Expat Divorce in Singapore


As an expat living in Singapore, you may wish to file for a divorce here instead of in your home country or in the country where you registered your marriage. However, it must be noted that the divorce procedures and outcomes will inevitably be different depending on the location of divorce, due to differences in legal systems. Thus, it is important that you understand the repercussions of choosing to obtain a divorce in Singapore — whether pertaining to your assets, children or future arrangements. 
1. Can I File for Divorce in Singapore?

The Singapore court will not automatically hear any divorce case. Since an expat divorce contains certain international elements (e.g. location of property, citizenship and residency etc), the Singapore court will only take jurisdiction if it is satisfied that your case is sufficiently connected to Singapore. Otherwise, the Singapore court would not want to interfere in international matters that have little connection to Singapore.

You can file for divorce in Singapore if:
1. You have been married for more than 3 years AND
2. You have a ground for divorce AND
3. Either you or your spouse is domiciled (permanently resident) in Singapore OR habitually resident in Singapore for a period of 3 or more years

If you do not satisfy the requirement of having been married for more than 3 years, it may still be possible for you to obtain a divorce. You can make an application to ask the court for special permission to file for divorce. In this application, you would need to show that you have experienced exceptional hardship during your marriage OR that your spouse has behaved with exceptional depravity.

If you can prove either exceptional hardship or exceptional depravity, and after considering the interests of any children of the marriage and whether there is a reasonable probability of reconciliation, the court may grant you permission to file for divorce in Singapore.Note that you must still satisfy the other requirements above, and that it is difficult to meet the standard of exceptional hardship or exceptional depravity.If you do not satisfy the domicile or 3-year residency requirement, you will not be able to obtain a divorce unless you can prove that you have the intention to be domiciled in Singapore. This means that although 3 years have not passed since you moved to Singapore, you are able to prove to the court that you intend to live here and to make Singapore your home.

Proof of such intent could be possibly be shown by the fact that you have acquired property in Singapore, you have a long term job in Singapore, you have applied for PR status or other facts depending on your exact circumstances.

2. Divorce Process in Singapore

The length of time required depends on how contested your divorce is. In Singapore, an Interim Judgment will first be granted when the court is satisfied that there is ground for divorce. The process of obtaining an Interim Judgment will take about 3 months if you and your spouse do not heavily contest the particulars of the divorce.

Where the particulars and ground of divorce are contested, your case will have to go to trial where a judge will decide the ground of divorce. After an Interim Judgment is granted, there is a compulsory waiting period of 3 months before a Final Judgment is passed to conclude the divorce process. However, the period between the Interim Judgment and Final Judgment is when you and your spouse will have to settle the ancillary matters between yourselves. Such ancillary matters include issues pertaining to your children, assets and maintenance. If the ancillary matters are uncontested, you and your spouse can just wait out the 3 month period before Final Judgment is passed.

Where ancillary matters are contested, it will take much longer before your divorce is finalised. This is because you would need to gather evidence (e.g. receipts, medical reports etc) and write affidavits (these are written statements declared by oath to be presented as evidence in court) to argue your case regarding the ancillary matters. The court would then have to read all the affidavits by you and your spouse and plow through the evidence before giving a decision on how to settle the ancillary matters. It would usually take more than 3 months to deal with contested ancillary matters, which means that you would be able to obtain Final Judgment after the settlement of your ancillary matters.

Your divorce is legalised after Final Judgment is granted. This means that you will be able to remarry after you obtain Final Judgment. Also, if you or your spouse is staying in Singapore on a Dependant’s Pass, that pass will no longer be valid after the divorce is finalised. You or your spouse would need to find a job and apply for an Employment Pass to remain in Singapore. Otherwise, you or your spouse would need to move out of Singapore.

As for the cost of divorce in Singapore, this also depends on whether your case is a simple or complex and contested one. Some law firms in Singapore handle uncontested divorce cases for a fixed fee, which may cost significantly less than elsewhere. For contested cases, your pockets would be happy to know that mediation is compulsory in Singapore. This means that divorcing parties would need to attempt mediation to solve issues between them (especially issues relating to any children of the marriage). Mediation is considerably more affordable than full-blown litigation over the particulars of divorce and the ancillary matters. Thus, you may be able to enjoy savings if mediation works out for you and your spouse.

