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MSF seeking views on new ‘amicable’ divorce option that does not require couples to cite faults to end marriage

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is seeking views on a new “amicable” divorce option that allows couples who mutually agree to divorce to file as joint applicants.

  • MSF said some divorcees recounted their painful experience of having to provide one of five “fault-based facts” to end their marriages
  • Under a proposed option, couples need not state the faults to prove that the marriage has “irretrievably broken down”
  • These suggestions will be put forth in a consultation paper published on May 3
  • The consultation paper will seek views on how to reduce acrimony in the divorce process, among others
  • This follows a rising trend in divorces here

 

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is seeking views on a new “amicable” divorce option that allows couples who mutually agree to divorce to file as joint applicants.

This means that they would not need to state any faults to prove that the marriage has “irretrievably broken down”.

These suggestions will be put forth in a consultation paper on Monday (May 3), following the ministry’s engagements with more than 150 divorcees and social service practitioners as part of its conversations on women’s development.

MSF said that the consultation paper aims to seek feedback on supporting couples undergoing divorce and their children, and to reduce acrimony in the process.

This follows a rising trend in divorces here, with data by MSF showing that Singaporeans are getting divorced earlier in their marriage.

In 2016, 18.9 per cent of those who married in 1987 had been divorced, but the proportion was higher for those who married between 1991 and 2003.

MSF said that through its engagements, many participants recounted the painful experience of having to submit one of five “fault-based facts” to end their marriages.

The divorce process now requires parties to state these facts, which include adultery, unreasonable behaviour and desertion, as grounds for divorce.

All divorces will also require a plaintiff – or the initiator who files – and a defendant.

Participants said that this also sets them up as opponents even though both parties have already agreed to part ways.

Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Social and Family Development, said that giving the faults for divorce could cause parties to revisit the pain and the acrimony can lead to further rifts.

“So, where there are couples who have already decided on divorce and its ancillary matters, they may decide to go on the amicable divorce process,” she said.

Similar regimes are already found in countries with low divorce rates.

In Japan, for example, couples can file their divorce at local municipal offices and may formalise ancillary matters through a public notary. In Malaysia, couples can file joint petitions for divorce with mutual consent.

Ms Sun stressed that the option is to not make divorce easy but to make the process less painful for couples who have decided that it is the only way out for them.

To ensure this, the current safeguards, which include the three-year minimum marriage period before couples file for divorce and the minimum three months period before the divorce is finalised, will remain.

Already in 2015, the Family Justice Court has introduced a simplified divorce process, Ms Sun noted, adding that the new option is built on this track.

Last year, 60 per cent of couples who filed for divorce did so under the simplified track.

MORE SUPPORT FOR COUPLES AND FAMILIES

The consultation paper, which will wrap up on June 3, will also look at enhancing support for those undergoing a divorce.

MSF will be introducing a pre-divorce support portal that will offer pre-filing services and online counselling for couples contemplating divorce to “pause and reflect”. The ministry did not give details on when this will be rolled out.

The ministry will also look into how children under 21 whose parents are undergoing a divorce can be better supported.

It said that divorce support programmes are available to children but these are not mandatory. In 2019, fewer than 200 out of 6,700 children of divorcees assessed child support programmes.

The ministry will consider whether or not to make such programmes compulsory.

Related topics

marriage Divorce Family Justice Courts

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