The procedures for the two types of divorce differ to a great extent. The following is the usual procedure for contested divorces:
(A) Filing Necessary Documents
Just like in uncontested divorces, divorce proceedings commence when the Plaintiff serves the Writ for Divorce, Statement of Claim and Statement of Particulars on the Defendant after receiving a reply to the HDB Standard Query.
The sole ground of divorce in Singapore is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage in question, and parties will have to prove this to the Family Justice Courts using one of the following facts: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, three years’ separation with consent or four years’ separation (Section 95 Women’s Charter). The Statement of Claim will specify the fact being relied on and the Statement of Particulars will give details of the chosen fact.
In addition, parties need to file a Proposed Parenting Plan if they have children below 21 and a Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan if there is a HDB flat to be divided.
Responses to Service of Divorce Documents:
The Defendant must not ignore the documents served on him otherwise the divorce will proceed as uncontested and may be granted in his absence. Therefore, it is important for the Defendant to Enter an Appearance within 8 days of service of the divorce documents, or within 21 days if he was overseas at the time of service.
If the Defendant wishes to remain married to the Plaintiff, he will have to defend the divorce by filing a Memorandum of Appearance (Form 18) and a Defence, in which he disputes the Plaintiff’s claims and sets out why the marriage has not broken down irretrievably.
Should the Defendant accept that the marriage has broken down irretrievably but refuse to take responsibility for it, he can file a Defence and Counterclaim (Form 21). This would set out the Defendant’s case and his reasons for the marriage having irretrievably broken down. The Plaintiff will then have 14 days from the date of service of the Defence and Counterclaim to file a Reply and Defence to Counterclaim (Form 22) if he so chooses.
If the Defendant chooses to contest only ancillary matters, he can then file a Memorandum of Appearance indicating which issues he would like to be heard on.
A Status Conference is called if parties are unable to set down their case for hearing within six weeks of the Writ for Divorce being filed. During the Status Conference, which is conducted in Chambers, the Family Court will check if all necessary documents have been filed and refer parties seeking a contested divorce for counselling if deemed necessary (Paragraph 17 Family Justice Courts Practice Directions).
(B) Divorce Hearing
In a contested divorce, parties will have to undergo a case conference (more information in Paragraph 86 Family Justice Courts Practice Directions) in Chambers before the actual contested divorce hearing. At this stage, the Family Justice Court may direct the parties to attend counselling if settlement is possible.
The primary purposes of this case conference are to attempt to identify issues that both parties are agreeable to resolving and to prepare the parties for their contested divorce hearing, which will be a trial in open court. This means that members of the public will be able to witness the trial if they decide to do so.
If settlement is still not possible at this stage, the Court will direct the parties to file Affidavits of Evidence-in-Chief.
Depending on the complexity of the case and number of witnesses involved, the trial’s duration may range from one day to several. The parties will be cross-examined on their affidavit evidence and this can be a very stressful process as they may have to relive personal and unpleasant details of their marriage in open court.
At the end of this, the Court will be grant an Interim Judgment, or provisional order for divorce, if it is sufficiently satisfied that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This marks the end of the first stage of the divorce process.
(C) Ancillary Matters
Ancillary matters concern everything that do not have to do with the dissolution of the marriage, i.e. child support and custody (including care and control of children), division of matrimonial assets, divorce maintenance, etc.
This stage of divorce proceedings can become bitter and fiery as both spouses want as much as possible for themselves, especially where there are children in the picture. The prospect of losing care and control of children can be frightening, but it is comforting to keep in mind that joint custody orders are the norm in Singapore.
The Ancillary Matters case conference (paragraph 86 Family Justice Courts Practice Directions) is a pre-trial process that is meant to prepare parties for the Ancillary Matters Hearing, and is conducted in Chambers.
If settlement is possible, parties may be referred for counselling with a Court counselor or to Family Resolutions Chambers. This is succeeded by a Consent Ancillary Matters Hearing and the Draft Consent Order is prepared here. The Draft Consent Order indicates settlement of all contested ancillary issues.
Where parties are hostile and are at loggerheads regarding their children, they may be referred for counselling by the Court. The Court may also appoint a Child Representative, who will represent the children’s interests throughout the trial.