4. What About My Children?

The Singapore court hearing your divorce will consider issues relating to your children during the ancillary matters stage (the period between Interim Judgment and Final Judgment). Orders may be made pertaining to (1) custody (2) care and control and (3) access. In making such orders, the court will prioritise the welfare of the child/children and will fiercely guard the best interests of any children of the marriage.

Custody relates to a parent’s power to make major decisions about a child’s life before he or she turns 21. Such major decisions include decisions about the child’s medical issues, religion and education. Usually, the court would order joint custody over children where both parents are to cooperate in making major decisions for their children. However, a sole custody order may (rarely) be made if the court considers that cooperation is impossible and that joint parenting is not in the best interests of the child. The court would take into account the wishes of both parents and children before making a custody decision that upholds the welfare of the children.

Care and Control
Care and control of a child concerns the daily decisions to be made in taking care of the child. Such minor decisions must be distinguished from major decisions about the child’s life that must be made by the parent with sole custody or by both parents with joint custody. Most importantly, an order for care and control determines who the child will live with post-divorce. The parent living with the child will have the authority to make minor day-to-day decisions for the child, like what he should wear and what he should eat, but must consult the other parent before making major decisions (where there is an order for joint custody). The court would order care and control to the parent that is most suitable, based on the paramount consideration of the welfare of the child.

The parent who does not have care and control of the children will be granted access to the children so that he or she can still be part of the children’s lives. Depending on the relationship between you and your spouse, the court may make general or specific orders relating to access. Where both parents will be able to cooperate on access timings or where your children are old enough to plan their own access timings, there would be no need for the court to specify the details of access arrangements. The court may simply make an order of “reasonable” or “liberal” access. However, where access to the children is heavily contested (e.g. in the case of children with special needs), the court order may specify access arrangements such as the need for supervision as well as the time, date and location of access.

If the parent without care and control is living overseas, special orders can be made for overseas access where that parent may bring the children over or the children may travel over to visit. Such orders depend on the specific circumstances of your case, such as the age of your children and the safety of the overseas location.

As the parent with care and control of the children, you may wish to take your children back to your home country. However, it is important to remember that courts usually grant joint custody to both parents and that the country of a child’s residence is a major decision. Thus, it would require the consent of both parents before your children can be moved to another country. If both parents agree to the move, then there would be no problem.

However, if your spouse disagrees with the move, you can make an application to the court for permission to relocate your children. Again, the court’s paramount consideration would be the welfare of the children. The court would not grant permission to relocate the children if you are unable to show that the move is in their best interests. To persuade the court, it would be useful for you to explain the reasons for the move and provide details such as the length of the move and future living arrangements for the children.
Likewise, the court also has the power to prevent one parent from moving the children out of Singapore. If there is a risk that your spouse may try to relocate your children during the divorce proceedings, you may apply for injunction to prevent your spouse from taking your children out of Singapore.

International Child Abduction
If you have obtained custody (whether sole or joint) as well as care and control of your children, it would be considered international child abduction for your spouse to take the children out of Singapore without your consent. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a treaty signed by numerous countries worldwide that helps a parent from one member country to retrieve his/her internationally abducted children from the other parent in another member country. This helps to prevent non-custodial parents from uprooting their children in order to search for more favourable custody orders from foreign courts. Note that the Hague Convention only deals with children below 16. If the country to which your spouse has brought the children is a member of the Hague Convention (Singapore is a member) and your children are below the age of 16, then you may be able to bring a case under the Hague Convention for wrongful removal and to seek the return of your children. As international child abduction deals with complex cross-border issues, you should seek the help of a good divorce lawyer in Singapore to evaluate your options.

5. What About My Assets?

An expat divorce may be more complicated than a local one because of assets held in other foreign countries. It may be that you did not sell off your previous matrimonial property in your home country before coming to live here in Singapore, or that you still have monies in your bank accounts back home. The choice of where to file for divorce has a huge impact on the division of matrimonial assets. Each country has a different method of defining and dividing matrimonial assets, and it is important for you to understand the laws of any related countries before filing for divorce in Singapore.

