How the coronavirus has impacted and changed the divorce landscape forever in Singapore

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Here are some ways in which the COVID-19 coronavirus has impacted the divorce landscape and altered it forever – marriages, the divorce process, divorce hearings and divorce lawyers. 

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PKWA Law divorce lawyer

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How coronavirus has impacted marriages, the divorce process, divorce hearings and divorce lawyers in Singapore

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Posted on 7 April 2020

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 .Introduction

On 3 April 2020, to combat the growing threat of the coronavirus, Singapore announced a much stricter set of measures that would be implemented for about a month, collectively called a “circuit breaker”.  All non-essential workplaces will be closed from 7 April to 4 May 2020.  Schools will move to home-based learning one day later.

Many things have already changed as a result of the coronavirus global pandemic.  “Work from home”, “telecommuting”, “stay at home”, “social distancing” are now part of the new norm.

Even long after the latest government measures ends on 4 May 2020, many things have changed forever.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic will bring (and has already brought about) some very big changes to the divorce landscape in Singapore.

Divorce rates may go up (if the pandemic causes breaking points) or it may go down (if the pandemic makes people more afraid and more cautious of the consequences of divorce), court hearings will no longer be conducted in person but by via video conferencing, and there will be an increase in applications to change custody and maintenance.  Family lawyers and the courts will grapple with the new technologies and new ways of doing divorce cases brought about by the health crisis.

Here are some ways COVID-19 coronavirus has impacted the divorce landscape and altered it forever – marriages, the divorce process, divorce hearings and divorce lawyers.

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1.  Relationships and divorce during COVID-19 stay at home period

For at least one month, families will now live in self-imposed confinement nearly 24/7, with nowhere else to go.  There could be a baby boom, a spike in divorces – or both.

Being cooped up inside a house with nowhere else to go because offices and shops are closed is hard enough for couples who are happily married.  For those with marital problems, a month-long quarantine might be nothing short of a nightmare. And this is without factoring in the financial stress caused by the coronavirus.

Long periods of self-isolation in the family home may thus cause a spike in divorces.  Such confinement may bring long-standing simmering tensions out into open hostility.  This sudden lack of freedom, working from home, the stress of looking after children who cannot go to school, coupled with financial worries, may take a toll on marriages.

We have already seen in China that there was a sharp increase in the number of divorces filed after the lockdown there was lifted.

On the other hand, couples may also become more cautious amid the pandemic.  This caution may make them less likely to get divorced. Couples may back off from a divorce because a divorce may make their already precarious financial security worse.

We can only hope that couples take this time to cherish each other and to be considerate and kind.

If they do not and constantly bicker, their children will, unfortunately, be witnessing at close quarters their parents fight.  The children, too, will have no outlet to release.  Parents thus have to be careful not to let their issues affect their children.

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2.  Job loss and money problems

Many marriages may fail because the coronavirus crisis is causing financial havoc for many couples.

With the global economy in a tailspin, many people fear being put on no-pay leave, suffering a pay cut or, worse, a job loss.  This is not going to be an easy time for families.

It will not be surprising if some couples choose not to continue with the marriage when their spouse is going to lose his/her job. Some couples will not countenance the idea of staying together – even for the sake of the children – if they have to financially support a spouse whom they can barely tolerate.

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3.  New ways of doing hearings at Family Justice Courts

The Chief Justice of Singapore Sundaresh Menon has been a constant advocate that the legal profession must embrace technology or be left behind.  He has repeatedly advised that law firms must be at the front line of technological change, warning that the “biggest mistake” would be to do nothing (Straits Times dated 25 April 2019).

Some lawyers have been slow to change. COVID-19 coronavirus has changed that.  In the blink of a couple of months, it has hurled the legal industry (and the divorce legal industry) into the digital age landscape.

When it became apparent that the spread of COVID-19 was becoming serious, the Government announced a series of measures that culminated in closing schools and most workplaces. No one could leave his/her house unless allowed by law and safe social distancing became law.

As part of its measures to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak, Singapore courts, including the Family Justice Courts, have directed that from 30 March 2020, certain court hearings will be heard via teleconference or video conference. These include:

  • Case conferences and pre-trial conferences.
  • Hearings in chambers.
  • Duty judge applications.
  • Counselling sessions.
  • Mediation sessions.
  • All High Court non-trial cases where lawyers represent the parties.

