The Women’s Charter (Amendment) Bill 2016 was passed in Parliament today.
Key amendments to the Women’s Charter and the Women’s Charter (Registration of Marriage) Rules, as well as enhancements in support for families undergoing divorce, are outlined below.
Amendment to the Women’s Charter (Registration of Marriage) Rules
a) To support younger couples in their transition into married life and parenthood
Marriages where one or both parties are very young tend to face higher risk of dissolution. To help these couples build strong marriage foundations, all couples where one party is aged below 21 years will be required to attend marriage preparation programmes. The change will take effect on 1 October 2016. By 2017, these couples will also be supported with enhanced pre and post marriage support, such as group marriage education programmes, one-to-one marriage assessments and post-marriage support sessions.
Amendments to the Women’s Charter (Amendment) Bill
b) To better protect the interest of children affected by their parents’ divorce
Divorcing parents, who cannot agree on all matters of divorce including their plans 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. As part of the application process for the programme, couples will first be guided to reflect on the impact of their divorce and issues beyond divorce. Those who reconsider their decision will be referred for marital counselling.
The Court’s power will be broadened to order any party to attend family support programme and activities, if it is assessed that it is in their or their children’s interest to attend these programmes. The programmes will be conducted by MSF-appointed Divorce Support Specialist Agencies (DSSAs). The DSSAs will also work with parents to co-parent more effectively and reduce incidences of child access disputes. (See Annex A for details.)
c) To allow incapacitated husbands and ex-husbands to apply for spousal maintenance where there is a clear need
Currently, the Women’s Charter allows a woman to seek spousal maintenance during marriage and at divorce. With the amendments, a husband or ex-husband who is incapacitated up to the point of divorce, cannot earn a livelihood and is unable to support himself may apply for maintenance. He must also still be unable to support himself at the time when the maintenance application is heard.
MSF will also be strengthening the enforcement of maintenance in the following ways:
(i) Facilitating closer collaboration between the Family Justice Courts (FJC), the Community Justice Centre (CJC) and the Social Service Offices (SSOs). Timely support will be extended to vulnerable wives or ex-wives and their children where the husband or ex-husband is genuinely unable to keep up with maintenance payments (e.g. because he is incarcerated or is not medically fit to work). Where parties require legal assistance, they can approach CJC.
(ii) Working closely with the FJC to appoint a maintenance record officer to assist the FJC in maintenance enforcement applications, especially in identifying maintenance defaulters who can afford to pay but refuse to. This will help the Courts identify recalcitrant defaulters and impose harsher penalties against them. (See Annex B for details.)
With an increase in marriages between Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans, there are a small number of instances where parties enter into a sham marriage for immigration purposes. In line with the introduction of a provision in the Immigration Act criminalising such marriages, marriages will now be made void if one party to the marriage is convicted of this offence.
e) To better support vulnerable persons in family violence and crisis situations, and professionals engaged in protection work
The Amendments will:
Allow married or previously married minors to apply for personal protection orders;
Allow the Director of Social Welfare to place vulnerable females in the care of ‘fit individuals’ in addition to residential facilities or shelters;
Prohibit the publishing of information relating to crisis shelters or its residents;
Prohibit publishing of information via online media, which may lead to women and girls being identified in certain in-camera Court proceedings; and,Provide immunity for professionals acting in good faith when discharging functions or duties under the Act.
e) To strengthen law enforcement against online vice
Persons in Singapore who operate or maintain in Singapore any website or other remote communication service that offers or facilitates the provision of sexual services for payment will be liable for a new offence under the Act. (More details can be found at Annex C.)
About Women’s Charter
Enacted in 1961, the Women’s Charter enshrined the protection of women in Singapore and defined the institution of family by legislating monogamy for civil marriages. It also spells out the provisions relating to:
- Solemnization of marriages;
- Registration and dissolution of civil marriages;
- Rights and duties of married persons;
- Maintenance of wives and children;
- Protection of family; and
- Penalties for offences against women and girls
Annex A - FACTSHEET ON DIVORCE SUPPORT SPECIALIST AGENCIES
Annex B - FACTSHEET ON STRENGTHENING SUPPORT AND ENFORCEMENT FOR MAINTENANCE
Annex C - OTHER AMENDMENTS TO WOMEN’S CHARTER
Illustration on Women's Charter Amendment Bill (2016)