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Singapore Government

Consultation Paper: How to Better Support Children and Divorcees, and Reduce Acrimony in Divorce

Consultation Paper: How to Better Support Children and Divorcees, and Reduce Acrimony in Divorce

[This consultation has closed]

Aim

1.          We have been engaging divorcees as well as social service practitioners from the Divorce Support Specialist Agencies (DSSAs) since last year to better understand how to support those undergoing divorce and their children, and how to reduce acrimony in the divorce process. We would like to seek your views on their feedback and suggestions.

Background

2.          There is an upward trend of divorces in Singapore. Among the 1987 resident marriage cohort, 18.9% of total marriages had dissolved before the 29th anniversary. Despite the shorter duration of marriage, the proportion of dissolved marriages among later marriage cohorts of 1991 to 2003 have already surpassed the 1987 cohort rate of 18.9% by the end of 2016 (see Table 1 below).

Table 1: Cumulative Marriage Dissolution Rates of Selected Marriage Cohorts from 1987 to 2011

Table 1: Cumulative Marriage Dissolution Rates of Selected Marriage Cohorts from 1987 to 2011 

Engagements

3.          Therapeutic Justice serves to provide a lens of care and healing in the divorce process, so that divorcees and their children can build a positive future even though the marriage has broken down. In order to implement therapeutic justice well, MSF has been engaging divorcees and stakeholders to better understand what can be done to reduce acrimony, enhance child centricity, and encourage families to heal and move on.

4.          From September to November 2020, we engaged more than 120 divorcees on the Pre-Divorce Support Portal, which is to be a consolidated online platform that offers relevant information and resources on divorce. It also offers online counselling as well as content that helps persons contemplating divorce to pause and reflect, and better understand the impact of divorce on themselves and their children. Minister of State for Ministry of Social and Family Development, Ms Sun Xueling and the MSF have further engaged divorced parents and social service practitioners from the DSSAs on their divorce process experience as part of the Conversations on Singapore Women’s Development from March to April 2021. We received valuable feedback from these sessions and would like to seek your views on the ground-up ideas gleaned from them.

A.         Enhance support for children

5.          Since 2016, it has been mandatory for couples with children below 21 years of age to attend the Mandatory Parenting Programme (MPP), if they do not agree to the divorce and on ancillary matters, such as issues regarding children, property and maintenance (i.e. they are on the contested track for divorce). As part of the MPP, parents are supported in making informed decisions that prioritise the child’s well-being. The simplified track was introduced in 2015 which allows for a simpler divorce process as both parties have agreed on both the divorce and ancillary matters. Those who divorce on the simplified track need not attend the MPP. Participants and the DSSAs suggested providing more support at the pre-divorce stage to help parents better understand the impact of divorce and make informed decisions, which could be achieved by extending the MPP to the simplified track as well, so that all parents can benefit from it.

6.          Divorce support programmes are also currently available to children whose parents are undergoing divorce. However, it is not mandatory for children to attend these programmes. In 2019, fewer than 200 children out of about 6,700 minor children of divorce accessed child support programmes at DSSAs (~3%). Participants and DSSAs were concerned about the possible effects divorce could have on children, and whether children were receiving adequate support to help them cope better.

B.         Enhance support for couples

7.          Currently, those undergoing divorce can find it overwhelming in terms of understanding the divorce process while managing their emotions and that of their children’s. Participants welcomed having the Pre-Divorce Support Portal, and asked for more counselling support before, during and even after the divorce.

8.          They also asked for marital counselling to save marriages, especially where couples were unsure if they should divorce. They thought that it would be good for the Pre-Divorce Support Portal to provide online marital counselling as well as links and referrals to face-to-face marital counselling services.

9.          They suggested mediation before they file for divorce if this could help them resolve the care arrangements for their children or work through difficult issues.

