Divorce tends to be difficult and stressful, especially for children. In the best interests of the child, you and your ex-spouse are encouraged to continue to work together and co-parent to raise your children even though you are divorced and may no longer be living together.
Your children may already have a strong and happy relationship with both parents. Hence, cooperative co-parenting will allow your children to still enjoy the sense of security and consistency of having both parents, despite changes to the family structure.
To better protect the interest of children affected by their parents’ divorce, divorcing parents with minor children below 14 years of age (to include children below 21 years old at a later phase), who cannot agree on all matters of divorce including an agreed parenting plan for their children, will need to attend a mandatory parenting programme before they can file for divorce. The programme will cover a range of issues that may affect their children including housing, school, care arrangements and positive co-parenting after divorce. Divorcing parents would be able to apply for this programme online via the MSF divorce support microsite and other online platforms in mid-November 2016.
How to Co-Parent
Co-parenting amicably with your ex-spouse can give your children stability and a closer relationship with both parents. Putting aside relationship issues to co-parent agreeably, however, may not be easy.
Despite the challenges, it is possible to develop a cooperative working relationship with your ex-spouse for the sake of your children.
Here are some ways you can go about doing this:
- Focus your efforts on what your children need most during this difficult time: acceptance, assurance of safety and nurturing.
- Set rules and agree on behavioural guidelines with regards to the children’s schedules, activities, matters regarding discipline and etc.
- Communicate with your ex-spouse and agree on providing the children with a realistic and balanced relationship with both parents.
- Decide on what aspects of parenting to share and make a parenting plan. Think about dividing responsibilities equally so that both parties do not feel overly burdened coping with routine matters such as dental or medical appointments, sending and picking children up from tuition/enrichment classes, and so on.
- Refrain from arguing in front of your children. Settle your disagreements when your children are not around.
If nothing seems to be working, get help. Talk to family members or friends or seek the help of a professional counsellor. The Divorce Support Specialist Agencies (DSSAs) have programmes for divorcing couples and their families.
Custody, Care and Control, and Access to the Child
For divorcing parents with children below the age of 21, the Courts will decide on the care and control of the children, and access to the children. The Courts tend not to award sole child custody to either parent. Each parent has an equal responsibility for the children.
Child custody is an important aspect of the divorce process and a child’s emotions must be considered while making the final decision. Custody refers to the right to decide on major decisions for the children (e.g. education, religion, and healthcare, among others). A parent who is granted custody has the legal right to make such decisions. Custody may be shared or one parent could be granted sole custody.
Meanwhile, a sole custody consists of an arrangement whereby only one parent has legal custody of the children.
Care and Control
Care and control refers to day-to-day matters related to the children such as meals and tuition, among others.
The parent with care and control lives with the children and makes decisions related to these matters.
Access refers to visitation rights, and the periods during which the parent who does not have care and control of the children is granted time to spend with the children.
Both parents are still responsible to contribute financially to the child even after the marriage ends. The parent who has custody, care and control of the children can apply for child maintenance from the other parent. If you are not receiving divorce maintenance regularly, or if you are not receiving the full amount of the maintenance, you may apply to enforce the maintenance order. This is a legal matter and needs to be done through the Courts.
If you prefer not to do this at the Family Justice Courts, you may also file your complaint via the video-filing service which is available at the Maintenance Support Central (MSC) of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations or HELP FSC.
The social workers and staff will help you with the application process which uses a video link service with the Family Justice Courts. They can also provide counselling and other areas of social support, if needed.
Parties may also seek to vary their maintenance order if their circumstances have changed. You may approach the Community Justice Centre for assistance to vary your maintenance order.
From 1 July 2016, a husband or ex-husband who is incapacitated (supported by medical certification) up to the point of divorce, cannot earn a livelihood and is unable to support himself may apply for maintenance. This incapacitation must be evident throughout the maintenance application process.