Singapore: Divorcing In England vs Singapore: Advice For British Expats

Last Updated: 7 June 2017
Article by Alexandra Tribe and Hannah McCrindle

Expat divorce in Singapore; weighing up the pros and cons

After having made the very difficult decision to get a divorce, it can then seem a daunting prospect researching how to go about getting the ball rolling. Our guide on expat divorce in Singapore will give you an overview of your options.

As a British expatriate living overseas, there are usually multiple options open to you in terms of where you can commence divorce proceedings. These options include the country in which you are currently residing, and your home country; in this case England and Wales.

Despite living overseas, most British expatriates will still qualify to use the English court system should they choose to. For many people this would be their first choice of jurisdiction due to the basis of equality which the English courts employ. Despite this, it is vital that you research in detail the pros and cons of each jurisdiction open to you, to ensure that you make an informed decision on where to proceed.

Expat divorce in Singapore

To commence a divorce in Singapore, an expat must be 'domiciled' in Singapore at the time that the divorce is begun, or habitually resident in Singapore for more than 3 years before the start of the divorce. Long absences may break the continuity of habitual residence in Singapore. If you have not been resident in Singapore for 3 years, legal advice should be taken to determine whether you are 'domiciled' there. The definition of 'domicile' under Singapore law is broadly speaking residence in Singapore coupled with an intention to remain there permanently. However, a temporary stay for work purposes is not sufficient to merit domicile in Singapore. The onus is on you to prove that you are domiciled in Singapore.

An expatriate may only divorce in Singapore if they have been married for 3 years. This is different to a divorce in England, where a separating couple must have been married for just 1 year before they can divorce.

The ground for divorce in Singapore is 'irretrievable breakdown of marriage', using one of the five supporting facts:

  • Adultery of one spouse;
  • Unreasonable behaviour by one spouse;
  • One spouse has deserted the other for two years without any intention of returning;
  • The parties have lived apart for 3 years and the other party consents to a divorce; or
  • The parties have lived apart for 4 years.

An expat divorce in Singapore, if uncontested, generally takes 5-6 months.

Divorce under English Law

In order for an expatriate to divorce using the English courts, they must satisfy certain jurisdictional requirements. By definition, expatriates live overseas and so it is not possible to rely on being habitually resident in England and Wales to secure jurisdiction of the courts. It is therefore necessary to fall back on a person's domicile. The concept of domicile is a complicated one, however put simply, you should be able to satisfy domicile if any of the following apply:

  • You and/or the other party were born in England and Wales, and your/their father(s) were born in England and Wales;
  • You and/or the other party were not born in England and Wales, however your/their father(s) were born in England and Wales;
  • You and/or the other party were born in England and Wales, and your/their father(s) were not born in England and Wales, however they moved to England and Wales prior to your birth and they have an intention to remain permanently; or
  • You and/or the other party have lived in England and Wales for a substantial period of time and have assets there plus an intention to remain permanently.

In order to divorce in England and Wales, the parties must have been married for at least 1 year.

The ground for divorce in England and Wales is 'irretrievable breakdown of marriage', using one of the five supporting facts:

  • Adultery;
  • Unreasonable behaviour;
  • Desertion for a continuous period of 2 or more years;
  • The parties have lived apart for a continuous period of 2 years and the other party consents to a divorce; or
  • The parties have lived apart for a continuous period of 5 years without consent.

A divorce in England and Wales, if uncontested, generally takes 4-6 months.

A brief overview of the divorce process under English Law

The first step in divorce proceedings is the issuing of the divorce petition. This then needs to be served on your spouse in accordance with the laws of England, and the laws of the country in which they are residing; in this case Singapore. Once the petition has been effectively served and your spouse has knowledge of the proceedings, then your jurisdiction has been secured.

The next step is for your spouse to acknowledge the divorce and state whether they intend to defend / contest it. Once the petition has been acknowledged, you can then apply for the first part of the divorce known as the Decree Nisi. As soon as the Decree Nisi has been pronounced you must wait for 6 weeks and 1 day before you can apply for the Decree Absolute. Once you are granted the Decree Absolute, you are then officially divorced.

A common question asked by many of our clients is whether they need to fly back to England to attend a court hearing regarding their divorce. In short, the answer is no, provided that the divorce petition is not defended by one of the parties. If your spouse does contest / defend the divorce, then you both need to go to court and explain your position to the Judge who will hear from both of you and make a decision based on both of your arguments. This will inevitably increase both parties' legal fees (if represented) and delay the court process. However, if a petition is not defended then obtaining a divorce is a paper based exercise which a Judge will deal with in the privacy of his / her chambers and your attendance is not required.

Finances & Children

It is important to note that when dealing with your divorce, financial matters and arrangements regarding any children of the marriage are dealt with separately. The general rule is that finances are dealt with using the same court system under which you obtained your divorce, however arrangements regarding children are generally dealt with by the court in the country in which they are resident.

England vs Singapore?

If you are a British expatriate residing in Singapore, we can advise you of the divorce process and likely financial outcome of divorcing through the English courts. We can work with divorce lawyers in Singapore that advise you of the likely outcome through the Singapore courts and your financial entitlement there. When considering an expat divorce in Singapore, it is vital that you seek advice in both countries to enable you to ascertain the most favourable jurisdiction for your situation, before you commence a court application. Further consideration should be given to the enforceability of orders, the location of any assets, and the ability of each court to make the orders you require.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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