A guide to the contested divorce process in Singapore
When you decide to divorce in Singapore, you will have many questions.
- Do I qualify for divorce?
- What is my entitlement?
- What happens to my children, and how are assets to be divided?
- How long does the divorce process take?
- How much does a divorce cost?
At PKWA Law, our Family Lawyers are consistently named as leading Singapore divorce lawyers by respected independent legal publications such as Asian Legal Business, Singapore Business Review, Global Law Experts and Doyle’s Guide.
This article will run through the divorce process for a contested and uncontested divorce in Singapore, including what normally happens in a contested divorce case at the Family Justice Courts.
Before filing for a divorce
A list of requirements must be met before you are eligible to commence divorce proceedings in Singapore’s Family Justice Courts. The list of requirements, which can be found in the Women’s Charter, are as follows:
Mandatory Parenting Programme (MPP)
If there is at least one child of the marriage below 14 years old, and there has been no agreement between you and your spouse on the divorce and all ancillary matters, parties must attend the Mandatory Parenting Programme by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). The purpose of the MPP is to encourage you and your spouse to make informed decisions in the best interests of the children of the marriage. The divorce proceedings may only commence once MSF has certified your attendance.
At PKWA Law, we will assist in the application for the MPP. You only need to attend the MPP once, and the session would last no more than two (2) hours. For more information on the MPP, you may refer to this link: https://www.msf.gov.sg/divorce-support/pages/mandatory-parenting-programme.aspx
The Family Justice Courts have jurisdiction to hear the divorce proceedings only if either you or your spouse is:
- A Singapore Citizen; or
- Domiciled in Singapore; or
- Habitually resident in Singapore for at least three (3) years before the commencement of the proceedings.
To be considered domiciled in Singapore, you have to show that you are rooted in Singapore and do not intend to move in the near future. For example, you may have an established community of family and friends or may have substantial assets in Singapore.
Further, you may not apply for a divorce in the Family Justice Courts if you and your spouse are married under Muslim law. You may only file for a divorce at the Syariah Court in this instance.
Three years of marriage
You must be married for at least 3 years to file for divorce.
If you and your spouse have been married for less than three (3) years, you must obtain permission from the Court to commence divorce proceedings. The application for leave constitutes the filing of an originating summons as well as a supporting affidavit explaining your reasons for your application. An example of ground for such an application is one of exceptional hardship suffered by you.
You will be granted a divorce only if you have satisfied the Family Justice Courts that your marriage has irretrievably broken down on one or more of the following facts set out at Section 95(3) of the Women’s Charter:
- Your spouse has committed adultery, and you find it intolerable to live with your spouse;
- Your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with your spouse;
- Your spouse has deserted you for a continuous period of at least two (2) years;
- You and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of at least three (3) years, and your spouse consents to a judgment being granted;
- You and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of at least four (4) years.
What are the relevant divorce papers to be filed?
Your lawyer will file the following divorce papers electronically in the Family Justice Courts to commence the divorce proceedings:
- Writ for Divorce;
- Statement of Claim (specifying which fact you are relying on for the divorce);
- Statement of Particulars (providing details of the fact you are relying on);
- Proposed Parenting Plan (if you have at least one child below 21 years old);
- Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan (if there is a Housing & Development Board flat jointly owned by you and your spouse);
- Acknowledgement of Service; and
- Memorandum of Appearance.
Service of the divorce papers to your spouse
Once the Family Justice Court has accepted the above documents, the divorce papers must be served on your spouse to notify them that you have commenced divorce proceedings. We will serve the sealed copies on your behalf. Service may be effected in the following methods:
- Personal Service – documents handed to your spouse directly by our authorised personnel;
- Registered Post – only if Defendant signs and returns the Acknowledgment of Service to us; or
- Electronically to your spouse’s lawyer (if the lawyer has expressly stated that they will accept service on your spouse’s behalf).
If you are the defendant and you wish to contest, you should file the Memorandum of Appearance within 8 days.
If you choose to ignore the divorce papers, your spouse can request a divorce hearing date by filing the Request for Setting Down Action for Trial. The Court shall then fix a divorce hearing date and grant the divorce in your absence. Therefore, it is unwise to ignore the divorce process as the court will hear the case in your absence if the papers were properly served on you.
From this point onwards, divorce proceedings generally take two (2) paths: Uncontested or Contested.
If your divorce turns towards being uncontested
If you and your spouse agree on a divorce, and your spouse raises no issue with the substance of your Statement of Claim and Statement of Particulars, you must inform the Court that your case is ready to be heard on an uncontested basis by setting down your case. We will file your Request for Setting Down Action for Trial on your behalf, where the Court will fix a date for the uncontested divorce hearing. This hearing is heard in chambers, which means that no public members can attend the hearing. Once the Court has accepted that the proceedings are in order, the Interim Judgment for divorce shall be granted.
