1 Legislative framework
1.1 Which main sources of laws and regulations govern matrimonial and family law matters – including, but not limited to, divorce, judicial separation, children's matters and financial matters arising from the breakdown of marriage – in your jurisdiction?
In Singapore, the main source of laws and regulations are as follows:
- the Women's Charter 1961;
- the Family Justice Act 2014
- the Family Justice Rules 2014;
- the Family Justice Court Practice Directions;
- the Adoption of Children Act 1939;
- the Children and Young Persons Act 1993;
- the Guardianship of Infants Act 1934;
- the Legitimacy Act 1934;
- the International Child Abduction Act 2010;
- the Reciprocal of Enforcement of Foreign Judgements Act 1959;
- the Maintenance Orders (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1975;
- the Status of Children (Assisted Reproduction Technology) Act 2013;
- the Choice of Court Agreement Act 2016;
- the Intestate Succession Act 1967;
- the Probate and Administration Act 1934;
- the Wills Act 1838;
- the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act 1996;
- the Mental Capacity Act 2008;
- the Maintenance of Parents Act 1995;
- the Vulnerable Adults Act 2018;
- the Evidence Act 1893;
- the Criminal Procedure Code 2010;
- the Administration of Muslim Law Act 1966; and
- the Women's Charter (Registration of Marriage) Rules.
1.2 Which bilateral or multinational instruments have application in this regard in your jurisdiction?
Singapore is committed to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child 1989. Singapore has also signed up to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980.
1.3 Which bodies are responsible for enforcing the applicable laws and regulations in your jurisdiction? What powers do they have? What is the general approach of these bodies in enforcing the applicable laws and regulations?
The family justice system in Singapore is made up of the family justice courts, supported by the government and community partners.
The family justice courts comprise the following:
- Family Division of the High Court: This has all the powers of the General Division of the High Court under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1969 and any other written law in the exercise of its original civil jurisdiction (Section 22(2) of the Family Justice Act 2014).
- Family courts: These have all the civil jurisdiction of the General Division of the High Court mentioned in Sections 22(1)(a) and 22(1)(b) of the Family Justice Act 2014 and, when exercising jurisdiction, all the powers of the General Division of the High Court in the exercise of the original civil jurisdiction of the General Division of the High Court (Sections 26(2)(a) to (b) of the Family Justice Act 2014). They also have all the powers of a district court exercising criminal jurisdiction when exercising criminal jurisdiction or jurisdiction of a quasi-criminal nature (Section 26(8) of the Family Justice Act 2014).
- Youth courts: These have all the powers of a district court exercising criminal jurisdiction when exercising criminal jurisdiction or jurisdiction of a quasi-criminal nature (Section 35(2)(a) of the Family Justice Act 2014).
The overarching principle of therapeutic justice applies in relation to family justice in Singapore. The system is non-adversarial and focuses on problem-solving and future co-parenting. It is intended to aid parties and their children heal and move forward as positively as possible with their lives (VDZ v VEA  2 SLR 858 at  and ).
1.4 Can foreign judgments and orders be enforced in your jurisdiction and if so how?
Singapore recognises divorce orders made in foreign matrimonial proceedings (Yap Chai Ling v Hou Wa Yi  4 SLR 581, and will deem such a marriage as dissolved (Section 7(b) of the Women's Charter 1961). As explained by Debbie Ong in International Issues in Family Law in Singapore (Academy Publishing, 2015), recognition of foreign matrimonial proceedings is governed by the common law and the court will recognise foreign decrees made by a court of competent jurisdiction (at para 5.47) (Yap Chai Ling at ).
However, when it comes to enforcement, it seems difficult to enforce a foreign order on the division of assets against the relevant party in Singapore regardless of whether the order is an order in rem (ie, where the court adjudicates on the title or disposition of property as against the whole world) or an order in personam (ie, which compels a party to do a certain act in respect of property) (UFN v UFM  2 SLR 650 at ). The Singapore court also will not recognise an order by a foreign court declaring title to a property in Singapore (UFN at ).
As such, where a divorce was obtained abroad but there are still outstanding issues on assets in Singapore, an application can be made to the Singapore court for financial relief, as long as the divorce is entitled to be recognised as valid under Singapore law (Section 121B of the Women's Charter 1961).
Further, the court's jurisdiction may be invoked only if one of the parties was domiciled or habitually resident in Singapore for a period of at least one year preceding the date of the application (Section 121C of the Women's Charter 1961). An ex parte application seeking leave of the court to make the application for financial relief is required (Section 121D of the Women's Charter 1961; Rule 40 of the Family Justice Rules 2014).
2.1 What are the jurisdictional requirements for the domestic courts to handle matrimonial and family law matters? How do the parties satisfy the courts of such requirements?
As stated in Section 93(1) of the Women's Charter 1961, the court has jurisdiction to hear matrimonial proceedings only if either party to the marriage:
- is domiciled in Singapore at the time of the commencement of the proceedings; or
- was habitually resident in Singapore for a period of three years immediately preceding the commencement of the proceedings.
With regard to domicile:
- the domicile of origin stays with an individual until he or she acquires a domicile of choice or of dependence (Peters Roger May v Pinder Lillian Gek Lian  3 SLR (R) 765 at );
- a citizen of Singapore is presumed to be domiciled in Singapore (Section 3(5) of the Women's Charter 1961);
- where a person's domicile is in question and needs to be determined from facts, it is the conflict of laws rules that will be invoked in making such determination (see Re Maria Huberdina Hertogh; Inche Mansor Adabi v Adrianus Petru Hertogh  MLJ 164, where the young girl's domicile was determined based on her father's domicile under her domicile of dependency upon her father); and
- where a person claims to have acquired a domicile of choice, he or she is required to show a combination of residence and intention of permanent or indefinite residence in the said country (Peters at ).
With regard to habitual residence:
- this has two requirements – residence adopted voluntarily and for settled purposes (Lee Mei-Chih v Chang Kuo-Yuan  4 SLR 1115, recently referred to in WJK v WJL  SGFC 85);
- proof of residence for three years will generally suffice, unless the other party offers evidence to show that this residence is somehow still not habitual because it was more fleeting than required. This argument is not easily made (Elements of Family Law in Singapore 3rd Edition at [19.077]); and
- short absences ds not necessarily break the continuity required within the three-year habitual residence period (Lee Mei-Chih v Chang Kuo-Yuan  4 SLR 1115). Any finding will depend on the facts.
Parties need only prove either domicile or habitual residence to establish jurisdiction.
2.2 What are the legal principles governing disputes on competing jurisdictions and what are the determining factors for the court when considering such disputes?
It is well established that the Spiliada test from Spiliada Maritime Corporation v Cansulex Ltd  AC 460 is to be adopted in determining whether a stay application on the ground of forum non conveniens should be granted.
This is a two-stage test. In the first stage, it must be shown that there is another available forum which is clearly or distinctly more appropriate than Singapore to determine the dispute. At this stage, the burden is on the party requesting the stay. Relevant connecting factors for consideration at this point include:
- factors affecting convenience or expense (eg, the availability of witnesses);
- the law governing the transaction; and
- the places where the parties reside or carry on business.
If there is another available forum that is prima facie more appropriate, the court will ordinarily grant the stay unless there are special circumstances by reason of which justice requires that a stay should be refused.
At the second stage, the court must consider whether there are special circumstances that warrant a refusal of the stay. The burden shifts to the party resisting the stay, who must persuade the court that there are such special circumstances.
The Spiliada test is a factors-based test where the weight to be placed on each factor depends on the specific factual matrix of the case (TRW v TRX  SGFC 109 at ).
3 Relationships and co-habitation,
3.1 Are there any laws and regulations protecting same-sex and/or co-habiting couples in your jurisdiction? If so, what are they?
Singapore has no such laws. In the event of harassment, any party can apply to the Protection of Harassment Act Court for a protection order.
3.2 Do co-habiting couples have any rights in the event of the breakdown of the relationship? On what grounds can they exercise those rights?
No. If a relationship breaks down and the parties are embroiled in a contractual or property dispute, the general civil and property laws in Singapore pertaining to the same will apply (Chia Kum Fatt Rolfston v Lim Lay Choo  2 SLR(R) 793). Apart from that, they have no other form of recourse.
3.3 Can co-habiting couples formalise their relationship in your jurisdiction (eg, through a civil partnership or similar)?
Singapore does not recognise civil partnerships and there are no such laws in Singapore. As long as cohabiting couples formalise their relationship at the Registry of Marriages by registering their marriage in Singapore, it becomes a valid marriage under the Women's Charter. However, this does not apply to same-sex cohabiting couples.
