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Opening Speech by Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Ministry of Social and Family Development and Ministry of Education Family Justice Reform Bill Second Reading 8 May

Type: Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Sun Xueling

Topic(s): Children & Families

1. Mr Speaker, 

2. MSF has worked closely with MinLaw and FJC on the Family Justice Reform Bill, in particular the new Maintenance Enforcement Process, or MEP. Minister Shanmugam and SPS Rahayu have explained the objective and details of the Bill in their speeches. Let me elaborate on MSF’s perspective.

3. At the MSF, our aim is to nurture strong families. That is why we had designated 2022 as the Year of Celebrating SG Families, and launched “A Singapore Made for Families 2025”, a national plan to strengthen and support families through all life stages. 

4. The foundation for strong families is laid even before marriage. 

a. When a couple contemplates marrying and starting their own family, support is provided through the Marriage Preparation Programmes. 

b. As they embark on this new phase of life, they can seek mentoring support from Licensed Solemnisers and community volunteers.  

5. This foundation is continually built on during their marriage, through access to marriage and parenting support programmes organised by Families for Life, or FFL in short.  We will be stepping up outreach at the local level via FFL @ Community which will be expanded to all towns by 2025.

6. When friction arises, families can seek help from the Strengthening Families Programme@Family Service Centres, or FAM@FSCs in short. The 10 FAM@FSC Centres islandwide provide counselling services, such as for marital strains or conflict among family members. 

7. Our hope is for families to be able to successfully work through and come through adversity. However, we recognise that some families may come to the point where they begin to contemplate divorce. Our aim is to save the marriage, and apart from family counselling, the Family Assist Portal provides couples with the relevant resources to make an informed decision regarding their marriage. 

8. Where divorce is truly inevitable, we seek to foster therapeutic justice in the divorce process to bring about healing so that the family can move on. 

9. I had led focus group discussions and engaged over 120 divorcees in 2020 and 2021 to understand the divorce process and the difficult decisions they had to make. Arising from those discussions and the intent to foster therapeutic justice, we have introduced several initiatives in recent years. 

10. In January 2022, the Women’s Charter (Amendment) Bill was passed in this house. 

a. To encourage parents to make informed decisions regarding their divorce that prioritise the well-being of their children, we had made it mandatory for all divorcing parents with minor children to go through a Co-Parenting Programme, or CPP in short. 

b. We had also sought to reduce acrimony in the divorce process, and introduced the Divorce by Mutual Agreement of the Irretrievable Breakdown of the Marriage as a sixth fact that parties may cite to show that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. The changes to the CPP and the introduction of DMA will be brought into force in 2024. 

c. To ensure that children impacted by divorce are supported in navigating this difficult period, we have empowered the court to advise that minor children attend the Programme for Children.

d. In addition, we had heard the pain of parents who were unable to obtain access to their children as ordered by the court, and had amended the Women’s Charter to introduce a new suite of measures for the enforcement of child access. Our efforts do not stop there. We are working with the Family Justice Courts, on further simplifying the enforcement process, so that there is no need to seek leave of court before an application is made for enforcement. 

11. It is within this wider landscape of support for the family that the proposed MEP will come in. The MEP will facilitate more sustainable maintenance outcomes for parties, allowing parents to both do their part in co-parenting their children, and move on from the divorce. For respondents who genuinely can’t pay, as well as for applicants who face day-to-day difficulties due to non-payment of maintenance, the MSF will now be able to provide financial assistance in a more timely manner, where appropriate. 

12. Mr Speaker, in Mandarin, please.  

13. 法案的修改是为了让离异人士能更好的处理离婚后家庭的安排。这也包括促进更有持续性的赡养费支付安排。

14. 我们看到2017年至2019年,每年平均有2,700法庭上诉,关于执行赡养费的支付.目前的赡养费执行流程,申请人,从她们的角度而言,耗时并且需要很多资源。这对于低收入人士造成很大的障碍与不便。 对于低薪的母亲们,她们已经面对重多看护孩子的压力,再加上需要来回上法院,去讨回应得的赡养费,这可能是压死她们的最后一根稻草。

15. 另外,离婚人士的资产与偿还能力也不透明。法官很难辨认被申请人是否真的没有能力支付赡养费,还是其实可以支付赡养费而不愿意支付。

16. 这次法案的修改建议制定一个新的赡养费执法计划。 新的计划将简化现有程序,减少申请人往来于法庭的次数,减少执行赡养费支付的流程。 

17. 在新的计划中,赡养费执行官将被赋予权力,帮助赡养费得到执行: 
a. 第一、赡养费执行官将有权从政府、银行等机构获取当事人的资产信息; 
b. 第二、基于当事人财务状况的信息,赡养费执行官将有能力帮助当事双方达成一个合理的庭外调解方案; 
c. 第三、赡养费执行官有权将这些信息上报给法庭,帮助法庭做出关于支付赡养费的指令。 

18. 当然,对于那些支付赡养费有困难的当事人,在某些情况下,法庭会根据实际的情况,修正赡养费支付的指令,而无需当事人递交正式申请。 
19. 另外,在之前,被申请人如果处置资产而逃避支付赡养费,质疑人虽然可以质疑被申请人处置资产的意图,但却很难证明他的意图。新的法案引入了一个可反驳的推定 。也就是说,在一定的条件下,只要被申请人处置资产,就会首先被假定是为了逃避支付赡养费而有意处置资产。 

20. 社会和家庭发展部在2022年通过妇女宪章(修正)法案,加强了离婚过程中的治疗式司法。这次的赡养费执法计划进一步补充并加强了这方面的努力。2022年《妇女宪章修正案》进一步支持离婚父母在决定离婚时,优先考虑子女的福祉,包括将强制性育儿辅导计划延伸到所有未成年子女的离婚夫妇,同时引入了“不可挽回婚姻破裂双方协议离婚”这种新的离婚方式,以减少离婚过程中的紧张和敌意。修正案还引入了一系列新的措施,来强化儿童接触权的执行。

21. In conceptualising the many enhancements to divorce support, including the MEP, MSF and MinLaw have met and spoken with many groups of stakeholders, including parents who have gone through divorces, law practitioners, and social service agencies.
22. It is clear that we all share the same vision for our families – families that endeavour to put the needs of their family members’, their children, first, even as they navigate difficult circumstances. It is our hope that parents will prioritise the welfare of their children and work together to co-operatively co-parent their children.

23. Thank you.