Podcast: Episode 2: How to Initiate Divorce in Singapore?

divorce podcast

Episode #2: Initiating Divorce in Singapore

July 22, 2020

Gloria James-Civetta

  • How do you initiate divorce proceedings in Singapore?
  • What happens if it’s before three (3) years?
  • What do you mean by Leave of Court?
  • What are the grounds for divorce?
  • What is Unreasonable Behaviour?
  • How to proceed for Divorce in an event where the marriage is just about one (1) year
  • What happens if couple does not meet specific requirements?
  • What is a Postnuptial Agreement?
  • Does the couple have a choice to undo Deed of Separation or Annulment?
  • What is the timeframe to get a divorce?
  • What is the Court Process?
  • How amicable and brutal can divorce get?


Host Introducing Lawyers and Subject of Discussion:

Hi, today with us, we have a head lawyer, Gloria James-Civetta and senior lawyer, Yvonne J. Schelkis-Sweeney with us. Welcome ladies. So our topic today is how to initiate divorce proceedings here in Singapore.

Host Question No. 1

How do you initiate divorce proceedings in Singapore?

Ms Gloria James

When a client comes and see me, the immediate questions I would ask them:

  1. The length of your marriage
  2. How long have you been resident in Singapore?
  3. If they meet the requirements to file for divorce in Singapore

if you are married for three years, and if you’re either a Singapore citizen or Singapore PR, or perhaps working in Singapore under employment pass, or a dependent pass, you do qualify to file as a resident in Singapore, if you have been here for 3 years.

(Host clarifying doubts: So it has to be three years. That’s the minimum?

Ms Gloria James clarifying: Yes)

Host follow up Question to Question No.1

What happens if it’s before three (3) years?

Ms Gloria James

If you have been resident here for more than three years, but you do not meet the requirement of filing for divorce because there’s a bar of three years. In that case, you will have to file for divorce under “Exceptional Hardship”, you need to get Leave of Court in order to proceed and file for divorce.

Host Question No.2

What do you mean by Leave of Court?

Ms Gloria James

It means that you need to have permission from the court. You need to satisfy the court’s requirements to show why you need to be out of this marriage and why you’re unable to wait for more than three years to be out.

Host Question No. 3

What are the grounds for divorce?

Ms Yvonne J. Schelkis-Sweeney

There is only one (1) ground and it’s the “Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage”. There are certain factors that one can rely on. Namely

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable Behaviour
  • Dissertation
  • Separation – three (3) years, if you have the consent of your spouse and four (4) years, there’s no requirement for consent of your spouse.>

Host Question No.4

What is Unreasonable Behaviour?

Ms Yvonne J. Schelkis-Sweeney

Unreasonable Behaviour is rather generic and it’s subjective to the person applying for the divorce. It could be anything – gambling addiction, does not provide financially for the family. There are a whole host of reasons. So, as long as the applicant can convince the court that there has been unreasonable behaviour by that particular spouse and the applicant feels that he can no tolerate living with their spouse. The court will grant the divorce and dissolve the marriage based on Unreasonable behaviour.

Host Question No. 5

What happens in an event where the marriage is just about one (1) year? How should a couple proceed for divorce?

Ms Gloria James

Just let me explain a little bit further, there are some clients who come to see us on this particular issue. So what happens is we explore with them, whether they meet the grounds to get Leave of Court to file even before the three years is up. And as you said, if they’ve only been married for one year, the couple have the option to enter into a “Deed of Separation” and wait for the three years of separation and then file for divorce as a no fault basis, because they do not wish to live together anymore. And if they take the approach that they are not faulting each other for the breakdown of the marriage. So that will be another option they can consider.

Host Question No. 6

What happens if couple does not meet specific requirements?

Ms Gloria James

They have the options to file for an “Annulment” or enter into a “Deed of Separation” or a “Postnuptial Agreement”. These would be some of the options they can consider.

(Ms Gloria James Explaining Annulment in Brief
If the parties have registered their marriage, underwent customary marriage and have started living together but have yet to consummate the marriage that will be an option for them to consider, to have the marriage annul.

Host clarifying doubts: Is that the only reason?

Ms Gloria James clarifying
There are other reasons, things like incapacity to consummate the marriage, or if one party, perhaps the wife is already pregnant with a child then you don’t need the requirements to consummate the marriage and you can consider filing for an annulment.)

Host Question No. 7

What is a Postnuptial Agreement?

Ms Gloria James

In a situation where a party has really been married for one year, but they don’t meet the requirements to file for divorce immediately because they have not been married for three years. What the parties can do is they enter into this postnuptial agreement where you agree on the terms of the divorce and ancillary issues. Parties agree to file for divorce when the three years of marriage is up.

So, if you’ve been living for one year, you just enter into a disagreement, continue to wait out for another two years before they file for divorce. This is when a postnuptial agreement comes in.

For a deed of separation where parties want to initiate a divorce, but not blame each other for the breakdown of the marriage. So you’d be opting to do what we call a “No-Fault Divorce” and parties would then have to enter into a deed of separation, wait out for three years and then file for divorce.

Host Question No. 8

Does the couple have a choice to undo Deed of Separation or Annulment?

Ms Yvonne J. Schelkis-Sweeney

Certainly, when you signed the Deed of Separation, there is a clause for you to have an option to file it under no fault, but there’s also a situation where we have encountered where they do not proceed with the Deed of Separation. So the marriage does continue.