This is the dawn of a new era for how divorce cases will be conducted in Singapore.

Several years ago, the courts had attempted to conduct some hearings via video conferencing, but the technology then was unreliable and unstable.

Now, with better technology, hearings by video conference look set to stay.

Family Lawyers and litigants in person will no longer need to appear in person at the Family Justice Court for their cases.  Family and divorce lawyers must be reasonably IT savvy, able to operate video conferencing.

With more and more divorce cases being held by video, and less face to face hearings, your divorce lawyer’s legal research and written submissions are going to be more important than ever and will be decisive.  Family law couples will favour the divorce lawyer who is calm and hardworking over a brash and loud lawyer.  The divorce lawyer who does last-minute work hoping to use his personality to win in court is unlikely to do well.  It is also less likely that the courts will ask lawyers to make oral submissions, hence the written word’s importance.

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4.  Family Courts during COVID-19 circuit breaker from 7 April to 4 May 2020

From 7 April to 4 May 2020, all courts in Singapore, including the Family Justice Courts, will hear only essential and urgent matters. This direction applies to appeals, trials, applications (interlocutory or otherwise), case management conferences and pre-trial conferences.

All hearings other than those which are “essential and urgent” will be adjourned.  All new cases cannot be filed unless they are “essential and urgent.”

All matters scheduled for hearing between 7 April and 4 May 2020, which the Court has not assessed to be essential and urgent, will be adjourned. This applies to all family law matters (divorce, probate, adoptions, etc.).

We have written a more detailed article here: The impact of COVID-19 on your family law cases in the Family Courts.

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5.  An increase in custody, maintenance and personal protection applications

During these difficult times, our family lawyers at PKWA Law are already getting enquiries from anxious couples about their rights and obligations under an existing court order for custody and access of the children.

If you have an existing Court Order on Co-Parenting and Access, you should comply with it unless Parliament or the courts say otherwise.

We have written a more detailed article with the latest government directives:  What happens to Co-Parenting and child visitation during this COVID-19 crisis?

We can also expect more applications to vary maintenance because many people’s financial positions have been altered dramatically. Unfortunately, we can also expect a spike in personal protection applications.

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6.  More negotiated and amicable divorces

People may also become more cautious amid the pandemic.  This caution may make them less likely to get divorced and less likely to get married.

Those who want to get divorced would not want to spend too much money to fight a divorce.  Many people will not only be very worried about their job security and finances during this COVID-19 pandemic, they would also be acutely aware that their matrimonial assets have sharply depreciated in value.

There will be more divorce cases that are amicably settled, and couples will also try to go for an uncontested divorce.

When a divorce is contested, the husband and wife cannot agree on the divorce, children custody, how to divide their assets and maintenance.  Find yourself a good divorce lawyer with a good reputation in family law to try to get you a fair, negotiated settlement.

An uncontested divorce basically means that both spouses agree to a divorce and all ancillary issues before filing for divorce.

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Conclusion

The outbreak and rapid spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) forces divorce lawyers, the courts and family law litigants to confront a host of hard questions about the divorce landscape.  Married couples will ask serious questions about their marriage. Divorce lawyers must learn how to conduct business during a global public health crisis. The courts will become a service and not a place and will become more accessible to litigants.

In the blink of an eye, COVID-19 has impacted and altered the divorce landscape and the divorce legal industry forever.

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Related Articles:

The impact of COVID-10 coronavirus on your family law case in the Family Courts Singapore

Divorced Parents in Singapore – Co-Parenting and custody orders during COVID-19

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ABOUT PKWA FAMILY LAW

PKWA Divorce Lawyers

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PKWA Law is one of Singapore’s largest family & divorce law firms, specialising in divorce law, family law, wills and probate. PKWA Law’s family and divorce lawyers are consistently named leading family lawyers by respected legal publications such as Benchmark Litigation Asia Pacific, Asian Legal Business, Global Law Experts, and Doyle’s Guide Leading Singapore Family Lawyers.

Conveniently located at HDB Hub, PKWA Law offers affordable fees for the average Singaporean.

Contact us at tel 6854-5336 for a free first consultation.

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