Divorce can be an overwhelming and traumatic process. On top of that, there are a number of important decisions you will need to make. If you believe that your marriage is headed for a divorce, we offer some basic, practical advice about what the process entails before you decide to engage a divorce lawyer.
In this article, GJC Law Family lawyer, Sara Aziz, addresses commonly asked divorce questions to help you make more informed choices as you navigate the divorce process in Singapore.
While this article is not intended to constitute legal advice, it will give you a sense of how to navigate the divorce process.
How much does divorce cost?
The cost of divorce is dependent on a few factors. Some of these factors include whether the divorce is uncontested (i.e. if parties have an agreement) and the complexity of the case if it is contested.
At GJC Law, we offer fixed-fee Uncontested Simplified Divorce settlement packages starting at;
- $1200 (No Property and No Children),
- $1800 (Children or Property or Maintenance), and
- $2000 (With Children, Maintenance and HDB/Private Property).
These packages are inclusive of GST.
A contested divorce on the other hand is when at least one issue of the divorce is not agreed upon and/or needs to be resolved.
A contested divorce generally involves litigation and can be lengthy and unpleasant. Parties are also expected to prepare the relevant evidence for hearing(s) in Court. It is costly and does take up effort and time for both parties.
How long does a divorce process take?
If it is filed as an uncontested simplified divorce, you will generally get your “Interim Judgment” within four (4) weeks’ time (Interim Judgement means that your marriage has been dissolved), and another three (3) months before you get your final divorce papers, which is referred to as the “Final Judgment”.
If the divorce becomes contested and acrimonious it can take a longer time because you will then have to go through the full litigation process. This includes children’s issues such as custody care and control, division of assets, and maintenance issues.
Do I qualify to file for divorce?
When an enquiry comes to see me, these are my immediate questions:
- What is the length of your marriage?
- How long have you been resident in Singapore?
You meet the requirements to file for divorce in Singapore if you are married for three years, and if you’re either a Singapore citizen, Singapore PR, employment pass holder, or dependent pass holder. You also need to have resided in Singapore for 3 years before commencing proceedings.
In the event the marriage is less than 3 years, there are several options for you.
OPTION 1: [DIVORCE LESS THAN 3 YRS OF MARRIAGE, INVOLVING 2-STEPS]
You can only file for a divorce before three years by way of a court application and only if you are able to show that you have suffered exceptional depravity or hardship during the marriage
This is a 2-step process, i.e. 1st Step: Obtaining leave of court. Once that is granted, then 2nd Step kicks in, i.e. filing for divorce.
OPTION 2: [ANNULMENT]
If the circumstances of your case fall into one of the following grounds, you may be able to seek for the marriage to be annulled. Proceedings for an annulment of the marriage normally have to be filed within the first three years of marriage. Briefly, some of the grounds are as follows:
- Non-consummation of the marriage (either because the other party refuses to do so or is incapable);
- At the date of marriage, the other party was suffering from a mental condition which rendered him/her unfit for marriage;
- The other party was suffering from a sexually-transmitted disease at the time of the marriage;
- The other party was made pregnant by a third party at the time of the marriage.
OPTION 3: [DEED OF SEPARATION]
Parties may enter into a Deed of Separation (with the intention to divorce) to clearly state the terms of your relationship moving forward. However, both parties would still need to agree on all the terms before a Deed of Separation can be executed.
OPTION 4: [JUDICIAL SEPARATION]
The last alternative would be for parties to consider commencing Judicial Separation proceedings to formally obtain a court order for parties to be judicially separated. However, parties are not divorced and cannot get re-married.
What are the most common reasons for divorce?
There are many reasons why couples decide to divorce. Some of the more common reasons for divorce that I see include:
- Lack of commitment
- Financial struggles
- Lack of communication
- Constant arguing
- Lack of equality in the marriage
- Too high or unrealistic expectations
- Lack of intimacy
- Growing apart
What are the legal grounds for divorce?
