Apart from the division of matrimonial assets and determination of maintenance payments, the control and custody of your kids is arguably the most contentious part of your divorce in Singapore. In making custody and access decisions, the Court protects the interests of children and ensures that they been taken care of in the best possible way. The Court does not prioritize parents’ preferences, desires or likings above children’s welfare. Although financial ability is important to support growing children, a parent with higher income does not necessary have an advantage in custodial arrangements. Under Singapore law, the liability for the living costs of children is to be borne equally by both parents. By large, it is also essential for both parents to remain involved in the making major decisions for their kids.
1. Who gets Custody of Children?
The Court may order counselling sessions, social welfare or access reports be made in appropriate cases. Counsellors may interview child/children, parents and other caregivers (i.e. grandparents) and depending on the orders of the Court, prepare confidential reports for court hearings.
The factors that are taken into consideration by the Court include:
- The primary caregiver of the child during his formative years
- The current living arrangements
- The child’s wishes
- The parents’ wishes
- The age of the child (whether he is a baby/infant/toddler/adolescent)
- Proposed care arrangements for the child
- Strength of parent-child bond with each parent
- If there are 2 or more children, the court will generally allow siblings to stay together.
2. Joint Custody
It is becoming increasingly common to see the court award joint custody orders to parents nowadays. In other words, both parents will have some rights and say in making major life decisions for their children. Parents will need to communicate, consult and agree with each other when making major decisions relating to their children.
Joint custody gives both parents an equal say over the upbringing of their children, which otherwise will be absent. When the court orders joint custody, there will be separate orders on “care and control” (for parent residing with children) and “access” (for parent not residing with children). However, the court shall decide not to grant joint custody if the relationship between parents is acrimonious and that it is difficult for parents to cooperate.
3. Sole Custody
It is understandable that couples going through a divorce will develop some acrimony towards the other party. One explanation may be that great bitterness is felt when marriage broke down due to misconduct and the feeling of hurt is still raw. If the court deem that both parents will remain acrimonious towards each other in the future and unable to cooperate fully, then sole custody will be granted. Another explanation may be that one parent will “give up” custody to the other parent in order to obtain a better deal on other ancillary matters.
However, in some instances, the Court has ruled that the parent with full custody of the child to inform or consult the other parent regarding specific major decisions affecting the child. These include education, religion and health conditions of the child.
4. Conditions in a Custody Order
After the Court has heard both sides, it will grant one parent with custody of the children and the other with access. The Order contains custody arrangements such as the place where the children reside, their education and so on.
The Order will:
- Provide for the children to visit a parent deprived of custody, such as the times and durations of such periods deemed reasonable by the Court.
- Give a parent deprived of custody the right to access at such times and with frequencies the Court deem reasonable.
- Prohibit parent given custody from taking the child out of Singapore.
5. Supporting Documents
To ensure a fair assessment of the custodial case, the court will order social reports from the Ministry of Community Culture and Youth (MCCY) and/or the Family and Juvenile Justice Court (FJJC). A Social Welfare Report from MCCY will interview both parents and third parties (i.e. caregivers) that play a significant role in the child’s development. The officer will also speak to the children and observe their interactions with each parent.
The access evaluation report from FJJC will assist in resolving access disputes. It will lay out the conditions of access such as the location, time, durations and supervision of parent-child interactions. Counsellors will prepare this report based on interviews and observation of children and their parents. The reports are confidential in nature and are for the judge’s use.
6. Do I need to Engage a Divorce Lawyer in Singapore for Child Custody?
If you are contesting the divorce, you may wish to engage a qualified divorce lawyer in Singapore to assist you on child custody matters. Your divorce lawyer will help you understand your rights and responsibilities and represent you during hearings.