Divorce Procedures

Divorce Procedures – Navigate the Complexities of the Divorce Procedure in Singapore and Understand How to File for Divorce in Singapore

Getting a Divorce in Singapore is usually the last consideration when a marriage breaks down.

1.    OVERVIEW

In legal terms, divorce is the legal procedure that ends a marital relationship. Divorce procedures can be complex, which is why it is advisable that you have some basic knowledge of the requirements and correct procedures. To begin, there are 2 key points you must be absolutely clear about.

[1] First, divorce in Singapore is a 2-step process:-

•    Stage 1: Dissolution of Marriage
•    Stage 2: Ancillary Matters

The first stage of the divorce process involves dissolving the marriage, if the Family Court is satisfied that your marriage has irretrievably broken down (i.e. is beyond salvage). You will receive an Interim Judgement when a Judge of the Family Justice Courts grants your divorce.

The second stage of the divorce proceedings involves resolving ancillary matters such as division of assets in divorce, divorce maintenance payments (i.e. alimony), access and custody of children after divorce below 21 years old. You will receive a Final Judgement if you are successful.

[2] Second, divorce procedure will vary according to the type of marriages:-

Court Governing Law
Civil Marriages Family Justice Courts Women’s Charter (WC)
Muslim Marriage Syariah Court Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA)

For Civil marriages, the divorce will be filed with the Family Justice Courts. The Women’s Charter governs the law on divorce for civil marriages in Singapore.

For Muslim marriages, the divorce will be filed with the Syariah Court. The Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) governs the law on divorce for Muslim marriages in Singapore. For divorces in Muslim marriages, marriage counselling is mandatory. The Syariah Court also offers counselling and mediation to allow for the amicable settlement of ancillary issues. A hearing will only be scheduled by the Court if both parties are unable to reach a settlement.

2.    REQUIREMENTS TO APPLY FOR A DIVORCE

There are some preliminary criteria that you must meet before you can apply for a divorce. In Singapore, you can get a divorce in the Family Justice Courts if you or your partner:-

1.    Are a Singapore Citizen or Singapore Permanent Resident
2.    Have lived in Singapore for a minimum of three years
3.    Are domiciled in Singapore

Accordingly to Section 94 of the Women’s Charter, you are also required to have been married for at least three years before you can apply for a divorce. Nonetheless, the court may grant a concession in exceptional cases and allow divorces in marriages that are less than 3 years, if you have suffered exceptional depravity or hardship.
Below are some instances where the court may grant an early divorce:

1.    Extreme mental distress
2.    Physical or mental abuse
3.    Unusual cruel adultery
a.    Committing adultery multiple times, with multiple partners
b.    Adultery with a maid
c.    Adultery with a relative or close friend of the spouse
d.    Committing adultery on the matrimonial bed
4.    Adultery-induced pregnancy
5.    Homosexual tendencies in either parties

Do note that this list is non-exhaustive and it is ultimately the court’s discretion whether an early divorce will be granted.

2.1    EXPAT DIVORCE: WHAT IF I AM AN EXPAT?

Even if you are an expat contemplating an Expat Divorce in Singapore, the Singapore Courts can still hear your case so long as one of the spouses has been habitually resident in Singapore for at least three continuous years before the divorce, or has Singapore domicile. Pursuant to Section 94 of the Women’s Charter, you must be in a marriage of at least three years.

If your spouse is a dependant pass holder, the filing of a divorce application by you does not affect his/her right to live or work in Singapore. However, once the divorce is legalised under the Family & Matrimonial Laws of Singapore, your spouse must do one of the following:

(1)    Leave Singapore within 14 days, or
(2)    Apply for a work permit and seek employment, or
(3)    If he/she is unable to get a job straight away, request for extension of the employment. In this situation, he/she would require authorisation from you via your employer. This means that you would still have to be a sponsor to him/her.

If you do not satisfy the requirements to file for a divorce in Singapore, you can consider alternatives to divorce, such as entering into a separation deed with your spouse. If you insist on getting a divorce, you should check with the country of your origin whether the Courts can hear your case.