3.4 Are foreign civil partnerships, same-sex marriages or similar recognised in your jurisdiction? What requirements and restrictions apply in this regard?
Foreign civil partnerships and same-sex marriages solemnised elsewhere or even in Singapore are void under Section 12(1) of the Women's Charter 1961.
4.1 What is considered a legal and valid marriage in your jurisdiction?
To have a valid marriage:
- the parties must fulfil the critical statutory prescriptions of formalities; and
- each party must possess the capacity to marry.
There are two critical statutory prescriptions of formalities that must be fulfilled. First, under Section 22(1) of the Women's Charter 1961:
- the parties must have a valid marriage licence used as authority of the solemnisation of marriage within the period of validity of the licence; and
- the solemnisation must be done by a properly licensed person.
Other provisions on the formalities of solemnisation are set out in Part III of the Women's Charter 1961 which must be complied with. However, only Section 22(1) of the Women's Charter 1961 is of critical significance, as non-compliance results in a void marriage.
Second, one must have the capacity to enter into the marriage. To have such capacity, parties must:
- not be Muslim (Section 3(4) of the Women's Charter 1961);
- not already be married to another person (Sections 4(3), 11 and other provisions of the Women's Charter 1961);
- be at least 18 years old (Section 9 of the Women's Charter 1961). If below the age of 18, a special marriage licence must be obtained pursuant to Section 21 of the Women's Charter 1961. This is different from the requirement to have someone below the age of 21 years old attend the marriage preparation programme under Section 17A of the Women's Charter 1961;
- not be related within the specified prohibited degrees mentioned in the First Schedule (Section 10(1) of the Women's Charter 1961);
- not be of the same gender (Section 12(1) of the Women's Charter 1961); and
- not be entering into a marriage of convenience, where the marriage is entered into for the purposes of assisting one party to obtain an immigration advantage and the other is given a gratification or reward as an inducement for entering into the marriage (Section 11A(1) of the Women's Charter 1961).
4.2 Does your jurisdiction recognise common law/de facto marriages as valid marriages?
Singapore does not recognise common law/de facto marriages. Such spouses will only be issued with a long-term visit pass by the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority upon arrival in Singapore.
4.3 Are religious marriages, foreign marriages or customary marriages recognised in your jurisdiction? What requirements and restrictions apply in this regard?
Marriages that were valid under law, religion, custom or usage prior to 15 September 1961 will be deemed to be registered under the Women's Charter 1961 (Section 181(2) of the Women's Charter 1961).
Parties may choose to conduct the solemnisation in a religious fashion or in such form and ceremony as the registrar or the person solemnising the marriage sees fit to adopt.
If a religious or customary marriage takes place overseas or in Singapore that is not before a licensed solemniser, that marriage will not be recognised.
4.4 Does a specific marital property regime apply in your jurisdiction?
There is no specific regime in Singapore. The division of matrimonial property is usually dealt with in the second stage of divorce proceedings (ie, the ancillary matters stage), and the court will aim, based on the facts, to achieve such just and equitable division of the property.
If parties engage in pre-divorce negotiations or private mediation or collaborative family practice and arrive at a global settlement, the divorce and ancillary matters can be filed as an ‘uncontested' simplified divorce on the terms of the settlement.
5 Pre- and postnuptial agreements
5.1 Are pre- and postnuptial agreements recognised in your jurisdiction? Does this depend on whether the agreement was entered into in the jurisdiction?
The Women's Charter 1961 is silent on the validity of such agreements and thus common law principles will apply. Such agreements are not automatically legally binding.
The core principle is that there is nothing inherently wrong with spouses entering into marital agreements. Marital agreements, like any other contract, are invalid only if any of the requirements of the law of contract regulating the formation of contracts would condemn this particular agreement. Where the marital agreement does not fall foul of the law of contract, it is a valid and subsisting agreement.
However, while there is respect for the autonomy of decision making of the spouses, the general principle regarding these agreements is that they are all subject to the scrutiny of the courts. This is provided for under Sections 112(2)(e), 119 and 129 of the Women's Charter 1961.
Nothing in the agreement can undermine any statutory power possessed by the courts. Instead, in deciding the application and what order, if any, to make, the court will accord to the marital agreement the effect that the court deems appropriate. Thus, even where there is a valid and subsisting marital agreement, the terms therein are never directly enforced. The court will accord effect to it and make its orders following the terms of agreement where it deems fit.
Generally, where the parties enter into a separation agreement, this will generally carry significant weight. Nonetheless, when dealing with the division of assets, the court retains a general discretion to ensure that the t division is ultimately a fair and equitable one (ANX v ANY  1 SLR 728 at ).
Where the separation agreement was entered into by spouses who separately obtained independent legal advice and after a lengthy well-considered process, the court may find it to have binding effect (Surindar Singh s/o Jaswant Singh v Sita Jaswant Kaur  3 SLR 1284).
How much weight the court will accord to a marital agreement depends on the division under the agreement as well as the facts of the case – that is, not only the terms but also the parties' conduct surrounding the drafting and execution of the agreement will be scrutinised (Wong Kien Keong v Khoo Hoon Eng  1 SLR 1342 at ).
The courts are especially cautious of upholding agreements pertaining to child issues, as they are guided by the overriding principle that arrangements made must be in the child's best interests (TQ v TR appeal  2 SLR(R) 961). The courts will ascertain the appropriateness of the terms relating to the child in the agreement. Where they are of the view that the terms do accord with the overriding principle, they can choose to make such order following the terms of the agreement or to make other orders as they deem fit. This principle was considered in CLC v CLE  SGHCF 12; AUA V ATZ  4 SLR 674; and Wong Kien Keong v Khoo Hong Eng  1 SLR 1342.
5.2 What are the formal and procedural requirements to enter into a valid pre- or postnuptial agreement and what requirements and restrictions apply to the content of pre- and postnuptial agreements?
As nuptial agreements are essentially a contractual agreement between the spouses, they must satisfy the standard rules of contract law.
As far as possible, they should be in line with the provisions of the Women's Charter 1961, as the courts in matrimonial proceedings are guided by the same. However, these agreements are not binding. Ultimately, they are but one factor that the court will consider in deciding on the matter at hand.
There is no presumption in favour of adherence to the terms of a nuptial deed and how much weight should be attributed to the deed will ultimately depend on the precise circumstances of the case (AQS v AQR  SGCA 3 and AOO v AON  4 SLR 1169). A deed will not be binding if there was no full and frank disclosure at the time of execution (AFS v AFU  SGHC 52).
5.3 What specific considerations and concerns should be borne in mind in relation to pre- and postnuptial agreements where the parties have international connections (eg, in terms of the location of assets, domicile/habitual residence or future plans)?
As with any nuptial agreement that contains potential international/cross-border assets, it is important to select the choice of jurisdiction under which country's law the agreement is to be drafted and to indicate whether that is the exclusive jurisdiction. Parties should also consider retaining a foreign lawyer from the jurisdiction in question and have that lawyer look through the terms.
5.4 Do the regimes discussed in this question have equal application to same-sex couples? If not, please highlight the differences in treatment.
No. Same-sex relationships/marriages are not recognised in Singapore.
5.5 Is the legal status of a separation agreement different from a pre- or postnuptial agreement? If so what are the differences?
Yes. When parties enter into a deed of separation, they are viewed as ‘legally separated'; whereas in pre and postnuptial agreements, the status will be ‘fiancé'/'fiancée' and ‘married' respectively.
6.1 Under what circumstances do the domestic courts have jurisdiction to deal with a divorce initiated by the parties?
The Singapore court has jurisdiction to hear proceedings for divorce only if either party:
- is domiciled in Singapore at the time of the proceedings; or
- was habitually resident for a period of three years immediately preceding the commencement of proceedings (Sections 93(1)(a) and (b) of the Women's Charter 1961).
Section 3(5) of the Women's Charter 1961 states that a person who is a Singapore citizen is deemed, until the contrary is proved, to be domiciled in Singapore.
The locus classicus for domicile is Peters Roger May v Pinder Lillian Gek Lian  2 SLR(R) 381 at  to  and  to . A person acquires a domicile of origin at his or her birth. Domicile of choice is acquired by a combination of residence and intention of permanent or indefinite residence. A person abandons his or her domicile of choice if he or she ceases to reside there and no longer has the intention of permanent or indefinite residence there. There is also a rebuttable presumption against the acquisition of domicile of choice by a person whose religion, manners and custom differ widely from the country of origin.
