How can my Child’s Voice be heard in Access and Custody Disputes?
Affidavits/Statements written by children are generally discouraged. There are, however, other means of allowing the voice of a child to be heard:
1) Section 130 of the Women’s Charter1:
- In relation to the issues of custody over a child, a person trained or experienced in child welfare may provide advice to the court.
2) Rule 30 of the Family Justice Rules 20142:
- The court may appoint a Child Representative in any action or proceeding involving a child or the custody or welfare of a child.
3) Various reports that the Family Court of Justice can call for3:
- A social welfare is issued by the Ministry of Community Development and Sports (“MCDS”). An MCDS officer, who is trained in child welfare issues and custody dispute investigation prepares a confidential report, providing an independent and impartial observer of the interactions between the child the individual parents and other significant persons concerned. In addition, they assess the prospective environment in which the child would be brought up.
- The report will be sent directly to the court within 3 months of the order. Parties do not have to pay for this report.
- Social welfare reports are generally ordered for disputes over care and control of the child. (Disputes over sole or joint custody are more legal issues – submissions and affidavits by the parties themselves should suffice).
- A Social welfare report may be ordered in the following situations:
- The child is unable to express himself verbally (usually if he is under 10 years old);
- Very acrimonious custody and access disputes;
- There are allegations that the child’s environment is unsuitable, for example, if the environment is messy or noisy.
- There are allegations of physical or sexual abuse, alcoholism or drug use.
- The Family and Juvenile Justice Centre (“FJJC”) provides two types of reports:
- Custody Evaluation Report (“CER”): this assists the court in resolving custody disputes
- Access Evaluation Report (“AER”): this assists the court in resolving assess disputes
- Once the court orders a CER/AER, an FJJC counsellor will contact the parties involved to arrange an interview at the Family Court. The FJJC Counsellors do not conduct home visits.
- Interviews for a CER take place over a 6–8 week period. Interviews for an AER take place over a 5-6 week period. Parties do not have to pay for a CER/AER to be prepared.
- A CER/AER may be ordered in the following situations:
- The child is able to express himself well verbally (usually if he is over 10 years old);
- There are allegations that the child has been alienated from one parent and brain-washed;
- Very acrimonious custody and access disputes; and/or
- Where home visits may not be necessary, because there are no allegations of the
- Where there are no allegations that the home environment is unsuitable and the key issue is the nature of the relationships between each of the parties.
- These reports are provided by participating Family Service Centres (“FSC”). Assisted access entails the non-custodial parents having access to the child at an FSC, under supervision of a counsellor. Assisted transfer entails handing the child over for access and/or return after access at a FSC, also under supervision of a counsellor. The reports made by the counsellors during these sessions will be sent to the court.
- The period over which assisted access/transfer occurs can be 6-8 weeks or longer. The report will be provided about 3 weeks after the last session. Rates vary depending on which FSC conducts the session. Estimated costs are $50/hr for an assisted access session and $25/hr for an assisted transfer session.
- A Child Guidance Clinic (“CGC”) Report is prepared by the Child Guidance Clinic of the Institute of Mental Health. The CGC report is sent directly to the court 4-6 weeks after its order. The estimated average cost is $600.
- A CGC Report is ordered in relation to a custody and/or access dispute where the court requires the input of a psychiatrist. These situations may include the following:
- A party is alleged to have a mental disorder such as paranoia, seeing evil spirits, extreme confusion;
- A party is suspected of having a medical condition that could diminish his capacity to fulfil his parenting duties;
- There are allegations that the child’s mental health is or would be affected by the child’s interaction (or lack thereof) with his parents;
- There are allegations of sexual or physical abuse against the child.
1 Woman’s Charter (Cap 353, Red Ed 2009).
2 Family Justice Rules (Act 27 of 2014).
3 https://www.familyjusticecourts.gov.sg/QuickLink/Documents/ReportsCustodyAccessDisputes.pdf accessed 4 June 2018