Grounds for Divorce Under the Women’s Charter

What are the grounds for divorce in Singapore?

When you file your divorce papers, you will need to establish that you have a legal ground (or complaint) under the Women’s Charter for divorce.

Under Singapore divorce law, there is only one possible ground for divorce: the irretrievable breakdown of your marriage. This can be demonstrated by one of 6 facts set out in section 95 of the Women’s Charter. If you can prove any of the 6 facts, the Court will be satisfied that there has been an “irretrievable breakdown” in your marriage, and grant you a divorce. These 6 facts are as follows:

  • Divorce on Mutual Agreement (from 1 July 2024).
  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion of 2 years
  • Separation for 3 years with spouse’s consent
  • Separation for 4 years

The proof required to support these 6 facts is elaborated below.

Divorce by Mutual Agreement (DMA)

Divorce by Mutual Agreement comes into effect on 1 July 2024.

From 1 July 2024, married couples can cite mutual agreement as a reason for divorce if they agree that their marriage has broken down irretrievably.

Divorce by mutual agreement may be cited by those divorcing under the simplified track and those on the normal track if they are not contesting the divorce.

To cite Divorce by Mutual Agreement as a fact, parties must provide the court with reasons to conclude that their marriage has irretrievably broken down, and show that they have made efforts to reconcile.

They must also submit to the court the arrangements that will be made about their children and financial affairs.


For adultery to occur, there has to be sex with a third party. It is not adultery if there is physical intimacy, but sexual intercourse did not occur.

You can prove adultery by producing a private investigator’s report or where there is a confession or written evidence. If you intend to rely on adultery, you must file your divorce within six months of discovering the deed. You cannot rely on adultery if you knew about it and continued to live with your spouse for more than 6 months.

Unreasonable behaviour

In 2019, the top reason among women filing for divorce was the “unreasonable behaviour” of the spouse, cited by 58.5 per cent. Among men filing for divorce, the top reason was “lived apart or separated for three years or more”, cited by 51.9 per cent.

In 2016, 53.7% of all divorces cited “unreasonable behaviour” as the factual basis for the divorce – making this the most common reason for divorce.

“Unreasonable behaviour” essentially means your partner has behaved so badly you can no longer reasonably be expected to live with them. Here are some examples of unreasonable behaviour:

  • The Defendant has been violent toward the Plaintiff.
  • The Defendant has threatened the Plaintiff with physical violence or has been physically abusive.
  • The Defendant has been verbally abusive towards the Plaintiff.
  • The Defendant is an alcoholic, drinks to excess, and when he/she is under the influence of alcohol, he/she behaves unreasonably and aggressively.
  • The Defendant shows little or no respect for the Plaintiff.
  • The Defendant is always criticising the Plaintiff without any proper reason.
  • The Defendant repeatedly insults the Plaintiff by calling him/her “useless”, “good for nothing.”
  • The Defendant is financially irresponsible and has failed to maintain the Plaintiff and/or the children properly during the marriage.
  • The Defendant frequently comes home in the early hours of the morning, reeking of alcohol and perfume. When questioned, he/she refuses to tell the Plaintiff where he/she has been.
  • During the marriage, the Defendant is a compulsive gambler, or has gambled to excess and has, on numerous occasions, caused considerable distress to the Plaintiff by getting into large gambling debts and dissipating the family’s savings.
  • The Defendant has borrowed money from the Plaintiff to feed his/her gambling habit.
  • The Defendant has no interest in the Plaintiff’s life.
  • The Defendant has formed an improper relationship with a woman/man whose identity is unknown.
  • The Defendant refuses to discuss the issues within the marriage with the Petitioner.
  • The Defendant shows no interest in talking with the Plaintiff and prefers to socialise alone with friends.
  • The Defendant is a spendthrift and has repeatedly spent money beyond the couple’s means.
  • The Defendant refuses to try and resolve the issues and continues to behave unreasonably.

Desertion of 2 years

You need to show that your spouse has deserted you for a continuous period of at least 2 years immediately before the start of your divorce proceedings. Desertion can be proven by showing that your spouse packed up and left home and does not intend to carry on with the marriage.

Separation for 3 years

You and your spouse must have lived separately continuously for a period of 3 years. Your spouse also has to agree to the divorce. This is a no-fault divorce ground and is commonly used by couples when they want an amicable split.

One common misconception is that once you have been separated for 3 years, divorce is automatic. Unfortunately, it is not automatic – you still need to file papers to obtain a divorce.

Separation for 4 years

If you and your spouse have lived separately for the last 4 years, then your spouse’s consent to the divorce is not required.

For any further guidance on divorce in Singapore, please feel free to get in touch with our dedicated divorce lawyers.

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

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Dorothy Tan

Deputy Head, Family & Divorce Practice Group

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