Habitual residence is for all intents and purposes the same as ordinary residence. Two features of habitual residence are residence adopted voluntarily and for a settled purpose (Lee Mei-Chih v Chang Kuo-Yuan  4 SLR 1115 at ).
6.2 What are the grounds for divorce in your jurisdiction? How do the parties prove these grounds?
There is only one ground for divorce: the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This is proven by one of the five facts of divorce (current law):
- Adultery (Section 95(3)(a) Women's Charter 1961) (fault based):
- The plaintiff must prove both that the defendant voluntarily engaged in sexual intercourse with someone else, and that he or she now finds it intolerable to live with the defendant.
- There is a bar to relief where parties continued to cohabitate for more than six months after the discovery of adultery under Section 95(5)(b) of the Women's Charter 1961; and a limited bar to relief arising from a short cohabitation after the discovery of the adultery under Section 95(5)(a) of the Women's Charter 1961.
- The third party who is alleged to have been part of the adultery is to be made a party to proceedings.
- Unreasonable behaviour (Section 95(3)(b) of the Women's Charter 1961) (fault based):
- The plaintiff must prove that the defendant engaged in certain behaviour such that it is unreasonable to expect the plaintiff to continue living with the defendant.
- The test of whether the plaintiff can be expected to bear the defendant's behaviour and continue to live with him or her is objective.
- The parties must not have resumed marital cohabitation for more than six months (Section 95(6) of the Women's Charter 1961) after the incident.
- Desertion (Section 95(3)(c) Women's Charter 1961) (fault based):
- The plaintiff must show that the spouses are living separately and that the defendant has the intention to desert.
- To show the defendant's intention to desert, the plaintiff must show that the desertion was non-consensual and the defendant had no good reason for leaving.
- The desertion must have continued for the requisite minimum two-year period.
- The parties must not have resumed living with each other for one period of more than six months or for two or more periods which exceed six months in all (Section 95(7) of the Women's Charter 1961).
- Three years' separation with consent (Section 95(3)(d) of the Women's Charter 1961) (no-fault).
- Four years' separation (Section 95(3)(e) of the Women's Charter 1961).
According to the Family Justice Courts Practice Directions, the statement of particulars for separation must specifically contain the following particulars:
- the date of separation;
- the reasons for separation;
- the duration of the separation;
- the residential address of each party; and
- if living under the same roof, details of how the parties have been running separate households.
The plaintiff must prove that the parties have been living separately (ie, that there is cessation of consortium), and that this is by choice.
If the living apart ceases and marital cohabitation resumes, the earlier period is no longer relevant. If the plaintiff wishes to use this fact, there must be a fresh period of living apart that lasts for the requisite period, right up to presentation of the writ.
If the spouses have been forced by circumstances to continue living under one roof, it may be possible to convince the court that their marital cohabitation has nevertheless ceased.
For the three-year separation with consent, the defendant's consent must be formally given by filing the written consent in court.
The parties must not have resumed living with each other for one period of more than six months or for two or more periods which exceed six months in all (Section 95(7) of the Women's Charter 1961).
Divorce by mutual agreement: Later this year, a new ground for divorce will be introduced – divorce by mutual agreement, whereby the parties can file for divorce without specifically pinning the blame on one party, but taking joint responsibility for the breakdown of the marriage.
6.3 How does the divorce process typically unfold and what is the general timeline?
Generally, in Singapore, divorces can proceed in two way: uncontested or contested. Further, the divorce is split into two parts; the divorce and the ancillary matters.
For an uncontested divorce, the divorce documents can be drafted and filed with the other party's consent to an uncontested divorce. The parties will have agreed to the grounds for divorce and the relevant facts relied on, as well as all ancillary matters such as children's issues, division of assets and maintenance. Under this process, an interim judgment can be obtained within one month and a final judgment within three months.
For a contested divorce, the process is much longer, taking between six and nine months. If the parties are still unable to settle, the process may take between one and two years. This process begins with one party filing and serving the divorce documents on the other party. The other party will then file his or her defence and counterclaim (if any), followed by a reply. The parties will need to attend mediation to determine whether the matter can be settled. If it still cannot be resolved, the parties will be directed to file their affidavit of evidence-in-chief and proceed to an open court hearing of the divorce.
If the court is of the view that the marriage has broken down, it will pass an interim judgment. Ancillary matters will be fixed for another day. The dissatisfied party can file an appeal (if any).
6.4 Can divorce proceedings be finalised while other related proceedings (eg, involving children or finances) are still ongoing?
In Singapore, matters relating to children, assets and maintenance are consequent to the divorce and are dealt with subsequently as ancillary matters. However, interim orders for maintenance and children may also be made pending finalisation of the divorce, if necessary.
If the parties have an agreement on divorce and ancillary matters, it can be filed together as an uncontested simplified divorce.
6.5 Is non-judicial divorce available in your jurisdiction? What requirements and restrictions apply in this regard and how does the process typically unfold?
No. All termination of marriages is handled in the family justice courts.
6.6 Are foreign divorces and religious divorces recognised in your jurisdiction? What requirements and restrictions apply in this regard?
Foreign divorces made by a court of competent jurisdiction are recognised in Singapore pursuant to Section 7 of the Women's Charter 1961, which gives the Singapore courts such powers (Yap Chai Ling v Hou Wa Yi  4 SLR 581). Generally, to be recognised:
- the foreign judgment must have been granted by a court at the domicile of one of the parties; and
- there must be a real and sufficient connection between the court and one party.
Cases that apply include UFN v UFM  SGCA 54 and Ng Sui Wan Novina v Chandra Michael Seitawan  2 SLR(R) 111.
6.7 Are separation and/or nullity proceedings available in your jurisdiction? What requirements and restrictions apply in this regard?
Yes. In Singapore, separation may take the form of:
- informal separation agreed between parties;
- separation by a deed of separation; or
- judicial separation.
There are no requirements for informal separation. Spouses retain autonomy in deciding how they wish to live without having to contend with official regulations or intervention (Kwong Sin Hwa v Lau Lee Yen  1 SLR(R) 90).
For a deed of separation, the parties usually draw up an agreement (usually in the form of a deed) setting out the terms relating to the separation as well as financial and other terms. Again, the law does not interfere in how couples choose to live – including if they will, for some time, not live together. This marital agreement is lawful unless it resiles from or negates the marital relationship (TQ v TR appeal  2 SLR(R) 961).
Once the parties have been granted a judicial separation, they are relieved from any marital obligations and are free to live apart permanently. To apply for judicial separation, parties must still prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage with the five facts of divorce. However, the judgment has no effect on the status of the marriage.
Marriages may also be annulled on the void or voidable grounds under the Women's Charter 1961.
Pursuant to Section 105(a) of the Women's Charter 1961, marriages that breach either of the two critical formalities of solemnisation or any of the prescriptions of capacity to marry is void. Marriages of conveniences solemnised on or after 1 October 2016 are also void (Section 105(aa) of the Women's Charter 1961).
Marriages that are voided are considered void ab initio without the need to obtain any declaration of nullity. Any such judgment of nullity serves primarily to confirm the lack of existence of the marriage and may be useful at a practical level/for administrative purposes.
The parties to a void marriage cannot by any subsequent conduct or change in personal status rectify the void nature of their marriage (Tan Ah Thee v Lim Soo Foong  3 SLR(R) 957)
On the other hand, if the marriage falls within one of the six grounds set out in Section 106 of the Women's Charter 1961, the marriage is voidable and the parties may choose whether to have the marriage declared void or ignore the flaw and continue the marriage.
The six grounds are:
- non-consummation owing to the incapacity of either party;
- non-consummation owing to wilful refusal of the other party;
- lack of valid consent;
- a mental disorder rendering a person unfit for marriage;
- a communicable venereal disease suffered by the other party; or
- the defendant's pregnancy by someone other than the plaintiff at the time of the marriage.
Note that for voidable marriages, there are bars to relief:
- A complete bar applies to all causes provided for in Section 107(1) of the Women's Charter 1961 where the plaintiff behaved towards the defendant in such a way as to lead the defendant to believe that he or she would not void the marriage and that it would be unjust to the defendant to grant the judgment.
- A bar applies to the grounds of lack of consent, unfitness for marriage, STDs and pregnancy by another man in Section 107(2) of the Women's Charter 1961, in that proceedings must be filed within three years of the date of marriage; and
- A further limit applies to the grounds of STDs and pregnancy by another man under Section 107(3) of the Women's Charter 1961 where the plaintiff knew about the defendant's diseases/pregnancy at the time of the marriage.
