WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS TO FILE FOR DIVORCE IN SINGAPORE
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS TO FILE FOR DIVORCE IN SINGAPORE
This article sets out the requirements that must be met before a party may file for divorce in Singapore.
By way of summary, the following requirements must be met:
the Singapore Court must have matrimonial jurisdiction;
the parties must have been married for at least 3 years unless there are exceptional circumstances; and
where the parties have at least one child who is below the age of 21 years, the party filing for divorce must first complete the Mandatory Parenting Programme and obtain a certificate of completion.
These requirements are examined in more detail below.
Requirement 1: The Singapore Court must have matrimonial jurisdiction
Before filing for divorce in Singapore, the party who seeks to file for divorce should ensure that the Singapore Court has the necessary jurisdiction over the proceedings. Under Singapore law, the Court has jurisdiction to hear proceedings for divorce only if either of the parties to the marriage is:
domiciled in Singapore at the time of commencement of the proceedings; or
habitually resident in Singapore for a period of 3 years immediately preceding the commencement of the proceedings.
Where one or both parties to the marriage are Singapore citizens, the Singapore Court is likely to have the necessary jurisdiction to hear the divorce proceedings. Singapore citizens are deemed to be domiciled in Singapore unless the contrary is proven.
As for the requirement that a party be “habitually resident” in Singapore, the Singapore Court has held that this requirement will be fulfilled if a party is ordinarily resident in Singapore for a period of 3 years preceding the commencement of the proceedings. However, in deciding whether a party can be said to be ordinarily resident in Singapore, the Court is likely to have regard to any periods of time spent by the party outside of Singapore. For example, in a previous case, where the party had travelled to New Zealand and Taiwan for a period of 6 months total out of a period of 3 years, the Court decided that such a long period of absence meant that the party had not been habitually resident in Singapore for 3 years.
Requirement 2: The parties must have been married for at least 3 years unless there are exceptional circumstances
After checking that the Singapore Court has jurisdiction over the proceedings, the party seeking to file for divorce should also ensure that he or she is not prohibited from doing so because of the length of the marriage. Under Singapore law, no writ for divorce shall be filed unless, at the date of filing, 3 years have passed since the date of the marriage. Therefore, where the parties have been married for a period of fewer than 3 years, the general position is that neither party to the marriage may file for divorce.
In exceptional cases, the Court may allow a party to file for divorce even if the marriage has subsisted for a period of fewer than 3 years. A party who wants to file for a divorce before the 3-year period is up may apply to the Court for permission to file for divorce. The Court will only grant such an application if it is of the view that the case is either: (a) one of exceptional hardship suffered by the plaintiff; or (b) one of exceptional depravity on the part of the defendant.
It should be noted, however, that the Court will only allow such an application in rare cases. For example, in a previous case, the Court granted the husband’s application for leave to file for divorce even though his marriage had not yet lasted for a period of 3 years. The Court decided that he had been subjected to exceptional hardship as his wife had returned to China and had told the husband that she would rather die than return to him.
Requirement 3: If applicable, the party filing for divorce must first complete the Mandatory Parenting Programme
In certain cases, it is compulsory for the party filing for divorce to first complete the Mandatory Parenting Programme before filing for divorce. The Mandatory Parenting Programme is a consultation session for parents of minor children, designed to encourage divorcing couples to make well-informed decisions that prioritise the well-being of the children to the marriage.
Under Singapore law, if the party who wants to file for divorce is prescribed, he cannot file for divorce unless he or she has completed the Mandatory Parenting Programme. A “prescribed party” who has to attend the Mandatory Parenting Programme is a party to a marriage where:
at least one party to the marriage intends to file for divorce on or after 1 December 2016;
there is at least one child of the marriage who is below the age of 21 years when the party intends to file for divorce; and
there is no agreement between the parties to the marriage on one or more of the following matters:
(i) whether the marriage has irretrievably broken down;
(ii) the facts relied on to support the allegation that the marriage has irretrievably broken down;
(iii) the ownership and division of matrimonial assets;
(iv) the maintenance of the wife or incapacitated husband;
(v) the custody or care and control of any child of the marriage below the age of 21 years;
(vi) the maintenance of any child of the marriage; or
(vii) any other arrangements for the welfare of any child of the marriage who is below the age of 21 years.
If the party who wishes to file for a divorce falls within the definition of a “prescribed party” as set out above, he or she would have to first attend the Mandatory Parenting Programme and obtain a certificate of completion before filing for divorce. The party should also ensure that such parenting programme has been completed in the 2 years immediately preceding the filing for divorce, and not earlier than that.
The certificate of completion, which is obtained upon completion of the Mandatory Parenting Programme, must be filed together with the writ for divorce at the commencement of proceedings.
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