Gender-equality organisation AWARE has made several recommendations to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) on how to better support children and divorcees, and reduce acrimony in divorce.
In a statement on the consultation paper it submitted to MSF, the organisation noted on Thursday (3 June) of its strong approval of the proposed introduction of a new amicable divorce option.
The current system of divorce which requires assigning “fault” makes the process “far more acrimonious” than it might otherwise be, said AWARE. It went on to recommend that the current time bar which prohibits the commencement of divorce during the first three years of marriage has made the process “more painful” for some who feel trapped in an unhappy or abusive marriage.
As such, AWARE recommended reducing the time bar to one year, or two at most, as is done in other countries like Australia, New Zealand or Canada.
“We understand the Government’s desire to protect the institution of marriage and not make divorce easy,” said AWARE Executive Director Corinna Lim, “but we urge a reconsideration of the three-year time bar.
“We know women and men are marrying later in life and thus getting divorced later, too. Decreasing the time bar to a year, as we recommend, would give these individuals a chance to form another family unit sooner rather than later.”
Next, AWARE referred to the establishment of the Maintenance Support Central to strengthen the country’s maintenance regime.
AWARE pointed out that “the enforcement of maintenance orders remains a problem for many women, whose ex-partners persistently dodge paying spousal or child support,” adding that the ramifications of this extend beyond the relationship of the ex-partners but to the children as well.
As such, AWARE recommended that Singapore courts empower a separate body to enforce maintenance orders “with more robust and proactive measures” and to handle other related matters.
On this, AWARE also suggested that the courts set out clear principles or a guide to maintenance awards “for greater consistency and transparency on the determination of maintenance; and that maintenance claims be made gender-neutral and strictly based on need, so that male spouses have equal rights to claim maintenance.”
Finally, AWARE highlighted migrant spouses as a group that is particularly disadvantaged in a divorce. The organisation pointed out the struggles in navigating the local legal system, obtaining affordable legal aid, and retaining their right to stay in Singapore during the divorce proceedings.
Noting the stress this causes and how this could impact a migrant spouse’s ability to obtain custody of their children, AWARE recommended several measures to “equalise the playing field” for this group.
These include providing low cost or pro bono legal aid and helplines, an online information portion and information sessions.
Additionally, AWARE proposed that the government also automatically grant Long-Term Visit Passes to all migrant spouses of citizens and allow abused persons to renew their passes independently of their citizen spouses.
Ms Lim said: “Divorce takes a huge toll—psychologically, practically, financially—on the parties involved. It is not an outcome that anybody wishes for or enters enthusiastically if they can help it. Yet for many adults and children, divorce represents the light at the end of a dark, stifling tunnel: a relief from their troubles and a chance to start anew.
“Our respect for the institution of marriage must go hand in hand with, and indeed be informed by, the recognition that those unsuited as spouses should have the means to rectify their situations as painlessly as possible.”
Lastly, AWARE highlighted migrant spouses as a group particularly disadvantaged in divorce. Migrant spouses struggle to navigate the local legal system, obtain affordable legal aid and retain their right to reside in Singapore during divorce proceedings. This causes much stress and impacts their ability to obtain custody of their children.
Measures to equalise the playing field for divorcing migrant spouses include providing low/pro bono legal aid and helplines, an online information portal and information sessions. The government could also automatically grant Long-Term Visit Passes to all migrant spouses of citizens, and allowed abused persons to renew their passes independently of their citizen spouses.
For this submission, AWARE drew upon the experiences of clients at its Women’s Care Centre and Sexual Assault Care Centre, as well as the professional insights of family lawyers.