6.8 What are the requirements for effective service of the divorce papers on the other party in your jurisdiction and how can the papers be served on the opposing party if he or she lives overseas?
Pursuant to Rule 48(1) of the Family Justice Rules 2014, the plaintiff must serve the writ of divorce on the defendant, together with the other documents listed, either personally or by registered post. Where a solicitor for the defendant endorses on the document a statement that he or she is accepting service on the defendant's behalf, the document will be deemed to have been duly served on the date which that endorsement is made (Rule 48(4) of the Family Justice Rules 2014).
If service is by registered post, it will be deemed duly served if:
- it is sent by pre-paid registered post; and
- the party signs and returns the acknowledgement of service (Rule 48(5) of the Family Justice Rules 2014).
If the defendant is not in the country, he or she may be served out of the jurisdiction either personally or by registered post without the leave of the court (Rule 49(1) of the Family Justice Rules 2014), as above.
If the other party does not return the acknowledgement, the plaintiff must file a summons application with a supporting affidavit seeking substituted service. Upon an order being granted, the papers can be served via courier, post, email, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, LinkedIn message or Singpass Inbox.
In some jurisdictions, papers on an individual resident overseas must be served through diplomatic channels with regard to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
7.1 Does the court in your jurisdiction take the lead to facilitate financial settlement through court processes (eg, through a financial dispute resolution hearing)?
Yes. In Singapore, family proceedings follow a judge-led approach. The system is designed to help families resolve disputes and make decisions in a timely, cost-effective and fair manner. The approach is guided by the principles of efficiency, effectiveness and access to justice. Lawyers must conduct all proceedings in a way that is consistent with the court's overarching purpose and ideology.
Similar to other ancillary matters, financial matters can be dealt upfront in an agreement for uncontested divorce or can be dealt with in mediation.
If issues regarding children, financial matters, maintenance or the division of assets cannot be settled in mediation, the court will conduct an ancillary matters hearing to determine the relevant issues.
7.2 Spousal and child maintenance:
- What orders can the court make in relation to spousal and child maintenance on divorce or judicial separation and how are the relevant amounts calculated?
- What general principles apply to spousal and child maintenance? What specific factors will the court consider in deciding which orders to make in this regard?
- When do spousal and child maintenance expire?
- What happens to spousal and child maintenance after the death of the paying party or if the paying party is an adjudicated bankrupt?
- Which bodies are responsible for issuing child support orders in your jurisdiction?
- Does the child support regime vary depending on whether the parents' relationship was formalised (eg, marriage/civil partnership/co-habitation)?
- Can a child (adult or minor) make a direct claim for child support? If so, under what circumstances?
- What specific considerations and concerns should be borne in mind in relation to child support where the parties have international connections?
- What are the main enforcement methods to ensure compliance with child support awards? What are the typical consequences of breach?
(a) What orders can the Court make in relation to spousal and child maintenance on divorce or judicial separation and how are the relevant amounts calculated?
Pursuant to Section 113 of the Women's Charter 1961, the court can make an order for a man to pay maintenance to his wife or former wife, or for a woman to pay maintenance to her incapacitated husband or former husband:
- during the course of any matrimonial proceedings (interim orders); and
- when granting or subsequent to the grant of divorce, judicial separation or nullity (final orders).
When determining the amount of maintenance to be paid to a spouse, the court will consider all relevant circumstance of the case, including the factors listed in Section 114 of the Women's Charter 1961, such as:
- the earning capacity of the parties;
- the standard of living;
- the age of the parties;
- other financial resources;
- financial needs and obligations;
- any physical or mental disability; and
- contributions to the family.
A maintenance order for a spouse can be:
- for a period of time;
- until the former wife or the former incapacitated husband remarries; or
- until the death of either spouse or former spouse (Section 117 of the Women's Charter 1961).
For child maintenance, Section 127 of the Women's Charter 1961 provides that it may be ordered in such a manner that the court thinks fit. The considerations under Section 69(4) of the Women's Charter 1961 apply accordingly. A maintenance order for a child applies until the child is 21 years of age or until financially independent.
The focus of the court's inquiry is the issue of maintenance for the child, considering the financial needs of the child. The overriding objective is that the welfare of the child must be safeguarded and adequate provision must be made for the child's upkeep (AUA v ATZ  4 SLR 674).
Generally, when seeking maintenance, a breakdown of reasonable expenses for either the child or the spouse must be provided for the court's determination. The court will suggest that the parties apply their minds to drawing up a budget (WBU v WBT  SGHCF 3). The court will make an order on the quantum of maintenance having regard to all circumstances of the case, including the factors mentioned above.
(b) What general principles apply to spousal and child maintenance? What specific factors will the Court consider in deciding which orders to make in this regard?
For all matters relating to the child, the court's paramount consideration is the best interests and welfare of the child (Section 125 of the Women's Charter 1961). The court will also consider the factors listed in Section 69(4) of the Women's Charter 1961 in determining child maintenance. Section 68 of the Women's Charter 1961 states that the duty of parents to maintain their children is also applicable.
As for spousal maintenance, Section 114 of the Women's Charter 1961 applies. The principles for spousal maintenance differ for interim and final orders. For interim orders, the aim is to provide modest maintenance to help overcome immediate financial need. For final orders, the court aims to give the former wife or former incapacitated husband a fair share of the surplus wealth acquired during the subsistence of marriage. The principle is the financial preservation needed to maintain a wife or incapacitated husband at a standard which is commensurate, to a reasonable extent, to that which she or he enjoyed during the marriage (Foo Ah Yen v Chiam Heng Chow  2 SLR 506). A spousal maintenance order also plays a complementary role to the division of matrimonial assets and hence, when making orders for spousal maintenance, the court will take into consideration the party's share of the matrimonial assets (BG v BF  3 SLR(R) 233).
For a final order of spousal maintenance:
- the courts cannot and should not order nominal maintenance automatically or as a matter of cause. The paying spouse is not to be made a general insurer of sorts (ATE v ATD appeal  SGCA);
- the former spouse is also expected to try to regain some form of self-sufficiency and not expect to depend on the paying spouse for the rest of his or her life (NI v NJ  1 SLR(R) 75); and
- following amendments to the to the Women's Charter 1961 in 2016, husbands can now apply for maintenance as long as they are incapacitated by a physical or mental disability, unable to earn a living as a result of the disability and unable to support themselves (Section 2 of the Women's Charter 1961). In USA v USB  4 SLR 288, the court found that there was insufficient basis to conclude that Meniere's disease made the husband incapacitated.
(c) When do spousal and child maintenance expire?
Both spousal and child maintenance may be paid periodically or in a lump sum. Generally, lump-sum maintenance is preferred for spousal maintenance, to ensure a clean break between the parties.
When ordering lump-sum maintenance for the wife, the court may use the formula established in the Court of Appeal case of Ong Chen Leng v Tan Sau Poo  SGCA 53 as a guide to determine the multiplier (ie, the number of years for the lump-sum maintenance) and the multiplicand (ie, the amount of monthly maintenance):
Multiplier = [(Y+Z)/2] - X
- X= Payee's present age
- Y= Average expectancy of the payee
- Z= Usual retirement age of the payor
In TNL v TNK  SGCA 15, the Court of Appeal made it clear that this formula is simply a guide rather than a rule of law.
For periodic payments of spousal maintenance, the court will consider the number of years for which the spouse should be maintained, taking into consideration her age, income, earning capacity and so on.
The duration of an order also depends on whether it is secured or unsecured (Section 117 Women's Charter 1961). If it is secured, the payment lasts until the former wife dies or remarries. If it is unsecured, it ends when either party dies or the former wife remarries.
For child maintenance, as the needs of the child will change as he or she grows, periodic payment is preferred. Generally, as per Section 69(6) of the Women's Charter 1961, child maintenance is to be paid until the child reaches the age of 21 or any later date as agreed by parties. However, the court may order maintenance to continue beyond such age if it is satisfied that provision of maintenance is necessary due to (Section 69(5) of the Women's Charter 1961):
- the mental/physical disability of the child;
- the child's full-time National Service;
- the child's ongoing instruction at an educational establishment or training for a trade, profession or vocation, whether or not while in gainful employment; or
- other special circumstances which justify such a maintenance order.
(d) What happens to spousal and child maintenance after the death of the paying party or if the paying party is an adjudicated bankrupt?
For spousal maintenance, if the periodic payment is unsecured, it will end when the paying party dies (Section 117 of the Women's Charter 1961).
