Glossary of Family Law Terms
Terms Starting with “A”
Access refers to the time that a child spends with the non-custodial parent, according to an agreed or Court specified parenting schedule. Access orders can be liberal, reasonable or supervised (accompanied). Common access periods can be during weekdays, weekends, public and school holidays, as well as access on special occasions such as birthdays.
Learn more about Child Access
Address for service
Postal address of the husband, wife, and any other parties to the proceedings that is given for legal documents to be delivered to.
An affidavit is a signed statement made on oath or affirmation as a way to present evidence.
Affidavit of Assets and Means
A form disclosing information on a party’s assets, income, expenses, liabilities and financial and non-financial contributions made to the family. It must be submitted in an application for ancillary relief.
Affidavit of Evidence-in-Chief
For the purposes of trial, all parties will exchange their affidavits known as an Affidavit of Evidence-in-Chief containing evidence of the facts to be presented in the trial. The exchange will take place before the trial.
Adultery is a ground for divorce. It occurs when one spouse voluntarily engages in sexual intercourse with any person other than his/her spouse during the marriage. To successfully use this ground is a high threshold, and requires unequivocal evidence such as a Private Investigator’s Report showing that adultery took place, or text messages.
Learn more about Adultery in Singapore
Agreed Matrimonial Property Plan
This is only filed if parties have managed to agree on how the HDB flat shall be dealt with after the divorce.
Learn more about Matrimonial Property Plan
Ancillary matters proceedings
This is the second stage of divorce proceedings in the event that the matter is contested. This stage includes the division of matrimonial assets (including matrimonial home), the custody, care and control of children, spousal and child maintenance (if any). At the end of this stage, parties will receive a final judgment.
Learn more about Ancillary Matters
Ancillary relief refers to the proceedings and remedies concerning the financial matters in the divorce. This includes matters relating to maintenance, custody, care, and control of the children, and division of matrimonial assets.
An annulment is a procedure that completely dissolves and declares a marriage null and void, and the marriage is taken to never have existed. Parties return to ‘single’ status legally. This is in contrast to divorce, which is a legal end to the marriage. After a divorce, parties will legally be considered ‘divorced’, rather than ‘single’
Marriages are deemed void under Singapore law under the following circumstances: Marriages between Muslims registered under civil law, where one party is already married under any law, where one party is below the age of 18 years old and has not been granted special authorisation, where parties to the marriage are closely related, where the marriage was not properly solemnised. Voidable marriages are those owing to certain circumstances which may be deemed to be invalid under the law.
The reasons for a voidable marriage are as follows: Marriages that have not been consummated owing to either party’s incapacity to do so, marriages that have not been consummated owing to either party’s willful refusal, where the marriage has taken place without either party’s valid consent (due to duress, mistake or mental disorder), or where at the time of the marriage, the wife was already pregnant with another man’s child.
Learn more about Annulment Explained With Flowchart
Terms Starting with “B”
Best interests of the child
In considering the welfare of the child, the Court will consider the term in its widest sense and look at the general well-being of the child and all aspects of his or her upbringing – religious, moral, and physical. The Court may also take into account factors such as the child’s happiness, comfort, and security. Other factors include but are not limited to the need for both parents to have involvement in the child’s life, the child’s wishes, the desirability of keeping siblings together, and which parent shows greater concern for the child.
Learn more about Proposed Parenting Plan
Terms Starting with “C”
Care and control
An order for care and control specifies the parent who the child resides with, and who will make day-to-day decisions for the child. There is a situation where care and control can be split, which would mean that the child will spend his or her time equally between both parents’ home.
Learn more about Child Care and Control
Child custody order
The parent/parents granted the child custody order is/are required to make major decisions on issues pertaining to education, religion, medical, accommodation and residency on behalf of the child.
Learn more about Understanding Child Custody
Child Focused Resolution Centre (CFRC)
CFRC sessions aim to help to separate couples reach parenting agreements that are in the best interests and needs of the child in a conciliatory and least acrimonious fashion. They also seek to help parents understand how the divorce impacts the child, and how to best minimise this impact. These sessions help to separate couples come to an agreement on all ancillary issues, assisting them to move forward with the divorce proceedings in a cooperative manner instead of being entrenched in a lengthy and acrimonious courtroom battle.
Learn more about Child Focused Resolution Centre
Child maintenance refers to financial support from a parent for a child. It is recognised under the law of Singapore that both parents have a legal obligation to provide for their child up to the age of 21 years old.
