divorce process is completed when the Final Judgement is issued. You can now legally remarry.
If you are not legally qualified, divorce proceedings can be hard to understand. The proceedings are governed by many laws, procedures and rules contained in statute, Practice Directions and Rules of Court. This article explains some of these elements, but it only represents an example of a case.