If the paying party is adjudicated bankrupt, an application for variation can be filed, showing that there has been a material change in circumstances (Section 118 of the Women's Charter 1961).
(e) Which bodies are responsible for issuing child support orders in your jurisdiction?
The family justice courts.
(f) Does the child support regime vary depending on whether the parents' relationship was formalised (eg, marriage/civil partnership/co-habitation)?
No, parents have a duty to maintain their children regardless of whether the child is legitimate or illegitimate (Section 68 of the Women's Charter 1961).
(g) Can a child (adult or minor) make a direct claim for child support? If so, under what circumstances?
If the child is a minor, his or her guardian, any person who has his or her actual custody, or any of his or her siblings over the age of 21 may make the maintenance application on his or her behalf. The court will consider the various factors set out in Section 69(4) of the Women's Charter 1961 when making such a maintenance order.
If the child is an adult (ie, at least 21 years of age), he or she may make such an application on his or her own. Under Section 69(5) of the Women's Charter 1961, a child above the age of 21 may be granted maintenance if the court is satisfied that this is necessary because of:
- mental or physical disability of the child;
- the child's full-time national service;
- the child's ongoing instruction at an educational establishment or training for a trade, profession or vocation, whether or not while in gainful employment; or
- other special circumstances which justify the making of the order.
(h) What specific considerations and concerns should be borne in mind in relation to child support where the parties have international connections?
When determining the quantum of child maintenance, the jurisdiction in which the child resides will be relevant, as it will be necessary to determine the cost of living in that particular country when determining the reasonable needs of the child.
(i) What are the main enforcement methods to ensure compliance with child support awards? What are the typical consequences of breach?
In Singapore, child maintenance orders are legally binding and enforceable by law. There are several enforcement methods available to ensure compliance with these orders, including:
- the writ of seizure and sale;
- an attachment of earnings order (Section 81 of the Women's Charter 1961);
- an order for committal (Rule 690 of the Family Justice Rules 2014);
- a levy fine (Section 71(a) of the Women's Charter 1961);
- imprisonment (Section 71(b) of the Women's Charter 1961);
- a garnishee order (Section 71(c) of the Women's Charter 1961); and
- recovery of the outstanding amount as a debt (Sections 74 and 121 of the Women's Charter 1961).
There are also other mechanisms available, such as:
- furnishing a banker's guarantee (Section 71A of the Women's Charter 1961);
- receiving financial counselling (Section 71C of the Women's Charter 1961); and
- reporting to the designated credit bureau (Section 71(2B) of the Women's Charter 1961).
7.3 Asset division:
- What orders can the court make in relation to the division of assets on divorce or judicial separation?
- What general principles apply to the division of assets? What specific factors will the court consider in deciding which orders to make in this regard?
- How does the court treat unreasonable conduct during the marriage in relation to financial matters (eg, reckless spending, gambling, dissipation of assets) when determining on capital division in divorce?
- Is it common for expert evidence to be adduced and used in court (eg, forensic accountants, valuations of companies/properties)?
- Is the family home treated differently compared to other family assets on divorce or judicial separation? If so, how?
- Are trusts recognised in your jurisdiction? How are they treated on divorce or judicial separation?
- What are the main enforcement methods to ensure compliance with financial orders issued on divorce or judicial separation? What are the typical consequences of breach?
- If the parties are in agreement on financial matters, is non-judicial resolution of these possible? What requirements and restrictions apply in this regard and how does the process typically unfold?
- Can the courts make financial orders in relation to a foreign divorce? What requirements and restrictions apply in this regard and who can apply for such orders?
(a) What orders can the Court make in relation to the division of assets on divorce or judicial separation?
The courts are entitled to make similar orders as in divorce on the issue of matrimonial assets (Section 112(1) of the Women's Charter 1961).
(b) What general principles apply to the division of assets? What specific factors will the Court consider in deciding which orders to make in this regard?
The division of assets in Singapore is governed by Section 112 of the Women's Charter 1961. Generally, the court will take into account all relevant factors, including:
- the extent of contributions made by each party to the marriage; and
- the needs of any children of the marriage.
The court will also aim to achieve a just and equitable division of the matrimonial assets, taking into account the specific circumstances of each case. In determining what is just and equitable, the court will consider:
- the length of the marriage;
- the age and health of each party;
- their respective incomes and earning capacities; and
- any other relevant factors.
Specific factors that the court may consider when making orders for the division of matrimonial assets are stated in Section 112(4) of the Women's Charter 1961, and include:
- the extent of each party's direct and indirect contributions to the acquisition, maintenance, improvement or enhancement of the matrimonial assets;
- the needs of any children of the marriage, including their housing, education and other expenses;
- the extent of any economic advantage or disadvantage that either party may have gained from the marriage;
- the parties' respective financial positions, including their income, earning capacity and financial needs;
- any contributions made by either party towards the welfare of the family, including any non-financial contributions; and
- any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements entered into by the parties.
Overall, the court will take a holistic, broad-brush approach when making orders for the division of matrimonial assets, taking into account all relevant factors and aimed at achieving a just and equitable division of the assets.
For dual-income marriages, the courts will apply the structured approach from ANJ v ANK  4 SLR 1043. The division of assets is carried out in three steps (TIT v TIU  3 SLR 1137):
- The court first ascribes a ratio that represents each party's direct contributions relative to each other, having regard to the amount of the financial contribution.
- As a second ratio, it ascribes the parties' indirect contributions relative to each other, having regard to both financial and non-financial contributions.
- It then derives the parties' overall contributions relative to each other by taking an average of the two ratios above (ie, the average ratio).
For single-income marriages, the court in TNL v TNK  1 SLR 609 held that the structured approach should not apply to marriages where one party was primarily a breadwinner and the other was primarily a homemaker. This is because the ANJ approach tends to unduly favour a working spouse over a non-working spouse, as financial contributions are recognised under the first and second steps of the ANJ approach, which would mean that the non-working spouse would be doubly disadvantaged. In such cases, the court will apply case precedent in determining the division of assets.
The court in BOR v BOS  SGCA 78 stated that the general trend for the division of matrimonial assets in single-income marriages should be based on the length of the marriage. For relatively shorter marriages of 10 to 15 years, the non-income earning spouse may be awarded about 25% to 35%. For moderately long marriages of 15 to 18 years, the non-income earning spouse may be awarded about 35% to 40%. For long marriages of 26 to 30 years, the court will tend towards an equal division of matrimonial assets of 50%.
(c) How does the Court treat unreasonable conduct during the marriage in relation to financial matters (eg, reckless spending, gambling, dissipation of assets) when determining on capital division in divorce?
The courts take a dim view of the dissipation of assets and will seek to prevent this from happening or to remedy the situation if it has already occurred. The court may make orders (ie, an injunction) preventing either party from disposing of or dealing with any property, whether in Singapore or overseas, until the final resolution of the divorce proceedings (Section 132 of the Women's Charter 1961). If it has already been dissipated, the court may determine the amount that was dissipated and make an adjustment by way of an uplift in favour of the other party when dividing the matrimonial assets. This means that the party who dissipated the assets will receive a smaller share of the assets than he or she would have received had the assets not been dissipated. The person who dissipated may also be penalised by being made to pay a higher percentage of the matrimonial assets to the other party. The Court of Appeal in UZN v UZM  1 SLR 426 viewed the dissipation of assets nearer to the time of divorce as wrongful dissipation carried out with the intention of depleting the matrimonial pool.
In WDO v WDP  SGHCF 11, the High Court judge noted that the husband had a mistress in Thailand and was doing business in Thailand; and that there was a lack of information as to the true extent of non-disclosure or dissipation. It therefore adopted the uplift approach of 5% in favour of the wife.
As can be inferred from these two cases, the Singapore courts take a strong stance against the dissipation of assets. Reckless spending, gambling and negative conduct by one spouse can affect the division of assets.
In Chan Tin Sun v Fang Quay Sim  SGCA 2, the Court of Appeal had to decide whether misconduct can be considered in determining just or equitable division and whether an adverse inference should be drawn for unexplained withdrawals from a bank account. It ruled that it is not precluded from considering the conduct of the parties in exercising its power:
- to order that the division of matrimonial assets is fair and equitable; and
- to ensure that neither party is unfairly deprived of his or her share of the assets.
(d) Is it common for expert evidence to be adduced and used in Court (eg, forensic accountants, valuations of companies/properties)?
