The control and custody of your kids is arguably the most contentious part of your divorce in Singapore. In making custody and access decisions, the Court protects the interests of children and ensures that they are taken care of in the best possible way.
The Court does not prioritize parents’ preferences, desires or likings above children’s welfare. Although financial ability is important to support growing children, a parent with higher income does not necessarily have an advantage in custodial arrangements.
Under Singapore law, the liability for the living costs of children is to be borne equally by both parents. By and large, it is also essential for both parents to remain involved in the making of major decisions for their kids.
There are a few types of custody order that a Court could possibly grant. After the Court has heard both sides, it will grant one parent with custody of the children and the other with access. The Order contains custody arrangements such as the place where the children reside, their education and so on.
In brief, the Order will serve the following purposes:
(a) Provide for the children to visit a parent deprived of custody, such as the times and durations of such periods deemed reasonable by the Court.
(b) Give a parent deprived of custody the right to access at such times and with frequencies the Court deem reasonable.
(c) Prohibit parent given custody from taking the child out of Singapore.
After a custody order is granted by the Court, only the custodial parent can bring the child out of the country. If the non-custodial parent wants to bring the child out of the country, he has to obtain permission from the non-custodial parent. The child can be taken out of the country for a maximum duration of one month.
The different types of custody orders are as such:
2.1 SOLE CUSTODY ORDER
It is understandable that couples going through a divorce will develop some acrimony towards the other party. One explanation may be that great bitterness is felt when marriage broke down due to misconduct and the feeling of hurt is still raw.
If the court deems that both parents will remain acrimonious towards each other in the future and unable to cooperate fully, then sole custody will be granted. Another explanation may be that one parent will “give up” custody to the other parent in order to obtain a better deal on other ancillary matters.
However, in some instances, the Court has ruled that the parent with full custody of the child to inform or consult the other parent regarding specific major decisions affecting the child. These include education, religion and health conditions of the child.
2.2 JOINT CUSTODY ORDER
It is becoming increasingly common to see the court award joint custody orders to parents nowadays. In other words, both parents will have some rights and say in making major life decisions for their children. Parents will need to communicate, consult and agree with each other when making major decisions relating to their children.
Joint custody gives both parents an equal say over the upbringing of their children, which otherwise will be absent. When the court orders joint custody, there will be separate orders on “care and control” (for parent residing with children) and “access” (for parent not residing with children). However, the court shall decide not to grant joint custody if the relationship between parents is acrimonious and that it is difficult for parents to cooperate.
2.3 HYBRID ORDER
The hybrid order will grant custody over the child to only one parent. However, the parent who has custody over the child must consult the non-custodial parent on matters pertaining to the welfare of the child.
2.4 SPLIT CUSTODY ORDER
Under the split custody order, the Court will grant custody of one or more siblings is granted to one parent, while custody of the other siblings is granted to the other parent. Such an order is rare because the Court would usually allow siblings to stay together to provide emotional support for each other.
In determining which type of custody order to be given out, the Court will consider the Welfare Principle, the Official Reports, as well as a myriad of relevant factors that affect the growth and upbringing of the child. The factors considered are non-exhaustive. Ultimately, the Court will strive to achieve an optimal arrangement for the child.
3.1 WELFARE PRINCIPLE
The welfare of the child is the first and paramount consideration in proceedings concerning custody of the child. “Welfare” is taken in its widest sense and includes moral welfare, physical well-being and ties of affection.
The application of the Welfare Principle involves a process in which the court will weigh all relevant facts and circumstances in order to ascertain what the child’s best interests are.
The Welfare Principle not only applies between spouses but also to whoever the parties are before the court, hence governing all custody proceedings, even if it is between a parent and a third-party.
3.2 OFFICIAL REPORTS
The courts will also take into account reports concerning the child in order to assess the type of custody order suited for them. This include the Social Welfare Report as well as the Access Evaluation Report, which are obtained from the Ministry of Community Culture and Youth (MCCY) and/or the Family and Juvenile Justice Court (FJJC) respectively.
A Social Welfare Report is prepared by officers from the MCCY. The officers will interview both parents and third parties (i.e. caregivers) that play a significant role in the child’s development. The officer will also speak to the children and observe their interactions with each parent. The report will only be used by the judge and not be shown to the parties involved.
The access evaluation report from FJJC will assist in resolving access disputes. It will lay out the conditions of access such as the location, time, durations and supervision of parent-child interactions. Counsellors will prepare this report based on interviews and observation of children and their parents. Similarly, the reports are confidential in nature and are for the judge’s use in resolving disagreements over access to the child.
3.3 OTHER FACTORS
The Family Court will take into account all relevant factors when deciding who the child will live with. Some of the more significant factors include:
(a) The child’s wishes: The Court may consider the child’s wishes if he/she is mature enough to state which parent he wants to live with. The child must usually be above 10 years old.
(b) Non-separation of siblings: If there are 2 or more children, the court will generally allow siblings to stay together.
(c) The age of the child: Whether he is a baby/infant/toddler/adolescent
(d) The current living arrangements: The Court will take note of the child’s schedule and activities and try not to disturb them too much.
(e) Maternal bond: The Court places more weight on the biological maternal bond between a mother and child. However, if the father can show that the mother does not have a strong relationship with the child, the court may favour the father instead.(d) Child’s primary caregiver: The Court leans towards allowing the child to stay with his/her primary caregiver of the child during his/her formative years
(e) The parent’s wishes
(f) The age of the child
(g) The parents’ financial ability
(h) Presence of family support
These are but a few of the many factors that the Court take into consideration when awarding custody of the child. At the end of the day, the Court will adopt a holistic approach taking into account all relevant considerations in order to arrive at a fair outcome that is in the best interest of the child.
If you are contesting the divorce, you may wish to engage a qualified divorce lawyer in Singapore to assist you on child custody matters. Your divorce lawyer will help you understand your rights and responsibilities and represent you during hearings. To find a lawyer that is best suited for your needs, you may visit the listing of law firms and associates on the Huffe portal.
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.
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