Navigating Divorce: Exploring the Options for Marriages Under 3 Years

under 3 years marriage

I have been married for less than three years. Can I divorce?

Yes. Pursuant to Rule 39 of the Family Justice Rules (“FJR”), you may file an application for leave to file for divorce based on “exceptional hardship” suffered by you or of “exceptional depravity” on the part of your spouse.

This application for leave means that you are seeking the Court’s permission to file for divorce based on some exceptional circumstances despite the three-year time bar.

What reasons must I show to the Court if I seek permission?

  • That you have suffered exceptional hardship during your marriage; or
  • Your spouse has behaved with exceptional depravity, i.e. behaved unusually atrociously.

What does exceptional hardship or exceptional depravity mean?

The Singapore High Court Decision of Ng Kee Shee v Fu Gaofei [2005] 4 SLR(R) 762 (“Ng Kee Shee”) defined “exceptional hardship” as something quite out of the ordinary and more than what an ordinary person should reasonably be asked to bear.

In UNU v UNV [2018] SGFC 70, the Court noted that even if your spouse consents to your application for leave to file for divorce, this is still insufficient to satisfy the threshold of “exceptional hardship or depravity”.

As stated by the Court in Ng Kee Shee, this high threshold is put in place to “promote the sanctity of marriage and to ensure that Parties do not rush in and out of marriage capriciously.

How does the Court consider this rule?

The Court must consider whether the allegations made were such that, if proved, would amount to exceptional hardship.

The Court could consider hardship arising from the past conduct of the other spouse, the present hardship, and hardship arising from having to wait for the three-year bar to elapse.

The hardship suffered must be out of the ordinary, judged by the prevailing standards of acceptable behaviour between spouses.

Read more: Exception To The “Three-Year-Marriage Bar Rule

Is there anything else I must do to support my case?

If you have been suffering mentally over the course of your marriage, it is highly recommended that you undergo a psychiatric assessment, for example, at the Institute of Mental Health (“IMH”), to obtain a psychiatric report stating your mental health condition.

Similarly, if your physical health has been affected during the marriage, you may wish to obtain an official medical report from a doctor detailing how your physical health has suffered.

These medical reports can support your leave application to file for divorce despite the three-year time bar.

Are there alternatives to divorce?

Below, we cover the options of Informal Separation, Annulment of Marriage, Deed of Separation and judicial separation as alternative solutions for those considering ending their marriage before the 3-year bar.

Informal Separation

Informal separation refers to a situation where you and your spouse privately agree to lead separate lives without any formal agreement or court process involved.

Thus, while you and your spouse may still be legally married, Parties may agree to move on and start their lives afresh. This type of agreement operates based on mutual trust and respect.

It is feasible if you and your spouse can maintain a cordial relationship and walk away from the marriage on good terms. In settling the matter yourselves, Parties can also save time and legal costs.

Annulment of Marriage

Alternatively, pursuant to Section 106 of the Women’s Charter (“WC”), Parties may wish to annul the marriage if they can satisfy any of the grounds for annulment.

The effect of an annulment is that the Parties’ marriage becomes voidable, meaning that the Parties are put into the position as if the marriage had not existed at all.

Read more: Annulment of Marriages in Singapore

Deed of Separation

Parties may also enter into a Deed of Separation (“DOS”). The DOS is a written agreement between Parties, stipulating that Parties agree to live separately for three years.

Parties can discuss and agree on the terms stated in the DOS. This drafting process and entering into a DOS does not involve the Courts.

Still, it is a binding agreement that Parties can later rely on when they file for a divorce after the three-year time bar. Hence, after three years have lapsed, Parties can use the DOS to file for a divorce based on three years’ separation with consent.

You may consider this alternative if your marriage has not passed the 3-year mark and you and your spouse are agreeable to entering this DOS.

Read more: Deed of Separation

Judicial Separation

Last but not least, Parties who are time-barred from filing for a divorce may consider filing for Judicial separation (“JS”). JS is a form of separation that requires formal proceedings through the Court’s system.

Like a divorce process where you have to show that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, you will likewise have to do so for a JS. However, a JS differs from a divorce in terms of the outcome.

After JS proceedings, you and your spouse will be formally separated, but the Parties will remain legally married. Parties will still have to commence divorce proceedings after the 3-year time bar if the end goal is divorce.

Read more: Methods Of Separation Before Pursuing Divorce In Singapore

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