C.         Reduce acrimony in the divorce process for couples who agree on the divorce

10.         As mentioned earlier, the Family Justice Courts has two tracks for divorce: the contested track for those who do not agree on the divorce and/or ancillary matters and the simplified track for those who agree on the divorce and ancillary matters. Today 60% of couples divorce on the simplified track. Under today’s divorce process, one party has to file as Plaintiff (initiator who files for the divorce) and the other becomes the Defendant (responder to the divorce application filed by the Plaintiff). Participants felt that this set them up as opponents even though they had already agreed to divorce. They suggested an “amicable divorce” process which would allow them to jointly file for divorce, to align with the reality that both had agreed to the divorce. The DSSAs supported this suggestion as they believe it will help reduce acrimony.

11.         Today, the only ground for divorce is the “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage” but this must be proved by one or more of the following 5 facts:

a.         Fault-based facts: adultery, unreasonable behavior, and desertion.

b.         Fact of separation: separation of 3 years with consent, and separation of 4 years without consent.

12.         Participants in the engagement sessions asked why they had to cite a fault-based fact if both parties had agreed to the divorce. Having to cite a fault caused them to relive their pain all over again, and it was particularly painful to have to recount or read any accompanying affidavit that explained the fault. They highlighted that they felt that their lives as well as that of their children were often “kept on hold” during the divorce, and there was a strong need and desire “to return to normalcy”. Having to re-live their pain prevented them from letting go and moving on. At the same time, it was not always possible or desirable for their well-being and that of their children to extend the duration of the divorce process through a mandated period of separation. Hence, participants suggested, and the DSSAs concurred, to have an “amicable divorce” option in cases where couples mutually consent to the divorce and agree that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. They would not have to cite any of the 5 facts which would hurt each other further.

13.         However, as it is not the intention to make divorce “easy” or to undermine marriage, more marital counselling services should be provided to those who wish to save their marriage. Also, current safeguards should remain which includes the 3-year minimum marriage period before divorce can be filed, and the 3-month period before divorce is finalised.

14.         The 5 current facts (as stated in para 11) will remain for those who prefer to cite them even where they agree on the divorce, as well as for those who do not agree on the divorce. Also, couples may still file as Plaintiff or Defendant if they do not wish to file jointly.

Your views are important

15.         We seek your view on these ground-up ideas gleaned from the engagement sessions:

a.         More support for children affected by divorce

i. Have all parents of children under the age of 21 years attend the MPP, including those on the simplified track, before filing a divorce application. This is so all parents understand the impact of the divorce on them and their children; and

ii. Have all minor children whose parents are undergoing divorce attend programmes to help them cope better with the divorce.

b.         More support for those undergoing divorce

i. Provide online and face to face counselling for those who are unsure and want to save their marriages;

ii. Provide counselling support before, during and even after the divorce for those who need it; and

iii. Provide pre-filing mediation to help couples reach an agreement on arrangements for their children or on difficult aspects of their divorce.

c.         Less acrimony in divorce process

i. Introduce an “amicable divorce” option for those who mutually consent to divorce. This has two aspects:

1. Allow parties to jointly file for divorce, so as not to identify a Plaintiff or a Defendant; and

2. Not require the couple to prove at least one of the 5 facts (i.e. adultery, unreasonable behavior, desertion, separation of 3 years with consent, and separation of 4 years without consent), if they both agree that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

However, there should be more marital counselling services provided for those who are unsure or wish to save their marriage. Current safeguards will remain, which includes the 3-year minimum marriage period before divorce can be filed, and the 3-month period before divorce is finalized, as the intention is to reduce acrimony in divorce, and not to make divorce “easier”.

The 5 current facts should remain for those who prefer to cite them even where they agree on the divorce, as well as for those who do not agree on the divorce. Also, they need not file for divorce jointly if they prefer to identify a Plaintiff and a Defendant.

16.         Please send us your views via email to PublicFeedback@msf.gov.sg by 3 Jun 2021. Please state your name and the organisation you represent (if any). We will publish a summary of the key feedback received. We assure you that we will anonymise all feedback in the summary.

 

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