Whether expert evidence is required will depend on the issues in contention and the complexity of the case. Forensic accountants and valuations of properties may be used in court to determine the asset pool via asset tracing. In VZD v VZE  SGFC 1, the court made an observation on the use of valuation experts in divorce proceedings. The traditional approach of using different experts by each party compared to the appointment of a joint expert could have saved costs.
(e) Is the family home treated differently compared to other family assets on divorce or judicial separation? If so, how?
Recognised as the cradle of family life, the matrimonial home will be included in the pool of assets for division regardless of whether:
- it was purchased by either or both spouses before the marriage;
- it was obtained by inheritance or gift (Section 112(10) of the Women's Charter 1961; Halsbury's Laws of Singapore, vol 11 (LexisNexis, 2006 Reissue, 2006, [130.788]); or
- the relationship breakdown is a divorce or judicial separation.
(f) Are trusts recognised in your jurisdiction? How are they treated on divorce or judicial separation?
Yes, trusts are recognised in Singapore. How trusts are dealt with by the court will depend on whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable. Where no irrevocable trust has been made, the court will have full powers to order as it sees fit in relation to this matrimonial asset. Where such a trust is made, the value of the policy will be among the other assets in the basket of matrimonial assets (CH v CI  SGDC 131 and THD v THE  SGFC 136). Where the trust is made for the benefit of a child, the courts will generally be slow to disturb such trusts.
(g) What are the main enforcement methods to ensure compliance with financial orders issued on divorce or judicial separation? What are the typical consequences of breach?
If there is contempt of court, enforcement proceedings may be commenced through:
- committal proceedings;
- garnishee proceedings;
- an attachment of earnings order (see Section 81 of the Women's Charter 1961);
- the appointment of a receiver; and/or
- writ of seizure and sale.
Rules 690(1)(d) and 694 of the Family Justice Rules 2014 provide for certain judgments and orders of the family justice courts to be enforced through orders of committal.
An applicant can apply to enforce an existing maintenance order if his or her ex-spouse has not complied with it. Alternatively, he or she can commence committal proceedings to ensure that there are penalties for the party that is not complying with the order of court.
In the event of a breach of an existing maintenance order, enforcement action can be brought in the maintenance courts. Where committal proceedings are commenced to seek penalties for the party that is in breach of the court order, if that party is a first offender, he or she is likely to face a fine. For a repeated order, he or she is likely to face a fine with a term of imprisonment. He or she may also be ordered to:
- attend financial counselling;
- furnish a banker's guarantee; or
- perform up to 40 hours of community service (see Section 71 of the Women's Charter 1961).
(h) If the parties are in agreement on financial matters, is non-judicial resolution of these possible? What requirements and restrictions apply in this regard and how does the process typically unfold?
Singapore does not recognise non-judicial resolutions.
(i) Can the courts make financial orders in relation to a foreign divorce? What requirements and restrictions apply in this regard and who can apply for such orders?
Foreign divorces are recognised in Singapore for the purposes of financial relief. Pursuant to Section 121B of the Women's Charter 1961, either party to the marriage may apply for financial relief if:
- the marriage has been dissolved or annulled in a foreign country; and
- it is entitled to be recognised as valid under Singapore law.
When filing for leave, the party must establish that:
- the Singapore courts have jurisdiction to hear the application by way of a party's domicile or habitual residence; and
- there are substantive grounds for making the application (Section 121D of the Women's Charter 1961) (see Harjit Kaur d/o Harjit Kaur d/o Kulwant Singh v Saroop Singh a/l Amar Singh  SGHCF 5).
8 Child custody
8.1 What general principles apply to custody and access arrangements? What specific factors will the court consider in deciding which orders to make in this regard?
In Singapore, the general principles for orders pertaining to the child are governed by Section 3 of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1934 and Section 125 of the Women's Charter 1961. The court will consider the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration when making a custody order.
The Singapore courts distinguish between ‘care and control' and ‘custody'. The former involves day-to-day decision making (eg, what children wear to school); while residual custody involves long-term decision making for the child's welfare (eg, which school children attend) (see CX v CY  3 SLR(R) 690).
Custody: The court will generally order joint custody or make no custody orders.
Where there is no actual dispute between the parents over any serious matters relating to the child's upbringing, the court may prefer to leave the status quo intact and make no custody order.
Where appropriate, the court will make a joint custody order to remind the parties of their continued parental responsibilities notwithstanding divorce and encourage them to cooperate with each other such that the child has both parents' involvement, which will be in his or her best interests.
The practical effect of both orders is the same: both parents will be responsible for making major decisions relating to the child's welfare, including education, religion and medical treatment; and the non-resident parent can remain involved with the child.
Sole custody is granted only in exceptional situations involving abuse or where the breakdown in the parties' relationship has caused harm to the child.
Care and control: In deciding who should be the daily carer of the child, the court will consider factors such as:
- the relationship between the child and each parent;
- the level of involvement of each parent in the child's life; and
- the ability of each parent to provide for the child's needs.
Further, parenting arrangements must consider the needs of all children of the parties, as many cases involve several children at different stages of development and needs. The court will consider the children's need for stability and continuity, and will take into account their existing arrangements, including their living arrangements, school and social circle.
In this regard, the court will take into account the children's views if they are of sufficient maturity to express them, and will give weight to their wishes taking into account their age and understanding.
Ultimately, each case must be determined on its own facts.
Exceptionally, where conditions are favourable, a court may make a shared care and control order, whereby the child spends a designated part of each week or month with one parent and then the other (TAU v TAT  SGHCF 11). Relevant considerations include:
- the child's relationship with each parent; and
- all relevant circumstances, such as the child's current needs and the parents' ability to support two homes.
Whatever arrangements are ultimately made, parents must recognise that they must "place the needs of their children before their own" (TAA v TAB  2 SLR 879 at ). In WIQ v WIP  SGHCF 16 at -, the High Court ordered split care and control of the siblings between each parent. The reason for this was that the younger child, N, required greater supervision and coaching, which the father was able to provide. On the other hand, the mother appeared to connect better with the other child, K, and was able to provide him with emotional support. After conducting a judicial interview with K, the court found that K was sufficiently mature and did not seem pampered or ill-disciplined from the time that he spent under his mother's care. Thus, such an arrangement – although unusual – would be in the children's best interest.
Access: A care and control order is almost always accompanied by an access order that allows the non-residential parent to have specified access to the child, including the possibility of staying over for a night or longer. ‘Access' should be understood as the right of the child to remain in contact with the non-residential parent.
Access may be supervised or unsupervised. The quantum of access can be liberal or reasonable, and may include overnight access. Whatever the arrangements are, the primary consideration is the children's best interests.
Overall, the court will take a holistic approach when making custody orders, taking into account all relevant factors and aiming to promote the best interests of the child. The court will seek to ensure that:
- the child's welfare is protected; and
- both parents are involved in their upbringing to the extent that is practical and in the child's best interests.
8.2 Are unmarried couples/same-sex couples entitled to the same claims as married couples in relation to children? Are legitimate and illegitimate children treated identically by the court in your jurisdiction?
In terms of child issues under family law, the court treats illegitimate and legitimate children identically in its regulation of the child's maintenance needs, guardianship and living arrangements. A child in an illegitimate parent-child relationship is subject to the same regulation (and receives the same benefits) as a child in a legitimate relationship. However, in UKM v AG  SGHCF 18, the High Court allowed a gay man's application to adopt his son who had been born through a surrogate mother in United States. The Singapore father was allowed to adopt his son as it was in the best interests of the child's welfare. However, the court did not allow for the same-sex partner to be appointed as a guardian of the child. This was the first time such a case came before the Singapore courts.
8.3 Does the court in your jurisdiction take the lead to facilitate settlement regarding children matters through court processes (eg, through a child dispute resolution hearing)?
The family justice courts in Singapore are guided by the principles of therapeutic justice, which seek to preserve healthier and more constructive familial relationships, even in situations of disharmony and breakdown. Using a therapeutic justice approach, parties can expect the court to adopt a judge-led, problem-solving and multi-disciplinary approach to resolving disputes holistically.
Generally, when children are involved, courts are minded to ensure that the damage done to the children is kept to the minimum. There are safeguards in place to ensure that parents learn to co-parent despite impending divorce proceedings.
Under Section 94 of the Women's Charter 1961, parents with children under the age of 21 must undergo a mandatory co-parenting programme. Section 50 of the Women's Charter 1961 provides the court with powers to refer parties to mandatory counselling and mediation to try to settle issues relating to the children and all other matters relating to the divorce, so they can reach an amicable resolution without escalating matters and inevitably affecting the children in the marriage. The courts have also adopted the practice of appointing a ‘child representative' to take special care of the interests of the child and assist the court in coming to a decision on matters relating to the child.