3.    GROUNDS OF DIVORCE

To divorce, a Judge of the Family Justice Courts must concur that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. This means that there must be nothing else you and your spouse can do to repair the marital discord. In order to satisfy the Court that your marriage has broken down irretrievably, you must prove that you fall within at least one of the grounds of divorce, namely:-

1.    That your spouse has committed adultery and you find it intolerable to live with him/her anymore;
2.    That your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with him/her;
3.    That your spouse has deserted you continuous period of at least 2 years immediately preceding the initiation of divorce proceedings;
4.    That you and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of at least 3 years immediately preceding the initiation of divorce proceedings, and your spouse consents to a divorce;
5.    That you and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of at least 4 years immediately preceding the initiation of divorce proceedings.

Once you are certain that you fall within a ground of divorce, you may initiate a divorce proceeding. From this point on, the procedures will get very technical could be highly complex and challenging for the layperson. Thus, it is highly recommended that you engage a good divorce lawyer in Singapore to assist you in your divorce proceedings.

4.    STEPS IN A DIVORCE PROCEEDING

In brief, a good divorce lawyer will complete these steps for you in chronological order:

1.    Start a divorce proceeding by filing the relevant legal documents.

2.    Serve the sealed copies on your spouse to alert him/her that you have initiated the divorce proceedings in court.

3.    Obtain for you your first court date.

  • If you and your spouse are both agreeable to a divorce, your lawyer will file a Request for Setting   Down Action for Trial
  • If you and your spouse are unable to set down, the Court will call for a Status Conference to check on your case. Your lawyer will attend the Status Conference on your behalf.

4.    Accompany you on the First Stage of your divorce, which is the Divorce hearing.

5.    Accompany you through the Ancillary matter pre-trial process.

6.    Accompany you on the second stage of your divorce, which is the Ancillary Matters hearing.

7.    Obtain for you a Certificate of Making Interim Judgment Final, which would finalise your divorce and conclude all Court proceedings.

 

 

Here’s a Flow Chart to Help You Visualize the Divorce Process

 

The Detailed Steps are as follows:-

(A) Step 1: Initiation of a divorce

Once you are certain that you fall within a ground of divorce, you may initiate divorce proceedings. Your solicitor will (1) help you to complete and send out Standard Queries Forms to the respective statutory boards in Singapore and (2) file all the necessary documents in the Family Justice Courts.

A-1       Standard Queries Forms

Prior to the commencement of the divorce, your solicitors will send out Standard Queries Forms to the Housing Development Board (HDB) and the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board. This is to ensure that any new arrangements are made in compliance with the rules governing the use of HDB flats. This process will take about 1 month.

A-2       Filing of Documents

Your solicitor will commence divorce proceedings by filing these documents in the Family Justice Courts:

  1. Writ for Divorce: This is the mode of commencing a divorce suit.
  2. Statement of Claim: Specify the ground of divorce (adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, three years’ separation with consent or four years’ separation) that you are relying upon in your application for a divorce
  3. Statement of Particulars: This is a standard statement that details the particulars of the Plaintiff and the Defendant. It will also provide specific details of the facts that you are relying upon for the termination of your marriage.
  4. Proposed Parenting Plan (if you have children below 21): File an Agreed Parenting Plan if you and your spouse are agreeable to the proposed care arrangements of minor children from the marriage. The document should state how each parent will care for the children of the marriage during and after divorce, and also who is to have custody, care and control of the children.
  5. Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan (if there is a HDB flat to be divided between you and the Defendant): File an Agreed Matrimonial Property Plan if you have managed to agree on what to do with the HDB flat after the divorce, such as the payment of outstanding loans on the property, as well as division based on contributions to purchase price
  6. Acknowledgment of Service: This document will be signed by the Defendant and returned to you.
  7. Memorandum of Appearance: This document gives your spouse the option to be heard in Court. This is relevant if he/she decides to contest the divorce and/or be heard on the ancillary matters.

These documents will be filed electronically through the e-Litigation at the Lawnet & CrimsonLogic Service Bureau. If the documents are in order, the Family Registry will accept the documents for filing. Copies of the documents will be affixed electronically with the Court seal and the sealed copies will be given to you.

