The divorce process in Singapore is a 2-stage process. The first stage focuses on whether parties can, in fact, get a divorce. Once the divorce is granted, Interim Judgement will be granted. The second stage then focuses on the ancillary matter such as division of matrimonial assets, maintenance for wife and child (if any) and child custody. At the end of the second stage, the Final Judgement will be granted and parties will be legally divorced.
In order to commence divorce proceedings in Singapore, the following requirements must be met:
- Parties seeking a divorce must have been married for at least 3 years;
- Either party must be a Singapore citizen, habitually resident or domiciled in Singapore (treat Singapore as their permanent home) for a period of 3 years immediately preceding the commencement of proceedings.
Grounds for Divorce
In order for a divorce to be granted, it must be shown that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This is the only legal ground for divorce in Singapore. Irretrievable breakdown of marriage must be proved by one or more of the following facts:
- The Defendant has committed adultery and the Plaintiff finds it intolerable to live with the Defendant (adultery)
- The Defendant has behaved in such a way that the Plaintiff cannot reasonably be expected to live with the Defendant (unreasonable behaviour)
- The Defendant has deserted the Plaintiff for a continuous period of at least 2 years
- Parties have lived apart for a continuous period of at least 3 years, and the Defendant consents to the judgement being granted;
- Parties have lived apart for a continuous period of at least 4 years.
With assistance from a divorce lawyer, the following documents have to be filed in the Family Justice Courts:-
- Writ for Divorce
- Statement of Claim – this will state what fact of divorce you are relying on;
- Statement of Particulars – this will set out in full the particulars of facts pleaded in the Statement of Claim
- Proposed Parenting Plan – this is to be filed if there are children below 21 years old, and sets out your proposed parenting plan for your child.
- Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan – this is to be filed if parties have a Housing Development Board (HDB) flat
The same will also be served on the Defendant by way of personal service, if the Defendant’s address is known to the Plaintiff.
This will require 2 to 4 weeks.
If service on the Defendant fails after two attempts, you can take out an application in the Family Courts for Substituted Service by way or AR registered post or electronic means such as by way of email.
This will require about 1 month.
Once the divorce papers have been served on the Defendant, he/she will have 8 days from the date of service to enter appearance to state if he/she is contesting the divorce or contesting the ancillary matters.
If the Defendant chooses not to contest the divorce, you can set down the Writ for trial on an uncontested basis. A hearing date can be received in a month’s time and the earliest trial date can be 10 days after setting down.
If the Defendant chooses to contest the divorce, he/she has 22 days from the date of service of Writ or 14 days from the date of entry of appearance to either file a Defence or file a Defence and Counterclaim to which you will have 14 days from the date of service of the Defence to file a Reply to Defence & Counterclaim.
1st Stage – Outcome of Divorce
If the Divorce is uncontested:
- A hearing date will be given;
- Parties attendance is usually not required unless the Court requires parties to attend.
- If the Judge is satisfied with the case, an Interim Judgement will be granted.
- This Interim Judgement will be made Final after a period of 3 months.
If the Divorce is contested:
- Pre-trial conferences (PTCs) will be conducted. The objective of a PTC is to narrow down on the issues that parties can agree.
- Parties will also be required to attend compulsory mediation if they have children below 21.
- If PTCs or mediation is not successful i.e. parties are unable to agree on the facts for divorce, a trial date will be given. Both parties and witnesses are required to give evidence in Court by way of affidavit, and will be cross-examined on their affidavits in trial.
However, in most cases, after several rounds of PTCs, the divorce proceeds on an uncontested basis i.e. parties can finally agree to the facts for divorce, leaving the ancillary matters to be contested.
2nd Stage – Ancillary Matters
Parties are then required to file Affidavit of Assets and Means wherein all their assets/liabilities, income and expenditure have to be disclosed. There are two rounds of exchange. If either party intends to file a third Affidavit of Ancillary Matters, he or she will need the permission of Court to do so.
Parties are also required to file the Check List, Declaration of Assets and Ancillary Matters Facts and Position Sheet. Upon that being filed, and based on parties’ declaration of assets, the Court will decide if the matter is to be heard in the Family Court or transferred to the High Court. It is only when the nett value of the estate, as per declared, exceed $1.5million that the transfer kicks in.
Thereafter, an Ancillary Hearing will then be fixed to hear the respective counsels’ written and oral submissions in Court.
After 3 months from the date of the Interim Judgement, provided that the ancillary matters have been heard and the orders made, you can proceed to file the necessary papers to extract the Certificate of Final Judgement.
How much does a divorce cost?
If your partner contests the divorce, legal costs start at $3,500 if a settlement can be reached at mediation stage. If your partner does not contest the divorce, legal costs range from $1,500 to $2,500.
For contested divorces, charges vary depending on your chosen lawyer’s experience.
Does it matter who files for divorce first?
No, it does not. The party who files for divorce will be known as the “Plaintiff” while the other party will be known as the “Defendant”.
Should I speak to my spouse first before commencing divorce?
You do not need to speak to your spouse before commencing divorce. However, if you wish to commence the divorce on a simplified basis, it is ideal that parties agree on the terms of the divorce first. Note that parties are required to attend a compulsory mediation if there is a child below 21 years old.
I suspect my spouse is cheating on me, what are my legal options?
If you suspect that your spouse is cheating on you, then depending on what evidence you have, you may be able to file for divorce on the basis of his/her adultery and/or unreasonable behaviour. Couples can also live separately for three years prior to filing for divorce.
I don’t work and need to support myself and the children, is there a way to do so?
You can claim for maintenance (for wife and children under their care) at any time during the marriage, during the divorce proceedings and/or as part of the ancillary matters.
In determining maintenance, the Court will consider the following:
- Financial needs of the wife or child;
- Income, earning capacity (if any), property and other financial resources of the wife or child;
- Any physical or mental disability of the wife or child;
- Age of parties to the marriage;
- Duration of marriage;
- Contributions made by each party to the marriage to the welfare of the family;
- Standard of living enjoyed by the wife or child before the husband or parent, neglected or refused to provide reasonable maintenance for the wife or child;
- In the case of the child, the manner that the child is being educated or intends to be educated;
- Conduct of parties to the marriage.
I have a young child and am the primary caregiver, can I get custody of my child?
It is important to understand that the legal term “custody” does not mean physical custody of the child. Custody gives the parent the right to make long-term decisions concerning the upbringing and welfare of the child, in matters relating to religion, education and healthcare. Care and control, on the other hand, is given to the parent who resides with the child and allows them to make the day-to-day decision makings of the child.
In Singapore, the Courts are inclined to make joint custody order. This is in endorsement of the concept of joint parental responsibility, which does not end despite the end of parties’ marriage. Care and control is usually conferred to the primary caregiver while the other parent will get access to the child.