Divorce Laywer Singapore

divorce lawyer singapore sharanjit kaur

Sharanjit Kaur

Sharanjit is a partner in the litigation and arbitration team. She is a Family Law Specialist assisting clients in all areas of matrimonial law including property settlement, spousal maintenance, parenting matters, child support and financial agreements. She regularly represents clients both within Singapore and overseas in countries such as Australia, Hong Kong, India, United Kingdom, UAE and USA. Sharanjit’s areas of expertise include: dissolution of marriage, property settlements, including matters involving substantial asset pools and complex financial structures, and matters with assets located both within Singapore and overseas; spousal and child maintenance; parenting matters, including enforcement and contravention applications in children’s cases, and relocation and cross border disputes; child support and maintenance; injunctions and restraining orders; and pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements.

The Process of Divorce In Singapore

There were a total of 7,578 divorces in 2017, according to the Singapore Department of Statistics. Although no couple wants to go through a divorce, sometimes the marriage reaches the point of no return. 

Here are some of the things you need to know about the process of divorce in Singapore.

TOC

For parties to file for divorce in Singapore, they have to be married for at least three (3) years. The Family Court will have jurisdiction and you can commence divorce proceedings in Singapore as long as:

  • Either party is a Singapore citizen or
  • Either party ordinarily lives in Singapore and has done so for a period of three years before the filing of divorce.

You can apply for a divorce before 3 years have passed on the ground that you have suffered exceptional hardship or of exceptional depravity on the part of the other party. However this requires high burden of proof before the Court will allow the application.

In Singapore, for a divorce to be granted at this stage, you have to show that your marriage has irretrievably broken down and the Court will only grant the divorce if you can show that the break down is due to one or more of the following facts :-

1.       Adultery – that your spouse has committed adultery and you find it intolerable to live with the defendant;
2.      Unreasonable behaviour – that your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with your spouse;
3.      Desertion – that your spouse has deserted you for a continuous period of at least 2 years immediately preceding the commencement of proceedings;
4.      Three years separation – that you and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of at least 3 years immediately preceding the commencement of proceedings and your spouse consents to a judgment being granted;
5.      Four years separation – that you and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of at least 4 years immediately preceding the commencement of proceedings.

Ancillary matters include issues relating to financial support (maintenance), asset division and children issues.  If you are not able to resolve these issues or any one of them through mediation or privately, the Court will then make a decision in at the ancillary matter hearing and for that you will have to file Affidavits of Assets and Means and make full disclosure of all financial resources and assets. 

The court will also hear parties on the issues relating to  custody, care and control ,access of children and child financial support. The Court will make a just and equitable decision whilst upholding the best interests of the children.

If you have at least one child below the age of 21 and you and your spouse have not agreed to all matters relating to the divorce, you will have to attend a mandatory parenting programme at the Ministry of Social and Family Development. Only then will you be able to file for divorce.  You will also thereafter, need to attend a mandatory counselling and mediation for cases with your spouse.

Before filing for potentially contested divorces, the Courts encourage parties to reach an agreement on the terms of their divorce and ancillary issues. Parents who have agreed on all issues in the divorce, are exempted from attending the mandatory parenting programme.

Annulment

Annulment refers to the legal procedure which dissolves a marriage and completely erases it from existence. This procedure is different from a divorce. A divorce legally ends the marriage but acknowledges its existence. An annulment on the other hand, makes it seem that the marriage did not exist in the first place. After a divorce, the parties’ marital status will be divorcees. However, after an annulment, the parties’ marital status will return to single.

To annul a marriage, you must prove that the marriage is either void or voidable.

  1. Void: A void marriage is one that is invalid from the start, due to an error in fulfilling the requirements for a valid marriage. According to the Women’s Charter, a marriage will be void if:
    1. The marriage is not solemnized properly
    2. The marriage is between close relatives
    3. The marriage is between underage parties
    4. The marriage is between parties who are already married
    5. The marriage is between parties of the same gender
    6. The marriage is between parties who are Muslim but performed under civil law.

There is no time limit to annul a marriage that is void.

  1. Voidable: A voidable marriage is one that is invalid but can continue to exist until it is annulled by one party. According to the Women’s Charter, a marriage will be voidable if:
    1. The marriage has not been consummated as either party is incapable of doing so
    2. The marriage has not been consummated as either party refuses to do so
    3. Either party did not validly consent to the marriage due to duress, mistake or mental disorder
    4. At the time of the marriage, either party, though capable of giving valid consent, was suffering from a mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act
    5. Either party was suffering from a venereal disease in a communicable form
    6. At the time of the marriage, the wife was pregnant with someone else’s child

A voidable marriage must be annulled within 3 years of marriage.