During proceedings, parties who intentionally involve their children in an attempt to influence or coach them are frowned upon; and in severe cases, such conduct may have a bearing on issues such as custody, care and control, and access.
There are also some post-divorce programmes to benefit the child, such as:
- the appointment of a parenting coordinator; or
- referral to divorce support specialist agencies for co-parenting programmes.
8.4 What kinds of experts will the court engage to assist it in deciding on what is best for the children (eg, designed social workers, clinical psychologists)?
To determine what is in the best interests and welfare of the child, the court may request:
- social welfare reports from the Ministry of Social and Family Development;
- custody evaluation reports prepared by a family justice court counsellor; or
- psychology reports from appointed psychiatrists from the Child Guidance Clinic or private psychologists and counsellors.
Alternatively, the court may appoint a child representative to assist the court with its decision making.
8.5 What requirements and restrictions apply to the removal of a child from the jurisdiction, both temporarily and permanently? What factors will the court consider in deciding on such a request?
Section 126(4) of the Women's Charter 1961 does not stop a parent from taking the child out of Singapore for a period of less than one month. Section 126(5) of the Women's Charter 1961 imposes criminal liability on the offending parent in the form of a fine not exceeding S$5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or both.
Unless the parties agree, a parent will not be permitted to remove a child from Singapore permanently. If there is no agreement, an application for relocation can also be made.
For relocation cases, the first and paramount consideration is the best interests and welfare of the child (BNS v BNT  3 SLR 973). Other considerations include:
- the parent's wishes (although this factor will not be determinative); and
- the lost relationship with the parent left behind (how adversely the loss of that relationship will affect the child will depends on the facts, especially the strength of the bond between that parent and the child).
Ultimately, where the various factors stand in relation to one another depends on a consideration of all facts in each case.
Therefore, a full analysis of a caregiver parent's request to be allowed to permanently relocate with the child (such that it will be hard for the other parent to keep in close physical contact with the child) requires that two questions be answered:
- Is the caregiver parent's request responsibly made? (If not, the court may dismiss the request outright without further consideration.)
- If it is a responsible request, how does it weigh against the first and paramount consideration of the court to ensure the welfare of the child?
If a child has been wrongfully removed from Singapore, the parent left behind must commence an action to invoke the Hague Convention either in Singapore or in the country to which the child had been taken to, within one year. The parent left behind must contact the Central Authority of Singapore (CAS) for assistance. If CAS is unable to facilitate the return of the child, the parent can make an application to the family justice courts.
8.6 What regime applies to the international abduction of children in your jurisdiction?
The International Child Abduction Act 2010, which gives effect to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
9 Surrogacy and adoption
9.1 What laws and regulations govern surrogacy agreements in your jurisdiction? What specific considerations and concerns should be borne in mind in this regard?
There are no provisions or laws regulating surrogacy in Singapore.
9.2 Are surrogacy arrangements legal in your jurisdiction?
There are no provisions or laws regulating surrogacy in Singapore. Assisted reproductive technology clinics in Singapore are not permitted to assist with surrogacy. However, parties are not restricted from pursuing surrogacy arrangements overseas.
9.3 Are the commissioning parents recognised as legal parents in your jurisdiction and what do they need to do to establish a legal relationship with their children born through surrogacy arrangements?
There are no provisions or laws regulating surrogacy in Singapore.
To formalise a legal relationship and obtain parental rights, they may have to formally adopt the child (UKM v Attorney-General  3 SLR 0874).
9.4 What laws and regulations govern adoption in your jurisdiction? What specific considerations and concerns should be borne in mind in this regard?
The adoption process in Singapore is governed by the Adoption of Children Act 2022. To adopt a child in Singapore, the adoptive parents must meet certain requirements, such as being:
- a resident of Singapore;
- at least 25 years old; and
- at least 21 years older but not more than 50 years older than the child they wish to adopt.
The adoptive parents must also obtain the natural parents' consent in a prescribed form.
Once the adoption order has been granted, the adoptive parents assume all parental rights and responsibilities for the child. The new Adoption of Children Act 2022 introduces changes to the adoption requirements, including:
- restrictions on prospective adoptive parents with a serious criminal records;
- a mandatory adoption suitability assessment; and
- a mandatory disclosure briefing for adoptive parents.
9.5 Do the regimes discussed in this question have equal application to same-sex couples? If not, please highlight the differences in treatment.
The adoption regime does not apply to same-sex couples.
10 Dispute resolution
10.1 What alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods to resolve family law matters are available in your jurisdiction?
There are several alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods available in Singapore to resolve family law matters, which can be used instead of or in addition to court proceedings. They include the following:
- Mediation: This is a voluntary process in which a neutral third party, the mediator, helps the parties to reach a mutually acceptable resolution. Mediation is commonly used in family law matters, such as divorce, custody and access, and child support. It can be court-mandated mediation or the parties can agree to explore private mediation.
- Collaborative family practice: This is a process in which both parties and their lawyers work together in a non-adversarial way to reach a mutually acceptable settlement. The parties sign an agreement to commit to the process and agree not to go to court.
- Family neutral evaluation: This is an option to assist parties in resolving disputes relating to financials. Parties can agree to have a binding family neutral evaluation and accept the indication.
- Negotiation: This is a without-prejudice method employed to achieve an amicable resolution where the parties work together with their respective lawyers.
- Parenting coordination: This is a process in which a neutral third party, the parenting coordinator, helps parents to implement and follow a parenting plan. The parenting coordinator helps to manage conflicts, improve communication and facilitate cooperation between the parents.
The Singapore courts have been promoting the use of ADR to resolve family disputes, as it can be more cost effective and efficient, and less adversarial, than traditional court proceedings. ADR is also often less emotionally taxing for the parties involved, especially where children are concerned. Currently, there is no family arbitration scheme in Singapore.
10.2 What specific considerations and concerns should be borne in mind in relation to ADR of family matters in your jurisdiction?
- Whether the family matter is appropriate for ADR;
- The experience of the mediator counsellor/lawyer;
- Whether ADR could help limit the hostility;
- Whether it should take place in person or through video conferencing;
- The relationship between the parties;
- Whether the parties are open to considering each other's proposals and how far apart the parties are in terms of their respective proposals;
- Whether there are children to the marriage;
- The potential time and cost-savings benefits to make; and
- The possibility of arriving at a ‘win-win' solution.
10.3 What specific considerations and concerns should be borne in mind where family law disputes involve foreign parties?
- The jurisdiction in which the matter should be heard;
- The connecting factors to that jurisdiction;
- Whether there are children to the marriage; with foreign parties involved, there may be multiple issues pertaining to the child such as overseas travel, access and relocation of the child;
- Whether there are foreign assets involved. There may be a need to check on the law of the country in question when it comes to the division of assets;
- Issues with the enforcement of court orders and whether there is a need to mirror the orders from Singapore in the foreign country; and
- The need to work with experienced family lawyers in both the local and foreign jurisdiction.
11 Domestic violence
11.1 How can a party seek immediate assistance from the court in a domestic violence situation to protect himself or herself and the children, and what kinds of orders can the court make in this regard?
If a party requires assistance to protect himself or herself and his or her children from family violence, he or she can file for a personal protection order (PPO). If the court is satisfied that there is an imminent risk or danger, it may grant an expedited order for the interim period before the PPO application is heard (Section 66 of the Women's Charter 1961). An expedited order will last for 28 days from the date of application of the order or until such period directed by the court (Section 66(2) of the Women's Charter 1961).
The complainant must prove two elements under Section 65(1) of the Women's Charter 1961:
- There is family violence; and
- It is necessary for the protection of the family member to make such a protection order.
Conduct excluded from family violence includes:
- force lawfully used in self-defence; and
- force lawfully used by way of correction towards a child below the age of 21.
The court will grant a PPO (Section 65 of the Women's Charter 1961) if, after hearing the PPO application, it is satisfied that there is both family violence and a need for such an order. Together with the PPO, the court may also grant a domestic exclusion order (Section 65(5)(a) of the Women's Charter 1961) and a counselling order (Section 65(5)(b) of the Women's Charter 1961).
11.2 Are there any differences in terms of the protection offered in a domestic violence situation between married and unmarried couples and their children?
Yes, for married couples and their children, this falls under the definition of family violence under Section 64 of the Women's Charter 1961. The PPO will also be applied for under Section 65 of the Women's Charter 1961.