Learn more about Child maintenance
A child representative is an individual appointed by the Family Justice Courts to represent the voice of the child and present an objective assessment of the arrangements which are in the best interest of the child.
Learn more about Child representative
Clean break settlement
A clean break settlement is a once-and-for-all financial settlement between the parties that severs their financial ties and protects them from a claim over any future assets they acquire.
Cohabitation is living arrangement in which an unmarried couple lives together.
Learn more about Cohabitation
Collaborative Divorce Process/ Collaborative Family Practice (CFP)
Collaborative Family Practice is a dispute resolution process where divorcing couples voluntarily undergo negotiation to avoid the lengthy and costly process of a contested divorce. Accredited lawyers will work together towards achieving an amicable result for the clients. The goal of the CFP process is to assist couples to work with the collaborative law structure to achieve a positive outcome for both parties while avoiding social, emotional, and economic strain a traditional divorce can have.
Learn more about Collaborative Divorce Process
A consent order turns the settlement terms ie. divorce grounds, division of assets, child issues, spousal and child maintenance etc. agreed by the parties into a legally binding agreement.
In the event that parties do not come to a consensus on all divorce terms ie. divorce ground, division of assets, child custody care, and control, and access, spousal and child maintenance (if any), the matter would proceed to mediation, and if parties are still unable to come to a consensus after mediation, the matter will proceed to litigation.
Learn more about Contested vs Uncontested Divorce
The co-defendant is the person with whom the defendant is alleged to have committed adultery in cases where adultery is a ground for the divorce.
A costs order is a court order for one spouse to pay the other’s legal costs.
Custody refers to the right to make major decisions on issues pertaining to education, religion, medical, accommodation and residency on behalf of the child.
A sole custody order (one parent will make major decisions for the child without needing the agreement of the other parent);
A joint custody order (the most common order, parents must make major decisions for the child jointly);
A split custody order (where custody of one or more siblings is granted to one parent and of the others, to another parent).
Learn more about Child Custody
Terms Starting with “D”
Deed of cohabitation
A Deed of Cohabitation is a written agreement between a couple who are living together but are not married. A Deed is important for unmarried couples as the law does not recognise a living arrangement outside of marriage and there is no direct legal recourse under Family Law when the cohabiting relationship breaks down. The Deed will set out terms dealing with the division of property in the event parties separate. It makes clear to each party the status of each asset and the parties’ rights and interests in their assets in the event of separation. Parties can enter into the Deed at any point in their relationship prior to separation – before parties live together or while they are living together.
Learn more about Deed of Cohabitation
Deed of separation
In the event that parties wish to be separated from one another for a period of time before deciding on a divorce, parties may reach an agreement informally through mutual consent in the form of a Deed of Separation. A Deed of Separation sets out the terms and conditions governing the relationship between the spouses during the period of separation. Parties may agree on arrangements for the children, maintenance, and division of matrimonial assets etc.
Learn more about Deed of Separation
Ground for divorce. Desertion occurs when a spouse leaves the matrimonial home with the intention to desert the other party for at least two years with no intention of returning.
Learn more about Desertion
Disclosure is the process of providing complete financial details about a person’s capital, income, assets, and liabilities with full supporting documentation.
A Court process for parties to request for discovery of any document pertaining to issues at hand for divorce proceedings in Singapore usually for the division of matrimonial assets, and maintenance. Parties are required to describe the documents required and the reasons for such requests in the discovery application. This is usually done by way of correspondence first. However, should the other party refuse to produce the documents, the party may file a summons application for discovery.
Dissolution of marriage
Dissolution of marriage is the first stage of an application for divorce.
Divorce Support Specialist Agencies (DSSA)
Divorce Support Specialist Agencies (DSSA) are specialised community agencies that provide specialised services and programmes for divorcing and divorced families including counselling, case management, and family dispute management.
An order excluding or restricting the respondent from entering the victim’s residence or parts of the residence.
The domicile is the country or state in which an individual has his/her permanent home.
Terms Starting with “E”
Enforcement of judgment
In the event where there is a Court order and either party breaches the said order, the Court may make orders to enforce the order, such as ordering for maintenance sums to be paid (if any), sentencing the party who has breached the order to a jail term, issuing a warrant to seize and sell property, make an attachment of earnings order, order for the defaulting party to undergo unpaid community service, or garnish debts owed.
Expedited Order (EO)
A temporary order lasting 28 days from the date that it is served to the respondent, generally granted depending on the urgency of the victim’s situation, and serves as an interim “personal protection order”.
