When you file for divorce in Singapore, you may have no idea on what you are entitled to. We bring you through a few topics that you should bring up, including children custody, division of matrimonial assets and maintenance.
What to ask for in a divorce in Singapore
If you are going through a divorce in Singapore, you may feel like you have no clue about what you want from the divorce. In this article, we bring you through a few requests that you should bring up.
At the outset, it is important to clarify that divorce proceedings in Singapore are split into 2 stages. The first stage deals with the ground for the divorce which may ultimately lead to the court granting the dissolution of the marriage. The second stage deals with a multitude of issues that arise as a consequence of the marriage being dissolved: division of matrimonial assets, maintenance, custody, care and control and access (also collectively referred to as the “ancillary matters”).
FIRST STAGE: DISSOLUTION OF THE MARRIAGE
If you are yet to commence divorce proceedings, consider whether you may be able to broach the subject of divorce with your spouse and ask your spouse for a simplified uncontested divorce.
This means that parties would have to discuss and agree on all issues of the divorce and ancillary matters at or around the time that you approach a lawyer to draw up the divorce papers. This agreement would then be recorded in a consent order and be made legally binding by the court.
Going down the path of an uncontested divorce from the beginning will surely save time and costs for both parties. More importantly, it may help to preserve the relationship between parties such that you and your spouse are able to move on without the bitterness that may otherwise have arisen from having to litigate the matter in court.
SECOND STAGE: ANCILLARY MATTERS
Division of Matrimonial Assets
In most cases, the matrimonial home will be the most valuable, and therefore the most contentious, asset in divorce proceedings. Broadly speaking, there are two options on the line: sell the matrimonial home in the open market or for one party to transfer his/her share of the matrimonial home to the other party.
What you should ask depends on the specific facts of your case but these factors (amongst others) usually come into play when negotiating the fate of the matrimonial home:-
Eligibility to retain the matrimonial home under prevailing laws (in particular HDB laws if the matrimonial home is a HDB flat);
Parties’ respective financial circumstances;
If there is a child to the marriage, you should consider the child’s needs when making your decision, in particular the amount of disruption that would be caused to the child’s life by either option.
An example of how the above factors may influence your decision is as follows: if you are eligible to keep the flat and you are likely to have care and control of the child, it may be worthwhile to ask for your spouse to transfer his/her share of the matrimonial home to you with or without payment. This helps to ensure housing stability for you as you move on with your life and more importantly, minimises the extent of upheaval experienced by the child as a result of the divorce. By effecting a transfer, parties are also cushioned to some extent from the influence of market forces that would otherwise be in play in the event of a sale. That being said, do note that you may then be required to take on sole responsibility for repaying the outstanding mortgage loan, so it is crucial that you ascertain what you are or are not able to afford.
Even if parties are in agreement to sell the matrimonial home in the open market or transfer one party’s share to the other, ask for parties to share any expenses incurred in respect of the matrimonial home pending the sale or transfer, and have these terms recorded in the court order. Such expenses include but are not limited to the utilities bill, the services and conservancy charges and maintenance fees. This is to prevent any dispute over whether both parties or only one party (e.g. the party continuing to stay in the matrimonial home) are responsible for such expenses, which would needlessly cause more friction between parties.
In addition, if both parties intend to stay in the matrimonial home pending the sale or transfer but presently have a tense relationship, ask to lay down ground rules as to how parties are to interact in the meantime. Having clarity in this regard may be wise especially if the matrimonial home is not very large. For example, you may wish to bring up certain guidelines on either party’s visitors to the home, so as to minimise disturbance caused to the other party.
If your spouse is currently the policyholder of any insurance policy/policies under which you are the assured person, ask for your spouse to transfer the ownership of the insurance policy/policies to your name. This request allows you to ensure that you continue to be covered under the insurance policy/policies and that there is no lapse in coverage if/when your spouse unilaterally stops paying for the premium(s).
Items of sentimental value
When negotiating a settlement, it is common for either party to ask to keep items of sentimental value. Examples of such items include jewellery, watches and artwork. In some cases, this request may go undisputed by your spouse – after all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!
Maintenance for Wife
Under the Women’s Charter, it is fair game for you to ask your husband to provide reasonable spousal maintenance to cover your monthly expenses for some time. The issue of financial preservation is likely to be particularly acute if you had not been working at some point during the marriage. This payment of maintenance may take the form of monthly payments or lump sum payments. In the event that you wish for a clean break and know that your husband is likely to be able to fork out the sum now, ask for a lump sum maintenance. In the event that your husband is only able to afford a certain sum every month, ask for monthly maintenance.
As a starting point, the courts generally grants joint custody of the child to preserve the child’s bonds with both parents as well as to ensure that both parents are involved in making major decisions affecting the child’s life (namely religious, education and medical decisions).
However, there may be exceptional circumstances such as where your spouse had abused the child or where co-operation between parents is wholly impossible after exhausting all attempts to fix the relationship, where you may wish to ask for sole custody of the child. It should be emphasised that the courts rarely make such orders, but nevertheless the courts may be ready to make a sole custody order in the case of extremely serious circumstances.
Care and Control, and Access
If you are not the parent with care and control (i.e. the non-residential parent), it is crucial for you that you ask for both weekday and weekend access so that you can steadily build on the parent-child relationship in different ways. For weekday access, your time with the child is likely to revolve around school and you may wish to spend time supervising the child’s schoolwork. For weekend access, things are likely to be more flexible and you may wish to organise interesting outings for you and the child to pick up new interests and skills together.
In addition, be sure to ask for overnight access so that you are able to participate in the child’s night-time routine and for the child to become even more comfortable with you.
While you are hammering out the details of regular access to the child, ask to nail down the arrangements for special occasions where you may want a little extra time with the child. The most common “special occasions” cited are the child’s birthday, your birthday and Father’s Day/Mother’s Day.
Maintenance for the Child
Both parents have a legal obligation to maintain the child until the child reaches the age of 21 years old. In typical cases, parties are willing to share the costs of the child’s list of monthly expenses (where they are reasonable). However, here are 2 specific categories of expenses that you may want to bring up at the negotiations:-
If you are the parent with care and control, you may be content to pay for routine medical expenses incurred by the child. However, do not fall into the trap of being left to pick up the tab if the child should incur hefty (and likely unexpected) medical expenses (e.g. if the child has to undergo a medical procedure) Instead, ask for parties to split the payment of significant medical expenses.
Tuition and enrichment classes
While parties are usually willing to split payment for the child’s school fees, your spouse may be less than enthusiastic about contributing towards the fees for the child’s tuition and enrichment classes. This may occur if your spouse was/is not the party selecting the type of classes that the child attends. To avoid being embroiled in disputes over the payment of such fees, it is crucial that you ask for parties to split the payment of the fees for tuition and enrichment classes and have this be expressly provided for in your divorce settlement.
At PKWA Law, our Family Lawyers are consistently named as leading Singapore family and divorce lawyers by respected legal publications such as Benchmark Litigation Asia Pacific, Straits Times, Asian Legal Business, Singapore Business Review and Doyle’s Guide.
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