A-3 Other Important Questions

A-3.1 Am I the Plaintiff or the Defendant?

As the one that initiates the divorce proceedings, you will be known as the Plaintiff in this action. Your spouse, who is being sued for divorce, will be known as the Defendant. If your spouse has committed adultery, the third party will be known as the “Co-Defendant”.

A-3.2 What if My Spouse is Missing?

If your spouse cannot be found, you can still proceed with the action but the process will be more complicated and expensive. A Summons application will be taken out, and there will be a court order to proceed with the divorce. The divorce will be presumed to be uncontested and you will proceed directly to the second stage of divorce proceedings on ancillary matters.

(B) Step 2: Service of Divorce Papers

B-1       Actions by Plaintiff

Once the Writ for Divorce has been filed in the Family Court, you (the Plaintiff) would be required to serve it on the Defendant. This is a requirement under the Family Justice Rules to ensure that the Defendant is aware that you have started the divorce proceeding in court.

Depending on the situation, you may serve the sealed copies in one of the following ways:

  1. Personal service
  2. Registered post
  3. E-litigation on the Defendant’s lawyer
Situation Service Action (s)
Address of the Defendant: KNOWN Personal Service The sealed copies will be served via way of personal service or by registered mail (after you have signed the Acknowledgement of Service).

 

If service of the papers on the Defendant fails after two attempts of service, the Plaintiff can take out an application in the Family Court for Substituted Service, i.e. by obtaining a Court Order to “post” the divorce papers on the last known address of the Defendant’s door of his premises and on the Notice Board of the Family Court. This is done pursuant to para 11 of the Subordinate Courts Practice Directions. Alternatively, this can be done by Registered Post to the last known address of the Defendant.

Address of the Defendant: UNKNOWN Substituted Service If the Defendant’s address is unknown to the Plaintiff and the Plaintiff believes that the Defendant is still residing in Singapore, an application in the Family Court for Substituted Service by posting the Notice of Proceedings at the last known address, on the Notice Board of the Family Court or advertising the same in the local newspaper.

B-2       Actions by Defendant

Having been served the divorce, the Defendant has 3 possible actions that he/she can take:

  1. Contest the divorce
  2. Do not contest the divorce
  3. Do not contest the divorce but contest on ancillary matters

As the Defendant, decide on whether you want to contest the divorce and follow the procedures accordingly:

Situation Action (s)
Contest the Divorce You can defend the divorce by filing a Memorandum of Appearance and a Defence within 8 days of service of the Divorce Papers on you. A copy of the Memorandum of Appearance will have been served on you together with the divorce papers.

 

If you want to contest the divorce but ignored the divorce papers, the Plaintiff is allowed to ask the Court for a divorce hearing date by filing the Request for Setting Down Action for Trial. The Court may proceed to fix a divorce hearing date, hear the case, and grant the divorce in your absence.

Do Not Contest the Divorce You do not have to file any document to indicate that you wish to contest the divorce. The divorce will proceed as an “uncontested divorce” with a Hearing of the Divorce Petition thereafter.

 

The Plaintiff can then proceed to file an Affidavit of Service and set down the matter for trial.

Do Not Contest the Divorce, but Contest on Ancillary Matters File the Memorandum of Appearance indicating which issues you wish to be heard on. After the Interim Judgment hearing is over, the Court will call an Ancillary Matters case conference, and ask you to file an Affidavit of Assets and Means.

 

(C) Step 3: Scheduling of First Court Date

If you fulfil the requirements of divorce, you will definitely be scheduled a date for hearing. However, the legal procedures will vary depending on whether your spouse is agreeable to the divorce.

C-1 Spouse Agreeable to Divorce/ Uncontested Divorce

If the Defendant and you have agreed on a divorce, and if the Defendant has no dispute over what you have said in your Statement of Claim and Statement of Particulars, you must inform the Court that you are ready for your case to be heard by ‘setting down’ your case for hearing on an uncontested basis. You must do this by filing a Request for setting down form.