Host Question No. 9

What is the timeframe to get a divorce?

Ms Gloria James

If it is filed as an uncontested divorce and the party sees a lawyer when papers have been filed in court, you do get your “Interim Judgment” in about four (4) weeks’ time (Interim Judgement means temporary divorced). And you do have to wait out for another three (3) months before you get your final divorce papers, which will be then called the “Final Judgment”.

(Ms Gloria James sharing her experience of longest timeframe for Divorce

3 years for a fully contested divorce, because you will then have to go through the full litigation process of contesting the divorce itself, perhaps the custody issue, division of assets, maintenance and all that. And in between, you throw in the discovery process and that just prolongs the whole process to at least three years. I mean, this is the longest I ever had.

Ms Yvonne J. Schelkis-Sweeney sharing her experience of the longest timeframe for Divorce
I had one that stretched up to four years because there was a quite intensive custody battle, as well as care and control. So the court does have to prepare numerous risk reports and also interview the children. So that extends the period.)

Ms Gloria James Observations: At least 60% to 70% of the divorce cases filed in Singapore are Uncontested Divorce.

Host Question No. 10

In your years of experience as divorce lawyer, has there been a unique divorce case that you’ve handled that maybe you can share with us something unique?

Ms Yvonne J. Schelkis-Sweeney sharing her experience on unique Divorce case

I had one particular case that had a great impact on me. In this case, there was a situation where they were only married for a year and unfortunately the husband transmitted some kind of venereal disease, bordering on giving aids to the wife. So, the wife had to apply to court for permission to file for divorce. Notwithstanding, that they hadn’t been married for three years. So that was very challenging. There were numerous medical reports, child issues, domestic violence. That was one of the cases that was rather challenging for me to handle in my, of practice.

Host Question No. 11

What is the Court Process?

Ms Yvonne J. Schelkis-Sweeney

A Court Process is defined into two (2) stages:

The child representative will interview the child extensively, get a report done to assist the court in determining which is the better parent to have care and control.

  • The first stage is where the court grants the divorce.
  • The Second stage is where the court sets out the ancillary matters.

For example, if you have children, there are issues of custody & control, access and maintenance, as well as division of matrimonial property.

Once you get your interim judgment, which is the temporary divorce. If you sought out your ancillary matters then you will get your final judgment. So that is basically in a nutshell what the divorce process is like.

(Host Clarifying Doubts: So, generally the child does have a significant role in deciding which parents he or she wants to go to, right?
Ms Yvonne J. Schelkis-Sweeney: Yes, the child has a very significant voice and the court does listen to the child)

Host Question No. 12

How many stages would they generally be?

Ms Yvonne J. Schelkis-Sweeney

If the divorce is uncontested, you could have it as early as four weeks, for the interim judgment. Thereafter, if parties have children below the age of 21, the Singapore Family Justice System has initiated a mandatory mediation for the couples. So that is where some of the times the acrimony can be cut down and to basically speed up your divorce.

Host Question No. 13

It a misconception that divorce proceedings can cost a lot of money and takes a long time. Can you give us an example of how fast or how long?

Ms Yvonne J. Schelkis-Sweeney

If the matter is uncontested, in about four to six months you can get your final judgment. If we have a matter being contested from day one, and if mediation has not resolved the possible disputes and narrowing down the issues, what you be looking at a contested divorce going on for at least two to three years.

So in order to avoid going through a contested divorce, I would suggest parties to consider looking at mediation or collaborative family practice, these are your “Alternative Dispute Resolution” options to achieve an uncontested divorce.

Host Question No. 14

How amicable and brutal can divorce get?

Ms Yvonne J. Schelkis-Sweeney

Well, as the Chief Justice has said that the family practitioners, these days have to be healers. We have to have a mediatory demeanour in dealing with contestant methods. Both Gloria and I are trained in mediation. So, we have this general approach that divorce, one of the most second traumatic experiences after death has to be taken in a very holistic and amicable manner and not increased acrimony.

There are cases, where we’ve seen that stretch for many months and even years and it is not cost-effective, we try not to do that. Our approach at Gloria James-Civetta & Co is a totally different one.

Host Question No. 15

Can you share the happy ones that were resolved and all parties were happy?

Ms Gloria James

Perhaps, I can share with you how some cases have achieved like a 100% success rate using the avenue of collaborative family practice. As Yvonne had mentioned, we have to go through a divorce process where we want to cut out the acrimony and help parties to communicate with each other, because the goal is, if you have kids involved, you want to co-parent with your spouse and it’s not something that’s going to end after one or two years, it’s going to be a lifetime.

You want to be able to be friends attending your children’s wedding, share a lot of good moments and milestones in your children’s life. So, using the collaborative family practice, what happens is parties gather together with your respective lawyers and you thrash up all the issues, listen to each other’s interests and concerns. With that, you’re able to have what we call an uncontested divorce because you are taking into consideration what’s important for each party and as what we hope to achieve, you know, it’s going to be like a win, win for each party.

Host Concluding:
All right. Thank you very much, ladies. Thank you for listening. We hope this has given you a better understanding of the issues you may have had pertaining to the topic. Feel free to contact us, our contact details can be found on our website at https://www.gjclaw.com.sg.