Frequently Asked Questions on the “Singapore Women’s Charter”

singapore womens charter

What is the Women’s Charter in Singapore?

The Women’s Charter is a piece of legislation passed in 1961 to protect the rights and interests of women and children in Singapore.

It establishes the legal framework for gender equality by criminalizing gender-based discrimination, domestic violence, and exploitation of married women’s property. It sets out the following key provisions;

  • divorce procedures,
  • the rights of husbands and wives in marriage
  • guardianship rights over minor children,
  • maintenance obligations for both spouses,
  • inheritance rights for illegitimate children, and
  • protection against family violence and
  • penalties for offences against women and girls.

How does the Women’s Charter address issues related to Maintenance?

Maintenance of wife, incapacitated husband, and children
Several provisions of the Women’s Charter pertain to the Court’s power to order Maintenance for spouses, children, and incapacitated husbands.

  • A court may order a husband to pay his wife a lump sum or a monthly allowance if it can be proven that he has neglected or refused to provide reasonable Maintenance.
  • The Court may order a wife to pay a lump sum or monthly allowance to her incapacitated husband if it can be proven that she has neglected or refused to provide reasonable Maintenance for him.
  • A court may order a parent to pay a lump sum or monthly allowance to their children if they neglect or refuse to provide reasonable Maintenance.

Under s 69 of the Charter, applicants for maintenance orders must prove that their spouse has neglected or refused to provide reasonable Maintenance.

Based on the facts of the case, the Court will determine what amount of money constitutes “reasonable maintenance.”

You will note that such maintenance orders are applied for during the marriage between spouses. The principle underlying this section of the Women’s Charter is that spouses ought to provide for one another throughout their marriage.

Seeking Maintenance after a marriage is dissolved is covered under an entirely different section.

Read more: Am I Entitled to Spousal Maintenance in Singapore?

How does the Women’s Charter address issues related to child custody?

Several provisions of the Women’s Charter pertain to the Court’s power to make arrangements for the Child’s custody.

  • A Court may order on the Child’s custody, care and control and access arrangements, and the Court’s paramount consideration is the welfare of the Child: s 125 of the Women’s Charter.
  • In determining what is in the Child’s welfare, the Court will regard the wishes of the Child’s parents and the Child, where the Child is of age, to express an independent opinion.
  • A Court may also impose conditions on the Child’s custody. For example, the Court may order the following, as per s 126 (2A) & 126 (2B) of the Women’s Charter:-
    • The Child’s primary residence and caregiver;
    • The other parent’s access to the Child
    • For the Child to spend time with the family members of non-custodial / care and control / deceased parent
    • Whether the Child can be taken out of Singapore.
  • Where the Court has made orders on the Child’s custody and care and control, the Child cannot be removed from Singapore except with the written consent of both parents or the Court’s permission.
  • The Women’s Charter provides that the custodial or care and control parent or any person who has the parent’s written consent given custody or care and control of the Child can take the Child out of Singapore for less than one month.
  • The Women’s Charter also provides that it is an offence to remove the Child otherwise, and an offender faces up to a fine not more than $5,000 or imprisonment not more than 12 months or both: s 126(5) of the Women’s Charter.

Are there any recent amendments made to the Women’s Charter that may affect my divorce?

Yet to be implemented in the last quarter of 2023 is the divorce by mutual agreement in which neither party needs to prove the other party is at fault for the marriage breakdown.

Set out in the new s 95A(6) of the Women’s Charter; the requirements are an agreement in writing to state:

  1. The reasons leading the spouses to conclude that their marriage has irretrievably broken down,
  2. Their efforts made to reconcile, and
  3. The consideration spouses have given to arrangements to be made concerning financial affairs and their children (if any).

The no-fault divorce will allow couples to seek a divorce without having to prove one of the five grounds for divorce stated in the Charter, including adultery, unreasonable behaviour, and desertion.

As a result, the process will be faster, easier, and less acrimonious.

Do note that the threshold for the Court to grant the divorce on this new fact appears to be high, as the Courts don’t want this to be an ‘easy way out of the marriage’. Besides having the written agreement, the Court must also be satisfied that there is no reasonable possibility for reconciliation.

This new section is yet to be enacted in the Family Justice Courts but will be in the foreseeable future.

Are there any penalties for violating the Women’s Charter?

In Singapore, the Family Justice Courts (FJC) enforces the Women’s Charter. If you are found to be in violation of the Charter, the FJC has the power to hand down penalties.

Domestic violence

The penalties depend on the nature and severity of the offence. For instance, under the Charter, a person who commits domestic violence (or family violence), defined in s 64 of the Women’s Charter, can be imprisoned for up to three years, fined up to $5,000, or both.

The offender may also be required to undergo mandatory treatment for anger management or attend counselling sessions.

Personal Protection Order

A person may apply for a Personal Protection Order against their perpetrator if the latter is a family member who has inflicted family violence or is likely to inflict family violence on them. The applicant must satisfy Section 65 of the Women’s Charter requirements.

Where a person violates the terms of a Personal Protection Order (PPO), they can be fined up to $10,000, imprisoned for up to a year, or both. The Court may also order the offender to undergo treatment or counselling sessions.

A Personal Protection Order violation is taken very seriously because it puts the victim at risk. If a person continues to violate the protection order, the penalties can be more severe, and they may face imprisonment for up to two years, a fine of up to $20,000, or both.

Breach of court orders

In marriage and divorce cases, the Women’s Charter is designed to prevent unreasonable and unfair behaviour towards spouses, descendants, and children.

If a person disregards the terms of a court order relating to the division of assets or child custody, they may be held in contempt of Court.

The penalties for contempt of Court are not fixed, and the Court has discretion in deciding the penalty. Sometimes, the penalty for contempt of Court can be a fine, imprisonment, or both.

Read more: The Women’s Charter Singapore – History, Rights & Obligations

gloria james

gloria james

We’re here for you

Your 30-minute free consultation with our family lawyers will include advice on:

  • Laws applicable to your situation;
  • Options available if you decide to take matters forward; and
  • Estimated costs involved in your matter.
  • Contact Us