Terms Starting with “F”
Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) Conference
At the FDR Conference, a Judge and a Court Family Specialist will meet with all parties. The Judge and Court Family Specialist will clarify the issues and set the agenda for the mediation and counselling, as well as narrow any differences that both parties may have. The Judge will then fix a mediation or co-mediation session. At the end of the FDR Conference, the parties may meet with the Court Family Specialist for counselling.
The final judgment in divorce proceedings marks the formal end of the marriage and concludes the divorce case. The final judgment will take 3 months after interim judgment has been obtained.
This process can be employed prior to and subsequent to filing for a divorce. Divorcing couples, through their own lawyers, sit through a series of “without prejudice” meetings to try and come to an agreement on divorce terms. Clients may attend these meetings or leave it to their lawyers to negotiate on their behalf in this process. The role of your representing lawyer-mediator, in this case, is to provide as much information, assistance, and advice to ensure that you make well-informed decisions throughout these mediation sessions. The key in this instance is to help you successfully reach a settlement that meets as many of your needs as possible.
Four years’ separation without consent
One of the five valid reasons for getting a divorce, where the couple has lived separately for three continuous years without consent.
Learn more about Methods Of Separation
Terms Starting with “G”
There are five valid grounds which the court recognises to prove an “irretrievable breakdown” of a marriage. These are: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion for two years, separation for three years with consent, or separation for four years without consent.
Learn more about Grounds for divorce
Terms Starting with “H”
Singapore Courts can only grant divorces where at least one party to the marriage has a strong enough connection with Singapore: One criterion is that either one of the parties has been habitually resident in Singapore for at least 3 years preceding the application to the Court for the divorce. “Habitual residence” means that a party’s residence is required to be for a settled purpose and is voluntary. Brief holidays and business trips may not necessarily break the continuity of residence.
Hague Convention on Child Abduction
Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is an international treaty that provides for the return of a child who has been ‘abducted’ by one parent and taken to another jurisdiction. The Convention applies only to children under the age of 16. A Hague Convention application may be made where a child is taken across an international border, away from his or her habitual place of residence, without the consent of the other parent who has rights of custody under Singapore law. The two countries must be parties to the Convention. Upon successful application, the child will need to be promptly returned to the child’s habitual residence unless it can be proven that the child’s return will create a grave risk of harm to him or her.
Learn more about Hague Convention
Terms Starting with “I”
In cases where both spouses agree on all terms of the divorce, the Court will grant an interim judgment and the order containing the terms. This does not dissolve the marriage. From this date, there will be a 3-month “cooling-off” period for parties to consider if they wish to reconcile.
Interrogatories are questions posed to the other party related to the issues at hand during divorce proceedings. This is usually done by way of letter first. In the event that receiving party refuses to answer the questions, the party may file a summons application for interrogatories.
Terms Starting with “J”
Joint tenants own an undivided interest in the property. No one party has a larger share over the other, and each joint tenant requires the consent of the other party/parties to make decisions regarding the property. The right of survivorship applies to properties that are held in joint tenancy. This means that upon the death of one tenant, the ownership of the property automatically transfers to the surviving party.
Learn more about Joint tenancy
Judicial separation is an alternative arrangement where a married couple is legally separated but not divorced. It is a formal separation sanctioned by the court that divides up money and property without terminating the marriage.
The Court has the power to order the division of matrimonial assets in a “just and equitable manner”. Some of the factors that the Court will consider in arriving at a just and equitable division of assets include: The extent of contributions made by each party in monetary terms, children’s needs, extent of contributions made by each party to the welfare of the family, any agreement between the parties with regards to the division of matrimonial assets upon divorce.
Terms Starting with “L”
Lump sum order
An order by the court for maintenance to be paid in a lump sum.
Terms Starting with “M”
Mandatory Parenting Programme
In the event that parties have a child under 21 years of age, and there is no agreement on the divorce or any ancillary issues, any party intending to commence Divorce Proceedings or file a Counterclaim will have to attend a one-time consultation session at a Divorce Specialist Support Agency with a trained MSF counsellor. A Certificate will be issued after the programme
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A court-ordered or mutually agreed provision of financial support for one’s spouse’s living expenses. This may be in the form of periodic payment or a lump-sum payment.
Learn more about Spousal Maintenance
Any assets that a couple acquires during the course of their marriage, used by either party or their children, or assets acquired before the marriage but substantially improved during the marriage. Assets which are not considered matrimonial assets are assets received as gifts or inheritance, or gifts or inheritance not substantially improved during the marriage. Some examples of matrimonial assets are matrimonial home, family savings, funds in parties’ CPF accounts, family business, vehicles, shares etc.
