Divorce is a legal process that terminates a marriage between two individuals. It is a formal declaration that the marriage is dissolved, and the parties are no longer legally bound to each other.
This article aims to provide quick but comprehensive guidance on the legal aspects of divorce in Singapore to help readers understand their rights and options when going through a divorce, empowering them to make informed decisions based on their situations.
Legal requirements to get a divorce
Married for at least 3 years
Firstly, as a plaintiff, you must prove you have been married for at least three years. However, there are exceptions to this rule if the petitioner can prove exceptional hardship or if there has been misconduct by the other spouse. Although there is no clear legal definition of these terms, the following are examples of what may constitute those:
- Extreme physical or mental abuse
- Severe mental distress
- Extreme, cruel adultery
- Adultery, which causes pregnancy
Domicile or habitual residence
The second requirement is that either spouse must have been domiciled in Singapore when filing for divorce. Domicile refers to a person's permanent home or residence, and it is necessary to establish jurisdiction for the Singapore courts to hear the divorce case.
If both spouses are not domiciled in Singapore, they may still be eligible for divorce if they have been habitually residing in Singapore for at least three years before filing for divorce.
The marriage has broken down irretrievably.
This means that the relationship between the spouses has reached a point where it cannot be repaired or reconciled.
Simplified or uncontested divorce
A simplified and uncontested divorce refers to a divorce process that is relatively straightforward and where both parties are in agreement on all key issues. This type of divorce is typically faster, less expensive, and less emotionally draining than a contested divorce. It is suitable for couples who have already reached a mutual agreement on ancillary matters.
In a simplified and uncontested divorce, the couple can jointly file a divorce application with the Family Court. The court will then review the application and, if satisfied, grant the interim judgment after 4 weeks. Following this, a final judgment will be issued three months after the date of the interim judgment.
While the process may seem less complicated, it is still advisable to seek legal advice to avoid any potential pitfalls or future disputes between the parties.
What if my spouse refuses to divorce me?
If your spouse refuses to divorce you, it can complicate the process. However, you can still file for a contested divorce in this case. Contested divorces can usually be concluded within 6 to 12 months.
A step-by-step breakdown of the divorce process
(1) Filing of divorce petition
The first stage of your divorce proceedings is filing a divorce petition. This involves one spouse (the petitioner) submitting a writ for divorce to the Family Justice Courts.
(2) Service of divorce petition to the other spouse
Once the divorce petition is filed, the next stage is the service of the petition to the other spouse (the respondent). The respondent has a specific period to respond to the petition by agreeing to the divorce or filing a defence if they contest it.
If the petitioner does not respond within the given timeframe, the petitioner can go ahead with an uncontested divorce.
(3) Ancillary Matters
If the divorce is contested, the case moves to the next stage, the Ancillary Matters stage. Ancillary matters refer to the financial and non-financial issues in the divorce process. These matters include the division of marital assets, child custody, child maintenance, and spousal maintenance.
At this stage, parties must provide financial disclosure, including assets, liabilities, and income. Mediation or negotiation may be encouraged to reach a settlement. Based on the evidence presented, the court will decide if an agreement cannot be reached.
(4) Issuance of Certificate of Final Judgment
Once the ancillary matters are resolved, the divorce enters the final judgment stage. At this stage, the court reviews the case and decides whether to grant the divorce. If the court is satisfied that all legal requirements have been met and there are valid grounds for divorce, a Certificate of Final Judgment will be issued.
What counts as an 'irretrievable' marital breakdown?
As mentioned above, an irretrievable marital breakdown is a situation where the marriage has completely broken down and cannot be salvaged. To prove 'irretrievable breakdown,' the petitioner must prove one of the following five circumstances has happened:
(1) Unreasonable behaviour
One of the ways to establish irretrievable marital breakdown is through unreasonable behaviour. This refers to behaviour by one spouse that makes it intolerable for the other spouse to continue living together.
This ground for divorce is set out in Section 95(3)(b) of the Women's Charter.
Examples of unreasonable behaviour include the following (non-exhaustive) list:
- Verbal abuse and continual criticism
- Domestic violence
- Compulsive gambling
- Refusing to contribute to household expenses
- Lack of respect
- Lack of affection, concern, and care
- Improper association with another party
- Obsessive behaviour
If one spouse can provide evidence of the other spouse's voluntary sexual intercourse with someone else, it can be considered a valid ground for divorce. However, it is essential to note that the evidence must be substantial and convincing.
