WHAT IS CHILD CUSTODY, CARE AND CONTROL AND ACCESS IN SINGAPORE
What is child custody, care and control and access in Singapore?
When a divorcing couple in Singapore are also parents to a child under 21 years’ old, parties have to decide on 3 key issues as part of the ancillary proceedings: custody, care and control, and access. When parties cannot agree on these issues and come before the courts for a decision, the courts make a decision that is in the best interests of the child. This article sets out what each issue entails and briefly explains the current state of the law.
A parent with custody of a child has the legal authority to make decisions in “major” areas of the child’s life, namely religion, education and medical issues.
Broadly speaking, there are 4 types of custody orders:
“Sole custody”: only one parent has the decision-making power to the exclusion of the other parent. This is rarely ordered as this may cause an imbalance in the child’s relationships with each parent.
“Joint custody”: both parents have custody over the child, which means that the parents are to make decisions together.
“Hybrid custody”: one parent has custody over the child but has to discuss with and/or get consent from the other parent on all or some major decisions.
“Split custody”: in the case of more than 1 child, the children could be split up amongst the parents. For example, Parent A could have custody over Child 1 and Child 2, while Parent B has custody over Child 3. This type of order is rarely made as the courts usually see siblings as an important source of support for each other.
The current starting point is joint custody as the courts wish to encourage a productive co-parenting relationship between the parents. Joint custody is also important in sending a message to the child that both parents are still present in their lives and working together to bring up the child despite the breakdown of the marriage.
Care and control
A parent that has care and control of a child is the parent with whom the child lives. That parent is responsible for the day-to-day care of the child. The courts will either grant shared care and control to both parents or sole care and control to one parent. In doing so, the courts may take note of which parent is the child’s current primary caregiver as well as which parent can meet the child’s current needs.
The current starting point is for one parent to have sole care and control of the child and the other parent (also known as the “non-custodial parent”) to have access to the child. Access refers to when the non-custodial parent can spend time with the child offline or online. For example, where Parent A is the primary caregiver and has sole care and control of the child, the child lives with Parent A, and Parent B has access to the child on Saturdays. This arrangement is common when the child is of school-going age, and the courts wish to avoid the situation where the child travels back and forth between 2 homes during the school week.
However, the courts may order shared care and control in some circumstances, such as when the father had been the primary caregiver to the child or when the child has not started formal education. Under a shared care and control order, the child usually lives with their parents separately for equal amounts of time. For example, the child may live with Parent A for the first half of the week and live with Parent B for the second half of the week.
For the non-custodial parent, there is a lot at stake on the issue of access. The main contentions arising out of the issue of access are the frequency of access and length of access.
In addition to deciding access on weekdays and weekends, access arrangements should also include special occasions such as public holidays, school holidays and Chinese New Year. Access arrangements may be precise in acrimonious cases or use generic terms like “reasonable access” or “liberal access” to allow for greater flexibility. The degree of specificity depends on whether the parents have a communicative relationship. As a starting point, the courts are likely to order “reasonable access” for the non-custodial parent to facilitate their parent-child relationship. The definition of “reasonable access” depends on many factors relating to the child, such as the child’s age, level of education, and current relationship with the non-custodial parent. “Liberal access” means that access arrangements are not fixed, and the non-custodial parent spends time with the child on a flexible basis. This may be ordered where the parents have an amicable relationship and are both open-minded about the issue of access.
Most access orders provide for unsupervised access where the non-custodial parent is free to spend time with the child without third-party supervision. However, there are some instances where the courts may order supervised access, such as when the courts identify that there is a risk of abuse against the child and there is a need to protect against that risk.
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