Learn more about Matrimonial Assets
A matrimonial home is a property acquired by one or both parties during the course of the marriage. In order for a property bought before marriage to be included as a matrimonial asset, it must be proven that this asset was typically occupied by either party or their children along with the couple, for aesthetic, social, recreational, education, transportation, or shelter purposes. It must also be shown that the home was substantially improved during the marriage by both or either party.
Mediation is the process in which couples meet with a neutral third party, the mediator, who helps them work through the issues that need to be resolved in order to move on amicably and in a cost-effective manner. The issues covered by the mediation process include but are not limited to distribution of property & assets, child custody/parenting plan, child support/maintenance, and allocation. Before the Mediation session, parties are required to exchange proposals on divorce terms ie. divorce claim/ground, division of assets, children issues, spousal and child maintenance (if any).
Learn more about Mediation in Singapore
Terms Starting with “O”
Order of Court
An order is a direction by the court that is legally binding and enforceable.
Terms Starting with “P”
Once the Writ of Divorce has been filed in the Family Court, the same Writ will be served on the defendant via personal service, if the address of the defendant is known to the plaintiff.
Personal Protection Order (PPO)
A PPO is a Court order given when the Court is satisfied that family violence has taken place and it is satisfied that such an order is required to protect a victim of family violence. If the perpetrator breaches the order and commits family violence again, a police report must be made, and the perpetrator upon investigations may then be arrested and charge for the offence of breaching the PPO.
Learn more about Personal Protection Order
Postnuptial agreement/Postmarital agreements
A written agreement executed after a couple gets married to agree on what will happen if the parties divorce or separate, or if one party to the marriage passes away. Terms that can be included in a postnuptial agreement are terms regarding; division of the couple’s property in the event of a divorce, maintenance, payment of debts, arrangements regarding children, inheritance and gifts, insurance coverage etc.
Learn more about Postnuptial Agreement
Prayer refers to the order an applicant for divorce is seeking from the court.
A contractual agreement signed before marriage addressing how the couple will address financial and property matters and familial arrangements in the event of a divorce.
Learn more about Prenuptial Agreement
The main objective of a pre-trial conference is to look into whether there are common areas where parties can agree, thus narrowing the issues to be heard by the Court.
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Process servers deliver court documents to named recipients. To prove that the papers have been served, the process server will normally swear an affidavit which will be sent to the court.
Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan
Where there is an HDB flat to be divided between parties, parties should file a Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan.
Learn more about Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan
Proposed Parenting Plan
Where there are children under 21 years old and an agreed parenting plan is only filed if both parties have agreed on the care arrangements for the children after the divorce (consent order).
Learn more about Proposed Parenting Plan
Terms Starting with “R”
In the event that parties have custody over a child, any parent that wishes to permanently remove the child from the jurisdiction is required to obtain written consent from the other parent. In the event that the other parent does not agree to this, the relocating parent is required to bring an application to Court for the Court to decide if the relocation is for the best interests of the child.
The respondent is the party against whom the divorce application is filed.
Terms Starting with “S”
Service refers to the formal process by which court documents are sent to and received by the party to whom they are addressed.
Statement of claim
This statement must specify which facts that the plaintiff is relying upon when asking the Court to grant a divorce.
Statement of particulars
This statement sets out in full, the particulars of the facts for the divorce ground pleaded in the statement of claim.
If service of the divorce papers on the defendant fails after two attempts, the plaintiff can make an application in the Family Court for substituted services. The effect of such an order allows the plaintiff to obtain a Court Order to post the divorce papers to the last known address of the defendant, and also to post on the Notice Board of the Family Court. Alternatively, the papers can be sent by registered post to the last known address of the defendant or alternatively by email.
Terms Starting with “T”
Tenants in common
Three years’ separation with consent
One of the five valid reasons for getting a divorce, where the couple has lived separately for three continuous years with consent.
Ground for divorce where one partner has behaved in such a manner that the other party cannot reasonably be expected to live with them. This is the most commonly used ground for divorce in Singapore.
Learn more about Unreasonable behaviour:
Terms Starting with “V”
Court orders may at any time be varied should the Court fin that there has been any misrepresentation, mistake of fact, or where there has been any material change in circumstance since the order was made.
Terms Starting with “W”
Correspondence or documents marked “without prejudice” cannot be shown to the court unless there is a without prejudice hearing.
Writ of Divorce
The party (plaintiff) who intends to file for divorce proceedings should file a writ of divorce. The party the divorce action is brought against is the defendant.