Amicable divorce settlements unpopular

Amicable divorce settlements unpopular
Photo: Reuters
Published: 9:41 PM, May 18, 2015
Updated: 10:35 PM, May 18, 2015

SINGAPORE — Various options for estranged couples to settle the terms of divorce amicably have not proven to be popular, figures show.

The Collaborative Family Practice (CFP) process, which involves only a couple and their lawyers working out the terms of the split on their own instead of doing so before a court, has been employed in only 10 cases in two years — three in 2013, when it was introduced, and seven last year.

Private mediation, where a neutral third-party works with the couple to resolve their differences to try to prevent the case from winding up in court, saw eight cases in 2010. By last year, it had only doubled to 19 cases.

In recent years, the courts have been looking at various ways to make the family justice system less stressful and acrimonious, including setting up a review committee in 2013, which has since recommended several changes. One of these is a shift to a judge-led approach in divorce hearings, to minimise the instances where parties bring their bitter rows into the courtroom with lengthy complaints of petty spats.

Latest divorce figures released by the Department of Statistics last year showed that there were 7,525 divorces and annulments in 2013.

At a briefing today (May 18), the executive director of the Singapore Mediation Centre, which administers the pre-court options, said these alternative dispute resolution mechanisms gives parties a chance to end the marriage amicably, especially in cases where the couple still needs to preserve some form of relationship for the sake of their children.

Said Mr Loong Seng Onn: “This is very different from going to court, which is essentially an adversarial process where people are fighting each other. Although the marriage is dead, you still need to be parents to the children; you still need to have a working relationship ... Also, by not going through an adversarial process, the psychological impact of that dissolution is marriage will be less on the children.”

Ms Sophia Ang, director of counselling and psychological services at the Family Justice Courts, said about 55 to 60 per cent of all divorces involve at least one child below the age of 21 years.

Asked about the low take-up rates, Mr Loong said: “I think one of the main barriers is that they don’t know these processes exist. And that’s why we think it’s really important people understand (and) have a better idea that these options are available to them.”

On deciding which process would better suit a divorcing couple’s needs, Mr Loong advised couples to try the CFP process first if they feel they are able to resolve their disputes without a professional third-party mediator. Under the CFP, matters such as the division of matrimonial assets, maintenance payments and custody of the children are discussed. Once they reach an agreement, the proposal is filed with the courts without the parties having to attend in person.

Meanwhile, an update was also given on the Primary Justice Project, which was started in May last year to offer basic legal services at a lower fixed fee for those who do not qualify for legal aid but cannot a lawyer. To date, 12 cases have come under the project.