For uncontested cases, the divorce hearing date would be set approximately 3 to 4 weeks from the date you set the matter down for hearing, depending on court availability. Usually, parties’ attendances are dispensed with.

C-2 Spouse Not Agreeable to Divorce

C-2.1 Status Conference

If you do not set down within six weeks of filing your Writ for Divorce, the Court will call both parties for a Status conference to check on your case. You will be notified by letter if you are required to attend Court for a Status Conference.

A Status conference is conducted by an Assistant Registrar of the Family Justice Courts in chambers, i.e. only the judge, the lawyers and/or the parties involved will attend. You do not have to attend a Status Conference yourself if you have a lawyer. Similarly, if the Defendant has a lawyer, his or her lawyer will attend the Status Conference.

The main purpose of the Status Conference is mainly for the judge to determine the status of the divorce petition. At the Status Conference, the Assistant Registrar will check if all the necessary documents have been filed in Court. If the Defendant is contesting the divorce, the Assistant Registrar may refer the case for counselling with a professional Court counsellor, or for a Family Dispute Resolution Conference at the Family Resolutions Chambers. Further information on Status Conferences may be found at paragraph 17 of the Family Justice Courts Practice Directions.

C-2.2 Pre-Trial Conference

A Pre-Trial Conference will be called by the judge when (1) the spouses cannot reach a settlement at the Status Conference and (2) the petition had already been prepared for hearing. The Court will issue a notice for both parties and their representatives to attend a Pre-Trial Conference to reach a settlement.

The Pre-Trial Conference will be held in the Family Court and conducted in chambers – meaning that the hearing is closed to the public, and only those directly involved in the matter can attend. You do not have to attend a Status Conference yourself if you have a lawyer. Similarly, if the Defendant has a lawyer, his or her lawyer will attend the Status Conference.

The purpose of the Pre-Trial Conference is to help both parties get ready for the divorce hearing.

C-3 Divorce Mediation

Divorce Mediation is now compulsory and mandated by law. The Court will direct that both parties attempt family mediation before any trial or hearing is fixed.

Mediation is generally still part of the litigation process. Lawyers are engaged as advocates in an adversarial role and parties are often mindful of any future Court proceedings. Mediation negotiations can usually be more tactical and there will be a neutral third party (either a mediator or a Judge) who will facilitate discussions but will not provide legal advice.

C-4 Collaborative Family Practice (CFP)

Following amendments in 2013, you may now opt for the Collaborative Family Practice (CFP) process. In the CFP process, both you and your spouse will have your respective lawyers sit in a 4-way meeting. Rather than functioning as adversaries, your lawyers advise and support you towards achieving settlement. Both you and your spouse will be able to hear the advice that each of you receives from your respective lawyer throughout the process.

Under the CFP, parties and their respective lawyers work out together the terms of the split — including the division of matrimonial assets, maintenance payments and custody of the children — before filing their agreement with a Family Court. In other words, trained lawyers sit in with their clients to facilitate negotiations on the terms until they reach a mutually-agreed proposal. The CFP process is intended to make the divorce as painless as it could probably get.

As compared to the traditional court mediation, the CFP process may be slightly shorter. This is because under the CFP scheme, parties work together as a team to identify issues and solutions in a non-adversarial environment. In contrast, parties in court mediation have to file their divorce with the courts and submit all the relevant court documents before proceeding to mediation

If you choose to partake in the CFP process, you have to sign upfront an agreement that you cannot use the same lawyers engaged for the CFP process if the matter proceeds to litigation in court should you fail to reach an agreement. This is to provide a holistic and safe environment for negotiation on a without-prejudice platform.

(D) Step 4: Divorce Hearing

If after the mediation or CFP process no settlement can be reached, the Divorce will proceed as contested and a divorce hearing will be called. This is generally known as the first stage of a divorce proceeding.

Parties will have to file affidavits (statements to be used as evidence in Court) to support their claims, as well as those of their witnesses, if any (i.e., a third party, if the case is disputed on the ground of adultery). In the Hearing of Divorce Petition, both parties will have to produce evidence to prove their respective claims. All parties, including any witnesses, will have to be cross-examined by lawyers.