To make a claim on your spouse’s overseas assets, you must be able to show proof of these assets to the Singapore court. It is not enough for you to merely pledge knowledge of your spouse’s overseas assets; the Singapore court cannot make orders to divide an arbitrary entity. If you cannot produce evidence on such overseas assets (perhaps because your spouse is intentionally hiding them), note that different legal systems provide various remedies to trace undisclosed assets and that the Singapore court may not be able to compel disclosure of foreign assets. However, the Singapore court may decide to draw adverse inferences against either you or your spouse if either of you do not provide full and frank disclosure of your assets. Also, the Singapore court may be able to grant a Mareva injunction upon the application of you or your spouse if there is a real risk that foreign assets may be disposed of or dissipated — this is an order to prevent you or your spouse from dissipating assets before a divorce judgment is obtained. Even after you have decided that Singapore’s family laws would result in a favourable outcome for yourself, it is also important to ensure that the divorce judgment you obtain here can be enforced in countries where you and/or your spouse have assets. We recommend that you consult a good divorce lawyer in Singapore for help on these complex issues.

Where you have filed for divorce in Singapore and are able to prove the existence of foreign assets, the Singapore court would consider if these assets are to be considered as “matrimonial assets”. Matrimonial assets are (1) assets that were acquired during the marriage and (2) assets acquired before marriage that were used or improved by either party, both parties or any children of the marriage. Matrimonial assets will be included into a pool of assets for division, and the Singapore court will determine the ratio of division according to factors such as the direct and indirect contributions of each party to the accumulation of assets, the needs of the parties and any children of the marriage, any agreement made between the parties in contemplation of divorce and whether there are any debts or liabilities owed by either party.

If you have already been granted a divorce elsewhere (e.g. your home country or the country where you registered your marriage), you may still be able to obtain financial relief in Singapore in relation to you or your spouse’s assets and maintenance. The Women’s Charter provides the Singapore court with the power to make financial orders in cases where a divorce has already been granted by a foreign court. However, these powers are only limited to situations where the foreign court made no financial orders or inadequate/unfair financial orders regarding the parties’ assets and maintenance. You would have to satisfy a number of legal requirements before you can bring your case before the Singapore court, and it is advisable that you seek the help of a good divorce lawyer in Singapore to see if your case is worth a shot. Note also that the Singapore court is careful not to reopen divorce cases that have been properly heard and dealt with overseas — this is out of respect for international comity and to ensure that applicants for financial relief are not trying to have a second chance at obtaining a favourable divorce outcome.

6. What About Maintenance For The Wife And Children?

Under Singapore’s family laws, a man has a duty to maintain his wife during marriage and his former wife after divorce. Additionally, parents have the combined responsibility of maintaining their children until they become adults.

6.1. Wife’s Maintenance
For a wife who does not receive maintenance from her husband, she has the legal right to apply for maintenance at the Family Registry of the Family Justice Courts (regardless of whether divorce proceedings are underway). As long as the wife can prove neglect or refusal on her husband’s part to provide maintenance for her, the court may order the husband to pay her a monthly allowance or a lump sum. In the case of a divorce, the court will consider the issue of the wife’s maintenance during the ancillary matters stage.

The court will consider a variety of factors to determine the appropriate order to make. Such factors include the financial needs of the wife, the financial capacity of the husband, any particular disabilities of either party, the age of each party, the duration of the marriage, the contributions by each party made to the marriage, the standard of living enjoyed by the wife before being deprived of maintenance, and the conduct of each party to the marriage. To aid the court in making the appropriate maintenance order, you and your spouse would have to file affidavits documenting your personal expenses, income, assets, liabilities and any other relevant information.

6.2 Children’s Maintenance
Since every parent in Singapore has a duty to maintain their children, children may apply for maintenance from their parents. However, during divorce proceedings, it is you and your spouse that will negotiate maintenance arrangements for the children as part of the ancillary matters. Usually, the court will order the parent without care and control of the children to pay the parent with care and control a monthly sum for the children’s expenses. Note that you must continue to maintain your children even if you do not have care and control, and even if your spouse refuses to let you see the children. The Singapore court addresses the issues of access and maintenance separately and you should not deprive your children of financial support because of disputes between you and your spouse.

Similar to maintenance orders for the wife, the court will consider a variety of factors to determine the appropriate amount of maintenance. These include the financial needs of the child, the financial capacity of the parent, any disabilities of the child and the educational needs of the child.

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Founder and Principal Lawyer
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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.

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