There is only one ground for getting a divorce that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The law provides the following facts which you can rely on to prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down:
The Defendant committed adultery and the Plaintiff finds it intolerable to live with the Defendant.
The Defendant has behaved in such a manner that the Plaintiff cannot reasonably be expected to live with him/her.
The Defendant has deserted the Plaintiff for 2 years without any intention of returning.
Parties have been separated for 3 years and the Defendant consents to divorce or Parties have been separated for 4 years (Without the consent of both parties).
Considerations on the divorce process
How will my assets be divided?
The Court looks at a number of factors as set out in section 112(2) of the Women’s Charter. Generally, the Court takes into account the direct and indirect contributions of parties.
For direct contributions, these are financial contributions made towards acquiring and/or improving marital assets. Examples of such contributions can be seen from payments made towards the matrimonial home, mortgage repayments etc.
For indirect contributions, these consist of both financial and non-financial contributions. Common examples for indirect financial contributions are payment made towards household expenses such as bills / taxes, maintenance of the home etc.
For non-financial contributions, these relate to contributions made towards the welfare of the family such as caring for the children / carrying out household chores etc.
The Court will assess the contributions and work out an average percentage for division. The following is an example of the general formula that the Court will use. Of course, there are different factors that would influence the outcome but the main formula would be as follows:-
Average of two ratios
|A. Direct contributions||30%||70%|
|B. Indirect contributions||40%||60%|
|Average of A and B||35%||65%|
How much maintenance will be awarded?
For children’s maintenance, the Court considers various factors as listed in section 69(4) of the Women’s Charter, such as their financial needs, education fees, daily and other living expenses.
Generally, the Court arrives at a maintenance amount after considering the children’s reasonable monthly expenses and the parties’ incomes and earning capacities.
Do also note that maintenance orders may be varied in the event there is a material change in circumstances. For example, if one parent suffers a loss of income and is unable to afford paying the ordered amount, that parent may apply for a downward variation.
For maintenance of wife/ex-wife, the Court has a wide discretion to decide on the amount (if any). There is no hard and fast rule on how much spousal maintenance should be paid. The following are some factors that the Court considers:
- Whether the spouse is gainfully employed;
- The salary and/or earning capacity of the spouse;
- The financial needs of the spouse;
- The age of the spouse;
- Length of marriage;
- Standard of living before the marriage broke down.
Child custody, care and control issues
Custody relates to making major decisions for the child, such as decisions on the child’s religion, education and/or healthcare issues.
The Court generally grants both parents with joint custody, as the Court places importance on maintaining parental bonds for both parents in the upbringing of the child.
An order for sole custody is rare and only given in extreme circumstances involving a history of abuse for example.
Care and Control relates to the parent with whom the child lives with on a daily basis. The Court will assess which parent has been the primary caregiver of the child, and applies the welfare principle where paramount consideration shall be in the best interests of the child.
At times, depending on the child’s age and maturity level, the Court may consider the child’s opinion by way of conducting interviews or by appointing a Child Representative to evaluate the matter.
Can divorce be done amicably? Alternatives to the litigation process
Yes, as explained above, if parties have an agreement, parties can proceed amicably by way of an uncontested simplified process.
We commonly suggest for parties to discuss and/or engage in Without Prejudice negotiations prior to the filing of divorce. Parties can better understand each other’s positions and if there is mutual consent on the issues, this would avoid the adversarial process of going through litigation.
Doing so would align with the Therapeutic Justice approach as highlighted by the Singapore Courts. We list out the following suggestions:
- Engaging in private discussions with each other;
- Arranging for a private mediation together with a 3rd party mediator and lawyers;
- Organising a private meeting with lawyers only; or
- Opting to go through the Collaborative Divorce process.
There are a number of important decisions that you have to make during the divorce process. The information provided above is intended to help you recognize some of the issues that will come to your mind.