If the extra-marital sexual intercourse does not happen, the behaviour is not classed as adultery, regardless of how intimate it was. On top of this , the plaintiff must show it is intolerable for them to keep living with their spouse. The plaintiff will not be able to cite adultery if they have continued to live with their spouse for more than six months after discovering the adultery.
(3) Desertion lasting two years
Desertion refers to a situation where one spouse has deserted the other continuously for two years or more without any intention of returning.
To prove desertion, the deserted spouse must provide:
- Evidence to establish that the other spouse has wilfully and deliberately deserted them without any reasonable cause or excuse.
- Continuous period of desertion for two years, meaning that any attempts at reconciliation or resumption of cohabitation during this period may reset the clock, and the two-year period will need to start again.
(4) Separation for three years (with the defendant consenting to divorce)
The court will grant a divorce if it can be shown that the parties have lived apart continuously for at least three years before commencing the divorce. To prove separation, it is sufficient that the parties live separate lives and don't interact as husband and wife.
If both spouses have been living separately for at least three years and both parties agree to the divorce, it can be seen as evidence of the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
(5) Separation for four years
The final way to establish irretrievable marital breakdown is through a period of separation of at least four years. If the spouses have been living apart for at least four years, regardless of whether both parties agree to the divorce, it can be seen as evidence that the marriage has broken down.
If my spouse can't be found, can I still get divorced?
Yes, it is possible to get divorced in Singapore even if your spouse cannot be found. In such cases, you can file for a divorce under the ground of desertion. The court will require you to provide evidence that you have made reasonable efforts to locate your spouse, such as hiring a private investigator or placing advertisements in newspapers. If the court is satisfied with your efforts, they may grant you a divorce even in your spouse's absence.
However, it is essential to note that the court will consider the specific circumstances of each case. If your spouse cannot be located and there are no reasonable prospects of finding them, the court may proceed with the divorce proceedings.
When your spouse cannot be found, the court may also require you to explore alternative methods of serving the divorce papers. This could include serving the papers through substituted service, where the documents are delivered to a close relative or posted at the last known address of your spouse. The court will assess the adequacy of these alternative methods before proceeding with the divorce.
When deciding on the division of assets or child custody, will adultery or unreasonable behaviour affect the court's decision?
When deciding on the division of assets or child custody in a divorce case in Singapore, the court considers various factors, including the conduct of the parties involved. Adultery or unreasonable behaviour can indeed have an impact on the court's decision.
However, it is essential to note that Singapore follows a no-fault divorce system, which means that the court does not assign blame or fault to either party for the marriage breakdown. Instead, the court focuses on the practical and financial consequences of the divorce and aims to achieve a fair and equitable outcome for both parties and any children involved.
The court will also take into account other relevant factors, such as:
- financial contribution of each party
- the needs of the children
- the length of the marriage
- the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage
To determine child custody, the court's paramount concern is the child's welfare. Often in Singapore, joint custody is granted so that both parents are involved in decision-making for the child, whilst care and control are given to the parent the court deems most fit to have this duty.
The duration of a divorce in Singapore can vary depending on several factors.
Contested divorces with disagreements on various issues, such as child custody, division of assets, or maintenance, can take significantly longer to resolve. The duration of a contested divorce can range from several months to a few years, depending on the complexity of the issues involved and the willingness of both parties to settle.
In such cases, the court may need to conduct hearings, gather evidence, and make decisions based on the best interests of the parties involved, which can prolong the process.
Uncontested divorces, where both parties agree on all terms and conditions, can take around 4 to 6 months to finalize. This includes the time required for filing the necessary documents, attending mediation sessions (if required), and obtaining the final judgment from the court.
How much does a divorce cost?
One of the main costs associated with a divorce is legal fees. The fees charged by family lawyers in Singapore can vary depending on various factors. The complexity of the case, the issues involved, and the approach taken can all impact the overall cost.
According to a survey, simplified and uncontested divorce fees in Singapore typically range from $1,500 to $3,500. Meanwhile, contested divorces usually cost between $10,000 to $35,000.
Here at Singapore Family Lawyers, with our experience and reputation, we understand that divorces are emotional and stressful. That's why we don't charge clients hourly for simplified divorces. We take pride in being clear and transparent; hence, we offer a fixed-fee package. Our clients will never have to worry about hidden costs while engaging with us.
However, we might charge an hourly rate for certain contested divorces. If so, we will offer a fee cap for eligible clients.