WP MP Leon Perera advocates for gender-neutral maintenance in Family Justice Reform Bill debate

WP MP Leon Perera advocates for gender-neutral maintenance in Family Justice Reform Bill debate

In the second reading of the Family Justice Reform Bill on Monday (8 May), Mr Leon Perera, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, called for the government to consider introducing gender-neutral maintenance payments.

He expressed his support for the Bill but emphasized the necessity of addressing the gender-neutral maintenance issue in order to promote equality and provide a fairer framework for all parties involved in divorce proceedings.

Mr Perera elaborated on the benefits of implementing gender-neutral maintenance payments, stating, “This should be done by giving the Courts the discretion to order that in appropriate cases, wives should pay maintenance to ex-husbands even if they are not incapacitated. Such cases could include where the husband earns much less than his wife or is a stay-home-husband, and has borne the bulk of domestic chores and caregiving.”

The existing maintenance regime under the Women’s Charter permits women to pay maintenance to their ex-husbands only if they are incapacitated.

Mr Perera cited three main reasons to consider amending the current legislation:

  1. The growing number of stay-at-home husbands in Singapore: According to the Singapore Census Population 2020, the percentage of married households where wives are the sole breadwinners increased from 5.8% in 2010 to 7.4% in 2020. The Labour Force in Singapore 2022 survey showed that 10.6% of caregivers outside the labor force are males.
  2. Women’s progress in the workforce: Since the Women’s Charter was first enacted in 1961, women in Singapore have made significant strides. In 2020, 52.5% of married households were dual-income households, and in 2022, the employment rate of females aged 15 and over was 60.9%, the 4th highest among OECD-developed countries.
  3. Gender-neutral maintenance laws in other developed countries: Many other developed countries, including the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the USA, already have provisions for gender-neutral maintenance payments in their legislation.

Mr Perera argued that implementing a gender-neutral maintenance regime would recognize the care work and unpaid contributions of stay-at-home husbands and safeguard financially vulnerable spouses, regardless of their gender.

He acknowledged that there is bipartisan support for awarding maintenance to stay-at-home dads and cited similar calls made by other Members of Parliament in previous debates.

He emphasized that a gender-neutral maintenance regime would not disadvantage vulnerable women, as maintenance payments would still be awarded at the court’s discretion.

“Even in a gender-neutral maintenance regime, any maintenance to spouses will be awarded at the court’s discretion, and such a regime should not disadvantage vulnerable women who can still be awarded maintenance,” he said.

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