1 The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will be proposing amendments to the Women’s Charter (WC) to improve the marriage process for couples and incorporate therapeutic justice into divorce proceedings.1
2 MSF has conducted wide and extensive engagements. We interviewed over 1,200 individuals to obtain feedback to improve the marriage process as we developed “Our Marriage Journey” (the Registry of Marriage (ROM) system) and incorporated relevant aspects into the proposed WC amendments. We engaged more than 150 divorcees, and Social Service practitioners working with couples and families facing divorce from September 2020 to April 2021. We put out a consultation paper on divorce for public feedback from 3 May to 3 June 2021 and received over 250 written responses. MSF also engaged more than 200 stakeholders including family law practitioners, academics and religious leaders from August to October 2021 in regard to both marriage and divorce aspects of the proposed amendments.
3 We thank all those we have consulted and the public for their feedback. It has helped to shape our proposed amendments which are detailed below.
Area 1: Enhancing Marriage Processes
Shifting our marriage processes online
4 As part of the Government’s wider effort to promote and support the overall digital transformation of Singapore, and to enhance convenience of the marriage process, couples will be able to complete all pre-solemnization steps online. As a safeguard, the Registrar will have the discretion to require couples to perform any pre-solemnization steps in-person if and when required. Marriage certificates will be digital, and couples will receive a ceremonial marriage certificate for keepsake. To strengthen marriages in Singapore, the online system will provide information and resources on marriage preparation and explain the significance of marriage solemnization.
Providing video-link solemnizations as a permanent option
5 The amendments will allow solemnizations of marriages via video-link for couples where at least one is a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident, as a permanent option. Solemnization via video-link was introduced in May 2020 under the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures for Solemnizations and Registrations of Marriages) Act.
Allow cancellation of Notice of Marriage
6 Under current law, a notice of marriage will lapse after 3 months, with no provision for cancellation of a notice of marriage. However, there may be cases where a notice may need to be cancelled (e.g. during the COVID-19 pandemic when couples could not proceed with the marriage). The proposed WC amendment will give discretion to the Registrar to allow a party to apply to cancel the notice of marriage if there are good grounds.
Religious ceremonies to be allowed before, during or after solemnization
7 The proposed amendment will allow couples to have more flexibility in planning for their religious ceremonies and solemnization, by allowing such ceremonies to take place before, during or after solemnization.
Strengthening safeguards in our marriage processes
8 The following amendments will strengthen safeguards in our marriage processes and prevent abuse:
a. To prevent misuse of the marriage certificate, the WC amendments will restrict the persons who can obtain a copy of or an extract from the State Marriage Register.
b. The WC amendments will accord Licensed Solemnizers protection from personal liability, if they had acted in good faith and with reasonable care.
Area 2: Incorporating Therapeutic Justice into Divorce processes
Introducing divorce by mutual agreement of Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage DMA)
9 Under the WC, the sole reason for divorce to be granted is the “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”. This has to be proved by one or more of the following 5 facts:
b. Unreasonable behaviour
d. Separation of 3 years with consent
e. Separation of 4 years without consent
10 There has been strong feedback from divorcees that having to cite one of the fault-based facts (i.e. adultery, unreasonable behaviour, and desertion) can cause parties to point fingers at each other and dredge up the past to prove the facts, and citing one of the separation facts causes them to have to put their lives on hold for the next 3-4 years, which can be detrimental to the emotional well-being of the children as well as the parties.
11 The proposed WC amendment will introduce a sixth fact of “Divorce by Mutual Agreement of the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage” (DMA), that parties may cite if they mutually agree on the divorce. Under this fact, parties’ submissions to the court will have to include information on the reasons for the marital breakdown, efforts made to reconcile, and considerations of their children and financial affairs. The court may then order further mediation, counselling, or programmes, and must reject the parties’ agreement, if reconciliation is a reasonable possibility.
12 In essence, DMA will enable couples to take joint responsibility for the breakdown of their marriage. In having to cite the reasons for the breakdown and acknowledging their attempts to reconcile, they can have closure and move on. This also sets the stage for them to be better able to consider matters related to their children and their finances post-divorce, which are critical to the well-being of the children.
13 The current safeguards which will be retained are: a) 3-year minimum marriage period before divorce can be filed; b) 3-month period before divorce is finalized; and c) Retention of the existing 5 facts for parties that prefer to rely on them.
Expand divorce support programmes for parents and key related persons
14 To enhance child-centricity in divorce, we will amend the law to mandate for all divorcing parents with minor children to attend the Mandatory Parenting Programme (MPP)* before they can file for divorce. Currently only divorcing parents who file for divorce under the standard track have to attend the MPP.
*Mandatory Parenting Programme
(MPP) has been renamed to Mandatory Co-Parenting Programme (CPP) from 15
15 The WC amendment will also empower the Court to advise key related persons (e.g. grandparents) to participate in programmes, and to advise that minor children to participate in the Programme for Children2, if deemed beneficial. If any advice of the court in this regard is not complied with, the court may make any order it sees fit. Through the MPP, caseworkers will encourage parents to enroll those children who may benefit from joining the Programme for Children.
Enhance the enforcement of child access orders
16 Parties in a divorce sometimes face difficulties in enforcing Child Access Orders. The WC amendment will provide a range of measures for the enforcement of child access orders:
a. Parent education
c. Specialist Therapeutic Interventions
d. Family Support Programme (including Parenting Coordination)
e. Compensation of Time and Expense
f. Performance Bond, Security of Pledge
g. Imprisonment or fines
Enhance the maintenance enforcement regime next year under the Family Justice Act
17 MSF continues to work closely with the Ministry of Law and the Family Justice Courts with a view to provide a more efficient and effective means to enforce maintenance orders and minimise the need for repeat enforcement. This includes enabling the Court to adopt a more inquisitorial approach when hearing enforcement applications, streamlining procedures, and strengthening deterrence against non-payment of maintenance. Beyond legal and procedural reforms, we will also look at cases involving those who “can’t pay” and MSF and FJC will continue to link them to support. As the proposals affect Court proceedings, they will be taken under the proposed amendments to the Family Justice Act next year.
18 “As our society evolves and families navigate new challenges, it is our shared responsibility to review the Women’s Charter and propose how we can keep it relevant and adapt it to improve the lived experience of Singaporeans – men, women and children alike,” said Minister of State for Social and Family Development, Ms Sun Xueling. “This past year, we have engaged many stakeholders, partner organisations and citizens to seek feedback on our proposed amendments to the Women’s Charter, some of which will be taken under the proposed amendments to the Family Justice Act next year. In discussion with various stakeholders, we are on balance proposing for a marriage process that puts the citizen first, and incorporating therapeutic justice into divorce proceedings, which reduces acrimony in divorce and keeps our children’s best interest in sharp focus. These are significant shifts that should also be seen in conjunction with the whole range of programmes and initiatives put in place to help marriages succeed, areas which the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships is looking to continue to improve. We have a shared vision for a Singapore that is made for families. Let us continue the various pathways of this journey together, to make this vision a reality.”
1 As recommended by the Committee to Review and Enhance Reforms in the Family Justice System (RERF) when it submitted its report in September 2019.
2 Currently, less than 2% of children affected by their parents’ divorce attended the Children-in-Between (CiB) programme.