If your case is not set down within six (6) weeks of filing your Writ for Divorce, a Registrar’s Notice will be sent electronically directing you to either set down the case for hearing or inform the Court of the status of the matter.
In the alternative, the Court may require parties to attend Court for a Status Conference. During the Status Conference, the Assistant Registrar will check on the filing of all necessary documents and give directions for parties to attend mandatory counselling and mediation at the Child Focused Resolution Centre (CFRC) if there is at least one child of the marriage below 14 years old. Your attendance will not be required as we will attend on your behalf.
Please note that the Interim Judgment is only made final after three (3) months, and you cannot remarry until after the Interim Judgment has been made final.
If the divorce is contested, it will take longer
Should your spouse contest the Divorce and the ground(s) that you are relying on, they can file a Defence or Defence and Counterclaim within 22 days of receiving the Writ and file and serve it on your lawyer. Your spouse will also have the same duration to file their Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan.
You would then have two (2) weeks to file your Reply to your spouse’s Defence or Defence and Counterclaim. After your Reply has been filed, the Court shall fix a date for a case conference in chambers for those directly involved to attend, which we will attend on your behalf. At the case conference, the Court shall prepare both parties for the contested divorce hearing, which shall be in the form of a trial in open court.
If at any point in time there is a possibility of settlement, the Assistant Registrar may refer the case for counselling with a professional Court counsellor so that the likelihood of reaching a settlement increases. This would save time and costs as compared to proceeding to trial for both parties.
If there is no settlement – it proceeds to a contested divorce trial
If a settlement is not possible, the Assistant Registrar will direct parties to file and exchange Affidavits of Evidence-in-Chief, giving your reasons for the Court to grant your divorce. We will advise you on the pertinent points that must be highlighted to the Court for your case’s success.
A contested divorce hearing requires the parties’ attendance and the witnesses that you and your spouse wish to call. The trial may take from one day to several days, depending on the number of witnesses and the case’s complexity.
The Judge will grant an Interim Judgement if the Judge is satisfied that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. Any ancillary matters will be adjourned to be heard in chambers.
Ancillary matters – the second stage of divorce proceedings
After the Interim Judgment has been granted, the Court will fix a date for an Ancillary Matters case conference in chambers. This marks the start of the second stage of the divorce proceedings. The Ancillary Matters case conference’s purpose is for the Assistant Registrar to prepare parties for the ancillary matters hearing, which will eventually take place before a District Judge of the Family Justice Court in chambers.
Similar to during the first stage of the divorce, where settlement is possible, the Assistant Registrar may refer the case for counselling. If the case is acrimonious and there are children involved, the Assistant Registrar may consider referring the matter to a professional social worker or counsellor so that a confidential report allows the Court to assess prospective custody or access arrangements. A Child Representative may also be appointed to represent the children’s interests for the ancillary matters hearing, and the Representative will file a written submission for this purpose.
Settlement before ancillary matter hearing
If parties can arrive at a settlement before the ancillary matters hearing, the Court will give directions for a consent ancillary matters hearing to be fixed. A Draft Consent Order will be prepared, and both parties must sign the Draft Consent Order. If a lawyer does not represent your spouse, they must sign the Draft Consent Order before a Commissioner for Oaths.
If no settlement – proceed to file the affidavit of means
However, where settlement is not possible, the Court will direct parties to file their Affidavit of Assets and Means. This affidavit declares all your assets and liabilities, your direct and indirect contributions to the marriage, and your proposal for the outstanding ancillary matters issues. The Court will also direct parties to file the Ancillary Matters Fact and Position Sheet (Form 242). At PKWA Law Practice LLC, we will advise you accordingly on how to put your case best forward.
Ancillary matter hearing
Where there is no agreement, the Court will fix your case for a contested ancillary matters hearing. When approaching the contested ancillary matters hearing, the Assistant Registrar will direct parties to file the Summary of Relevant Information (Form 243) stating the contested issues, the net value of the matrimonial assets and the status of the proceedings.
Your lawyer will need to prepare written arguments concerning the evidence in the affidavits and having regard to the law.
The Ancillary Matter hearing may take several hours or several days, depending on the complexity of your matter. Once the hearing concludes, the judge will consider the case and make a decision.
Certificate of Making Interim Judgment Final
You may proceed to extract the Certificate of Making Interim Judgment Final three (3) months after the Court has granted an Interim Judgment or once a decision on ancillary matters has been made.
The Final Judgment marks the completion of the divorce process. You are now legally permitted to remarry.
Legal proceedings, including divorce proceedings, are quite difficult to comprehend if you are not a lawyer. Divorce proceedings are governed by laws, rules and procedures laid out in statutes, Rules of Court and Practice Directions. While this article aims to shed some light on how a contested divorce action progresses through the courts, it represents only a snapshot of an actual case.