In contrast, unmarried couples will not be protected under the Women's Charter 1961 but will need to seek protection under the Protection of Harassment Act 2014.
11.3 How are these orders enforced and by whom?
For family violence cases involving married couples and their next of kin, PPOs, expedited orders and domestic exclusion orders can all be issued by the courts. Such court orders must be adhered to.
In the event of a breach, the victim should immediately make a police report. The police will investigate and, if necessary, proceed to prosecute the offender in court. Alternatively, the victim can make a complaint regarding the breach to the Crime Registry at the State Courts. The registrar or judge concerned may direct the matter to the police to investigate the breach.
The person in breach of the PPO may be fined or jailed, depending on:
- whom the PPO is intended to protect;
- the severity of the breach; and
- whether the person in breach is a repeat offender.
Breach of a PPO is an offence as set out in Section 65(8) of the Women's Charter 1961 and the offender is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding S$2,000, imprisonment for up to six months or both. Sections 65(9) and (10) provide for harsher penalties where the victim is a vulnerable person, presumably as defined by the Vulnerable Adults Act 2018.
For non-marital cases, parties and/or their families will have recourse under the Protection of Harassment Act 2014. Similarly, a first-time offender is likely to face a fine of up to S$5,000, imprisonment for up to six months or both.
11.4 How soon will the party's application be dealt with in these circumstances?
A PPO can be obtained within one to two months of the application if the respondent is agreeable to the complaint in the application. Otherwise, if parties must attend a court hearing (trial), it may take between three and five months to obtain a PPO.
For Protection of Harassment Act matters, the expedited order remains in force until completion of the matter. This likely to take two to six months without a trial and longer if a trial takes place.
11.5 Does the court have inherent jurisdiction to make a child a ward of court?
Yes. Under Section 17(1)(d) of the Supreme Court Judicature Act 1969, the Family Division of the High Court has jurisdiction to appoint and control guardians of infants, and generally over the persons and property of infants.
The court can make major decisions for a child who is a ward of court. Wardship becomes part of the protective function only where the child is in need of protection – principally where the child is an orphan or the child has no fit parent. In UMF v UMG  3 SLR 640, the High Court decided that the wardship jurisdiction should be accessible by non-parents only on a fairly narrow basis.
The court may also appoint a guardian on behalf of the child to undertake parental responsibilities towards a child. The Guardianship of Infants Act 1934 permits application by parents and previously appointed guardians. The court's power to appoint a non-parent as guardian of someone else's child is relatively narrow – even upon an application by a parent under Section 5 of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1934 for such a co-parenting arrangement to be legally set up (VET v VEU  4 SLR 1120).
12 Trends and predictions
12.1 How would you describe the current family law landscape and prevailing trends in your jurisdiction? Are any new developments anticipated in the next 12 months, including any proposed legislative reforms?
There is an increasing trend towards the idea of therapeutic justice within a multi-disciplinary environment, where the parties are strongly encouraged to keep an open mind towards finding the best solutions for all family members involved in a dispute. All parties involved – including lawyers, judges, parents, children and specialists – are encouraged to share a common goal in the journey of divorce or reconciliation. The Family Justice Courts Work Plan for 2023 also includes the establishment of a Panel of Financial Experts and Panel of Therapeutic Specialists. The courts are also looking at improving access to justice by equipping court users with sufficient knowledge to make informed decisions with the launch of the Family Justice Courts Case Book.
The current status in the law is that parties can only obtain a divorce if they can show a breakdown of the marriage based on one of the five facts stated in the Women's Charter 1961.
A new development anticipated to launch sometime in 2023 is divorce by mutual agreement. This is a new factor which will allow a couple to divorce on the basis that they both mutually agree that the marriage has irretrievably broken down; they need not cite any reason to blame each other for the breakdown of the marriage. This option is a no-fault method of divorce and differs from the other current fault-based methods – such as adultery and unreasonable behaviour – which require one spouse to prove such behaviour of the other spouse in order to be granted a divorce. This option also differs from the other no-fault methods, such as separation for three or four years, as it does not require parties to prove that they have lived in separate households for a certain period before filing for divorce. It is anticipated that this new option will make the divorce process run more smoothly and less acrimoniously; and will reduce the negative impact on the children.
On 4 July 2023, amendments to the Women's Charter in relation to family violence were passed in Parliament. The primary purpose of these amendments is twofold:
- to safeguard survivors; and
- to improve the rehabilitation and accountability of offenders.
The ultimate goal of these changes is to facilitate the healing and reconciliation of families while simultaneously putting an end to the cycle of violence.
In the new Section 58B of the Women's Charter 1961, Parliament has expanded the definition of ‘family violence' to make it clear that it includes instances of physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse. Abuse may take the form of a single instance of conduct or behaviour or a course of conduct or behaviour. The amendment seeks to guarantee that all victims of family violence receive legal protection, regardless of whether the violence is overtly evident.
The amendments are aimed at:
- empowering family violence survivors to better protect themselves; and
- strengthening the government's ability to:
- intervene in family violence cases;
- make rehabilitative orders;
- increase penalties; and
- ramp up enforcement against breaches of family violence-related offences.
For example, previously, a counselling order and/or a domestic exclusion order could be issued concurrently with a personal protection order. As a result of the legislative changes, the new Section 60 of the Women's Charter 1961 now grants the court the authority to issue:
- a stay away order, compelling the perpetrator to stay away from places frequently visited by the survivor; and
- a no contact order, prohibiting any visits or communication with the survivor.
These measures aim to prevent other forms of harassment against the victim. The amendments also prohibit any publication or broadcast (including on social media) which may allow identification of the survivor (under Section 63B of the Women's Charter 1961). Further, the new Sections 60 and 63 of the Women's Charter 1961 now permit persons aged 18 and above to apply for personal protection orders on their own – a change from the past, when only persons above the age of 21 years old were permitted to apply on their own.
Moreover, the new Sections 62 to 62C of the Women's Charter 1961 grant powers to ‘protectors' appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development. These protectors will have the authority to intervene in specific situations where adult survivors choose not to take steps to protect themselves from family violence. In high-risk cases, protectors will be able to issue emergency orders on-site, which will remain valid for 14 days, giving the survivor time to apply for a personal protection order. Additionally, in cases deemed high risk, protectors can apply for electronic monitoring of perpetrators (new Section 60C of the Women's Charter 1961). This monitoring would enable the authorities to be promptly notified if, for example, a perpetrator under a domestic exclusion order attempted to enter the survivor's home. As a last resort, protectors are also granted the power to apply for survivors to be temporarily removed from their homes to ensure their safety and protection (new Section 60D of the Women's Charter 1961).
The new Section 60E of the Women's Charter 1961 expands the existing counselling order regime, which now encompasses a broader range of programmes, treatments and interventions tailored to the risk level and individual needs of each perpetrator. These may include parenting programmes, caregiver training or family therapy. Furthermore, the legislative changes enhance enforcement and penalties for breaches of court orders, with the aim of ensuring that rehabilitation is taken seriously and offenders are held accountable for their actions.
These amendments are designed to strengthen the response to family violence and provide further support to survivors. The focus is on providing comprehensive support for both survivors and perpetrators to address the root causes of family violence and promote long-lasting change to the dynamics of such relationships. Overall, these amendments signals Parliament's emphasis on building strong and stable families for the good of the community at large.
13 Tips and traps
13.1 What would be your recommendations for managing relationship breakdown as painlessly as possible in your jurisdiction and what potential pitfalls would you highlight?
Divorce is never easy and can be physically and emotionally draining. The parties involved are often very emotionally charged when dealing with issues relating to the divorce, and things can inevitably become more acrimonious as proceedings commence. However, at every step of the way, it is important to remind clients to focus on the bigger picture and on the welfare of the children (if any), and attempt to achieve a resolution in an amicable manner as best as possible. Ultimately, the parties should focus on putting the matter behind them and starting afresh, regardless of whether they choose to divorce or reconcile.
While emotions may run high, the parties should refrain from painting a negative picture of each other and becoming overly calculative when it comes to determining their contributions to the marriage.
Parties should also bear in mind that every decision should be made in the best interests of the child. It will be no benefit to anyone if parents try to exclude one another from involvement in the children's lives. The courts frown upon such behaviour and ultimately the child will be the most affected.
To quote Justice Debbie Ong: "Divorce should be no more than a reorganisation of family members living arrangements and divorced spouses should still be able to continue to discharge their parental responsibilities with some degree of cooperation."
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.