If settlement is not possible, parties will have to file Affidavits of Assets and Means (Form 206). These set out both parties’ assets, liabilities and income; they should also contain each spouse’s stance on maintenance, division of matrimonial assets, custody, etc. If one party does not make a full and frank disclosure of his assets, the other party may file a discovery application to order full disclosure. This will be followed by a Contested Ancillary Matters Hearing.
In order to achieve a fair outcome, the Court will take into account various factors when deciding on ancillary matters. This list includes the needs of the children, since their welfare is considered top priority, and financial contributions to assets made by both parties. S 112 of the Women’s Charter contains the full list.
During the hearing, which is in Chambers, the parties’ respective lawyers will make written and oral submissions in Court. When the Ancillary Matters order has been passed, parties have 14 days to file an appeal if they are dissatisfied with the result
(D) Final Judgment
An Interim Judgment is turned final after 3 months if orders on ancillary matters have been made. However, the Court may hold back the Final Judgment if parties have not satisfactorily made care arrangements for their children (Section 123 Women’s Charter). After the Final Judgment is passed, parties are free to remarry as they please.
It may be tempting to want to self-represent in court to save legal costs, or ‘act in person’, but spouses need to be aware of the standards they will be held to before they attempt this. The Family Justice Courts cannot dispense advice; only qualified lawyers are able to independently advise on a case’s merits.
Parties will be expected to ready their cases to the same level as lawyers, and self-representation will not suffice as an excuse for poor preparation. For contested divorces especially, where there are various forms and affidavits to file, parties would not want to be ruled against as a result of ill-informed and improper handling of their cases. Parties acting in person need to know how to cross-examine, ensure documents are filed on time, follow the formal rules of court and pay the correct fees, among many other things.
Should low income be an inhibiting factor, parties may want to consider applying to the Legal Aid Bureau for legal aid. Their success will be ascertained by means and merits tests.
If unsure of the magnitude of legal costs that will be incurred, parties can consult divorce lawyers, many of whom offer free first consultations, who may attempt to advise them on a rough figure that they will have to pay. This in turn depends on the complexity and contentiousness of each case.
With the exception of the actual Contested Divorce hearing, much of the process is conducted in Chambers and may not even require the presence of the parties as long as they have hired counsel.
The Contested Divorce hearing, or the hearing of the Writ for Divorce, is held in open court. This is in stark contrast with uncontested divorce hearings, which are held in Chambers and are concluded quickly. Parties may choose to agree amicably to the divorce merely to avoid the tribulations of an open court hearing. However, this should not be a reason to abandon an attempt to defend a divorce if a party truly believes that the marriage has not irretrievably broken down as the Family Justice Courts view divorce as a last resort.
Contested divorces tend to take much longer to be granted than uncontested divorces. The length of a divorce depends on the complexity of each case, and it is difficult to put a standard duration on contested divorces as a whole. Cooperation between spouses and hiring efficient and experienced lawyers will likely speed up the process.
Since family lawyers in Singapore do not offer fixed fee structures for contested divorces, unlike in uncontested divorces, spouses should research counsel and perhaps have consultations with them when deciding which lawyer best fulfills their needs. Some spouses prefer cheap divorce lawyers with the lowest rates, some like good divorce lawyers offering the best value for their money and others hire the most expensive and best divorce lawyers in the hope that the fees will translate to quality and the most favorable divorce settlement.
Founder and Principal Lawyer
of Yeo and Associates LLC
Beatrice Yeo Poh Tiang
Having handled over 10,000 divorces since 2006, Ms. Beatrice Yeo, the Founder and Principal Lawyer of the firm, is widely acknowledged as one of the best divorce lawyers in Singapore.
She has extensive experience in all aspects of Matrimonial Law, including Nullity Proceedings, Contested & Uncontested Divorce and Mediation.
It is Beatrice’s personal endeavour to make sure that her clients get her personal and specialised attention.
Contact Ms. Beatrice Yeo right away for a FREE phone consultation on legal costs and divorce procedure. You may also fill up the enquiry form above to be contacted by Yeo & Associates LLC.
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