If the court is satisfied that the marriage has broken down irretrievably after the hearing, an Interim Judgement of Divorce will be granted. The Interim Judgment is a provisional order for divorce. It is made final, or confirmed, after three months. You cannot remarry until the Interim Judgment has been made final.

Any ancillary matters will be adjourned to be heard in chambers.

(E) Step 5: Ancillary Matters Pre-Trial Process

The second stage of your divorce case begins when the court calls for an Ancillary Matters case conference, which is usually called within a month of the Interim Judgment being granted. The Court will send you a letter to notify you of the Ancillary Matters case conference date.

The purpose of this case conference is to get you and your spouse ready for the ancillary matters hearing, which will take place before a District Judge of the Family Justice Courts in chambers.

 

Settlement Action (s) Hearing
Possible [1] Counselling with a professional Court Counsellor; or[2] Resolution Conference at the Family Resolutions Chambers Consent Ancillary Matters Hearing
Not Possible File Affidavits of Assets and Means (Form 206) Contested Ancillary Matters Hearing in Chambers

E-1       Settlement is Possible

If there is a possibility of settlement, the Assistant Registrar may refer the case for counselling with a professional Court counsellor, or for a resolution conference at the Family Resolutions Chambers. A successful settlement would be followed up with a Consent Ancillary Matters Hearing.

If both parties manage to reach agreement on the ancillary matters, the Court will give directions for a consent ancillary matters hearing to be fixed. You must prepare a Draft Consent Order in the correct form. Both parties must sign the Draft Consent Order.

  • If you have a lawyer, it is enough for the lawyer to sign it.
  • If you do not have a lawyer, he or she must sign the Draft Consent Order himself/herself before a Commissioner for Oaths or a lawyer.

Do note with effect from 1 Jan 2015, under para 86 of the Family Justice Courts Practice Directions, the Assistant Registrar may direct you or your counsel to file the Summary of Relevant Information (Form 243). This is found in Appendix A of the Practice Directions. The Assistant Registrar will normally ask both parties to complete Form 243 at an Ancillary Matters case conference.

E-2 Settlement is Not Possible

If settlement is not possible, the Assistant Registrar will ask both parties to file Affidavits of Assets and Means (Form 206).

You and your spouse will file affidavits detailing your assets, liabilities and income. The affidavits should also set out your stance on issues involving maintenance after divorce, divorce custody arrangements for children and division of assets in divorce. Common matrimonial assets include the matrimonial home, car, monies in bank accounts, so on.

If one party fails to make full and frank disclosure of assets, the other party may file a discovery application with the Court to order full disclosure. Likewise, if there is a risk that one party will transfer his/her assets away, the other party may obtain a Mareva Injunction to freeze his/her assets.

If custody and access issues are in dispute, the Deputy Registrar will require supplementary documents such as the Social Welfare Report to be prepared by the Ministry of Community Development and Sports or the Custody Evaluation Report prepared by the Family and Juvenile Justice Court. Usually, one parent will be awarded custody, and the other, access.

This would be followed up with a Contested Ancillary Matters Hearing in Chambers.

**Further information on Ancillary Matters case conferences may be found at paragraph 86 of the Family Justice Courts Practice Directions.

(F) Step 6: Ancillary Matters Hearing

At the second stage of your divorce proceedings, the court will decide ancillary matters. Broadly, 2 main issues will be covered:

  1. How Property and Assets are Divided: Parties are required to provide a detailed list of all matrimonial assets to the court even if they are listed under the sole name of one party.
  2. Custody of Children: This will be decided in the best interest of the children; not the parents. Affidavits will be presented to try and prove who will be the best custodial parent. Visitation rights and maintenance will also be decided.

 

(G) Step 7: Final Judgement

To conclude all Court proceedings and confirm your divorce, you will need to apply for the Certificate of Making Interim Judgment Final. This can be done three months after the Court has granted an Interim Judgment, and if orders on the ancillary matters have been made.

Once you receive the Certificate, you are officially divorced.