Guide to Divorce in Singapore

Under Singapore divorce law, a divorce is the legal procedure that ends a marriage. When you get your Interim Judgment of Divorce, this is the end of the first stage of your divorce proceedings. The ancillary matters are usually dealt with at the second stage of divorce proceedings. After all ancillary matters are dealt with, the Court will grant you a Certificate of Final Judgment. This Certificate can only be extracted three months from the Interim Judgment date.

What are the requirements for divorce in Singapore?

To get a divorce in Singapore, the applicant must satisfy 3 requirements.

The first requirement for a divorce in Singapore is that the plaintiff must have been married for at least 3 years unless it can be proven that the plaintiff has suffered exceptional hardship or the plaintiff’s spouse has been exceptionally unreasonable and cruel. In this regard, while there is no clear legal definition for these extreme circumstances, examples may include:

  1. Extreme cases of mental or physical abuse;
  2. Exceptionally severe mental distress;
  3. Homosexuality;
  4. Extremely cruel adultery; and
  5. Pregnancy caused by adultery.

The second requirement is that either party must (1) be a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident (PR), (2) have been domiciled in Singapore at the beginning of the divorce process, or (3) have lived in Singapore for the 3 years immediately preceding the divorce application.

The third requirement is that the plaintiff must show that there has been an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage.

What constitutes an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage?

There is only one ground for divorce – the plaintiff must show an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. To establish “irretrievable breakdown”, the party filing for divorce is required to prove one of the following five facts:

  1. Adultery;
  2. Unreasonable behaviour;
  3. Desertion for 2 years;
  4. Separation for 3 years (and the defendant consents to a divorce); and
  5. Separation for 4 years.

These shall now be covered in turn.

Adultery

Adultery is defined as sexual intercourse between a married person and someone who is not their spouse.

If there was no sexual intercourse, it is not adultery, no matter how intimate. In addition, the plaintiff must find it intolerable to live with their spouse. If the plaintiff continues to live with their spouse for more than 6 months after finding out about the adultery, they will not be able to rely on the adultery.

Unreasonable behaviour

Unreasonable behaviour as a ground for a divorce falls under section 95(3)(b) of the Women’s Charter. To prove unreasonable behaviour, the plaintiff must show the defendant has behaved in such a way that the plaintiff cannot reasonably be expected to live with them.

The types of unreasonable behaviour are non-exhaustive. Examples of unreasonable behaviour may include:

  • Domestic violence.
  • Verbal abuse and constant criticism.
  • Refusal to contribute to household expenses.
  • Compulsive gambling.
  • Alcoholism.
  • Lack of respect.
  • Lack of affection, care and concern.
  • Obsessive behaviour.
  • Improper association with another party.

Desertion for 2 years

To prove desertion, the deserting spouse must have decided to walk away from the marriage without providing reasonable justifications.

Separation for 3 years (with consent by Defendant to a divorce)

If the parties have continuously lived apart for 3 years before the commencement of the divorce process, and the defendant consents to a divorce, the court will grant a divorce. In this regard, separation does not require parties to live in different places.  As long as the parties live separate lives without interacting with each other as husband and wife, that is enough to show separation.

Separation for 4 years

Alternatively, if parties have continuously lived apart for 4 years before the commencement of the divorce process, then consent from the defendant is not required, and divorce may be granted on this ground.

What is a “simplified” or “uncontested divorce”?

A “simplified” or “uncontested divorce” is one where both parties agree to a divorce and all ancillary issues. Main areas for agreement to be reached include the reason for divorce, the party who will obtain care and control of the children, how the assets are divided, and a reasonable amount of maintenance.

Under a “simplified” or “uncontested” divorce, interim judgment will be issued after 4 weeks, before final judgment is given 3 months from the date of obtaining the interim judgment.

Can I get a divorce if my spouse cannot be found?

A divorce can still occur when a spouse cannot be found, although it must then be shown that the applicant has used all reasonable means to contact or locate their missing spouse.

The applicant may submit documents for a dispensation of service, which must include proof of the applicant’s attempts to locate their missing spouse. Examples of such attempts include contacting their spouse’s known family members and friends, as well as searching for their spouse at alternate addresses or known locations.

If a dispensation of service is granted, procedural requirements will be waived.

Alternatively, if it can be proven that their spouse deserted the applicant intending to do so and this was against the applicant’s will, the divorce may proceed based on desertion.

Can I get a divorce if my spouse refuses a divorce?

Even if your spouse is not agreeable to the divorce, you may still proceed to file for a contested divorce.

In a contested divorce, the time frame for a case to be concluded is about 6 to 12 months on average.

What is adultery?

Within a legal context, adultery has a very narrow meaning. In essence, it refers to having sexual intercourse with someone outside of your marriage.

As mentioned above, adultery will require proof of sexual intercourse between the applicant’s spouse and the third party. Therefore, behaviour falling short of sexual intercourse will not suffice, no matter how intimate.

Besides, the applicant must find it intolerable to live with their spouse. If the applicant continues to live with their spouse for more than 6 months after finding out about the adultery, they will not rely on it.

Does adultery or unreasonable behaviour affect the court’s decision in deciding the division of assets or children custody?

No, adultery and/or unreasonable behaviour do not affect the division of assets or custody of children. Adultery and/or unreasonable behaviour are merely factors that the Court will consider when deciding whether to grant the divorce and is separate from the later decision pertaining to these ancillary matters.

When deciding on issues such as the division of assets, the Court will look at the respective parties’ contributions to the marriage. For short marriages, direct financial contributions will be more important in deciding how to split the assets. However, in long single-income marriages, the trend is towards an equal share for both parties.

As for custody of the children, the Court will treat the welfare of the child as paramount. In Singapore, it is common for joint custody to be granted to include both parents in the decision-making process for the child, while care and control will be given to the parent that the Court deems most fit to carry out the duty.

How long is the divorce process?

The length of divorce proceedings will depend on whether parties are going for an uncontested or contested divorce.

For an uncontested divorce where parties agree about the reasons behind the divorce as well as how to settle the outstanding ancillary matters, interim judgment will take about 1 month to obtain before final judgment is received 3 months from the date of the interim judgment.

For a contested divorce, the length of proceedings will largely depend on the complexity of the case. Most cases will take between 6 months to 1 year to complete, while certain contentious cases may last more than a year.

What is the likely cost of getting a divorce?

According to a recent survey carried out by Singapore Legal Advice, divorce fees in Singapore range from $1,500 to $3,500 for simplified uncontested divorces and $10,000 to $35,000 for contested divorces.

At PKWA Law, we offer reasonable fee solutions for divorces and other related services. We do not charge clients on an hourly basis for simple divorce matters. While some contested divorce matters are done on an hourly rate basis, we offer cap fees for eligible clients. We understand that a divorce can be an emotional event, and the last thing you should worry about are hidden costs and unexpected legal bills.

Fixed, clear & transparent fees

*GST not included

$1,200 all in

No children, property or maintenance

$1,900 all in

With children, property and maintenance

Contested Divorce

Pricing varies. Please get in touch to discuss your situation.

Should you require legal representation, kindly contact PKWA Law for a free first consultation with one of our lawyers.

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+65 6854 5336

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+65 9090 3158

Authors

Lim Chong Boon

Head of Family Law & General Litigation Practice

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Low Jin Liang

Deputy Co-Head, Family & Divorce Practice Group

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