From December onwards, parents who are planing for divorce and have children aged below 14 will have to attend a mandatory parenting programme before divorce is officially filed. This programme will be targetted towards parents who have yet to or are unable to settle the agreements of their divorce.
This mandatory programme was announced by Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin on 25 May, with the aim to provide both the parents and their children a greater understanding of what a divorce would entail for all parties.
In a review of the Women's Charter in Parliament in March earlier this year, the compulsory programme was proposed in response to the rising rate of divorce in Singapore.
In a study conducted by the Ministry for Social and Family Development in 2015, it was found that 16.1 per cent of couples who had married in 2003 had separated by 2013. In the past, the divorce rate after ten years was 8.7 per cent for couples married in 1987.
The two-hour long programme will be conducted by a divorce support specialist agency. Currently, four agencies are slated to conduct the programmes. They are the Care Corner Centre for Co-Parenting, Thye Hua Kwan Centre for Family Harmony, Help Family Service Centre, and PPIS As-Salaam Family Support Centre, for Muslim families.
Before the programme is made mandatory for this particular group of divorcing parents later this year, there are numerous programmes currently in place by the various agencies for both parents and children in the midst of divorce.
For instance, supervised visitation and exchange programmes are conducted by the Care Corner Centre for Co-parenting, to allow children to visit parents of acrimonious divorces in less stressful environments. As part of this programme, a counsellor appointed by the Family Justice Court is on site to supervise the visit and to encourage interaction and bonding between the parent and child.
Other programmes include Parenting PACT and Children-in-Between, which cater to parents and children respectively. The former aims to teach divorcing parents to better understand and implement co-parenting strategies, while the latter teaches the children how to communicate their feelings better to their divorcing parents.
Overall, the programmes have been largely beneficial to those who attended, with nine out of ten participants in each of the programmes reporting that they have learnt how to improve themselves and their relationship with their children.
Nevertheless, these programmes are still not mandatory, and only one parenting programme will be mandatory in December for divorcing parents with children below 14.
“The question is how intrusive do we want to be. We recognise that these are very difficult moments for the family, very personal as well. Introducing these programmes is an important step,” said Mr Tan.
The four agencies that will be conducting the sessions met with Mr Tan on 25 May with updates on the planned programme, which has been in the works for the past one year.
Mr Tan hopes that for some, the programme will be a push in the right direction, with parents ultimately deciding against divorce and instead, deciding to work on improving their marriage.
Nevertheless, he also added that “invariably, divorces happen as well.”
“I think the whole effort here isn't about making divorces easier, but it's really about supporting families at every stage,” Mr Tan said.