SINGAPORE -Citing fault strains ties further: Family lawyers support proposed ‘amicable divorce’ model
Source: Straits Times Article Date: 3 May 2021 Author: Theresa Tan
Jack is all for the option of “amicable divorces”, for which the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is seeking public feedback. He was one of the divorcees who shared his experiences with the MSF at their engagement sessions in March.
In the proposed model, couples mutually consent to the divorce. They do not have to cite any of the five facts, such as unreasonable behaviour or adultery, that prove that the marriage has broken down “irretrievably”.
They can also file for the divorce jointly, and they would not need to take the position of plaintiff or defendant, which forces them into an adversarial stance, those interviewed say.
MSF Minister of State Sun Xueling said the “amicable divorce” option builds on the “simplified track”, which was introduced in 2015, that allows for a simpler divorce process if both parties agree to the divorce and all ancillary matters, like child custody and maintenance.
The proposed “amicable divorce” option also comes as the Family Justice Court is stressing the therapeutic justice approach.
Therapeutic justice is a non-adversarial process that seeks to solve problems and help parents learn to manage their conflicts so they can engage in co-parenting instead of a single-minded pursuit of his or her interests.
Last year, 60 per cent of couples filed for divorce under the “simplified track”, a MSF spokesman said.
However, even with the “simplified track”, couples still have to cite one of the five facts to prove the marriage has broken down irretrievably, and a party must be the plaintiff and the other, the defendant.
According to the 2019 Marriages and Divorces Statistics published by the Department of Statistics, the top fact cited – comprising slightly over half of the divorces under the Women’s Charter – for the divorce was unreasonable behaviour.
Lawyers said detailing the other party’s faults in character and behaviour to prove the charge of unreasonable behaviour inevitably leads to the other party hitting back, souring the relationship even more.
Lawyer Dorothy Tan said that she has couples who have agreed to proceed with a divorce on the “simplified track”.
But after reading the details cited by the other party to support his or her case, the person feels aggrieved, and they end up fighting over the divorce. Such situations are not uncommon, she said.
She has also seen couples fighting over who gets to be the plaintiff, adding: “Looking at language itself, the origins of the word ‘plaintiff’ mean ‘to complain’ and ‘one who has woe’. It gives the perception of an aggrieved party and an accused who must defend against alleged wrongdoing.
“There is often the concern of perception and whether it makes a person look bad if he or she was a defendant, as if the person had been a wrongdoer.”
Lawyer Dorothy Tan said: “It could be because everything came to a halt for two months during the circuit breaker. The fact that people were stuck at home and law firms physically closed also meant that it was administratively more difficult to facilitate the commencement of new divorce proceedings during the circuit breaker.”
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