Asset Division

One of the most highly contentious areas of every divorce is the division of matrimonial assets between spouses. This is no surprise as how matrimonial assets are eventually divided will have a significant impact on the finances of both parties involved. Over the years, Singapore’s family law has developed in this area of asset division, and there are now a multitude of factors that have to be considered when determining how much each party gets in a divorce.

Identification of Matrimonial Assets

The first step is to determine what are matrimonial assets. The definition of matrimonial assets can be found in section 112(10) of the Women’s Charter, and includes:

  1. Any asset acquired before the marriage by one party or both parties to the marriage
    1. Ordinarily used or enjoyed by both parties or one or more of their children while the parties are residing together for shelter or transportation or for household, education, recreational, social or aesthetic purposes; or
    2. Which has been substantially improved during the marriage by the other party or by both parties to the marriage; and
  2. Any other asset of any nature acquired during the marriage by one party or both parties to the marriage.

However, some assets are excluded from this definition, including assets received as gifts or inheritance that are not the matrimonial home or have not been substantially improved during the marriage.

Based on this definition, common examples of matrimonial assets include the matrimonial home, cars, business assets, cash balances in bank accounts and CPF accounts and jewellery.

Division of Matrimonial Assets

Once the matrimonial assets have been identified, the Singapore court will then decide how to divide the property between the two parties. In order to ascertain the respective proportions in a “just and equitable manner”, the court will take into account a variety of factors, pursuant to section 112(2) of the Women’s Charter. Some of the factors include:

  • The extent of financial contributions in relation to the assets
  • Any debt owed or obligations incurred or undertaken
  • The needs of the children of the marriage
  • The extent of indirect contributions towards the welfare of the family
  • Any agreement between the parties

In determining how to divide matrimonial assets, the court will consider both direct and indirect contributions. Direct contributions are financial contributions towards any assets while indirect contributions refer to contributions towards the welfare of the family – such as looking after the household affairs and children. The length of the marriage will also be taken into account. Indirect contributions are more significant for longer marriages, but may not be as prominent in short marriages that do not involve children.

The division of matrimonial assets in a divorce is often a complicated and hotly contested process, especially when parties cannot come to a mutual agreement with respect to the division of assets.

We understand how important your finances are to you and will help you to navigate through this difficult process, in order to reach a satisfactory outcome on asset division.

We are an empathetic team with expertise in every aspect of local and international family law matters.

We provide strategic advice in a supportive setting, allowing you to focus on the journey ahead.

We advise on many aspects of family and relationship laws including nuptial agreements, property settlements and protection of assets, financial agreements divorce, separation, financial support, and child related issues.

Please do not hesitate to call us or you may drop us an email!

International Divorce Matters

In today’s globalised world, there has been an increase in cross-border marriages and correspondingly, a rise in international divorces. An international divorce may occur where one or both parties are foreigners or where the marriage was held outside of Singapore.

Such divorces may include situations where parties have assets and property located overseas or cases where one parent may wish to relocate with the child. These international dimensions of divorce may make the process slightly more complicated. It is thus crucial to engage a family lawyer that would be able to guide you through the procedures and cater to your unique needs and circumstances.

Matrimonial Jurisdiction

 It is possible for parties to apply for a divorce in Singapore even if one or both parties are foreigners or where the marriage did not take place in Singapore. The Family Court will have jurisdiction and you can commence divorce proceedings in Singapore as long as:

  • Either party is a Singapore citizen or
  • Either party ordinarily lives in Singapore and has done so for a period of three years before the filing of divorce.

Relocating with your Child

There may be a situation where you or your spouse chooses to relocate to another country and there are children involved. You would only be able to relocate with your child if:

  • Consent of the other parent is obtained in writing; or
  • Relocation is allowed by an order of court.

Relocating with your child without the consent of the other parent would be regarded as child abduction. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction prevents parents from relocating with their child without the necessary consent and ensures the safe return of the abducted child to Singapore.

There are also measures in place to ensure that relocation with a child only takes place with the consent of both parties or by an order of court. If there is a real risk of your spouse relocating with your child, you may engage a family lawyer to apply for an injunction to prevent your spouse from taking your child out of Singapore.

Matrimonial Assets

International divorces may involve assets and joint property that are located in other countries. Once parties commence divorce proceedings in Singapore, all assets, including those located overseas, can be divided by Singapore law if they fall within the definition of matrimonial assets. The definition of “matrimonial assets” is highlighted in section 112(10) of the Women’s Charter and includes:

  1. Any asset acquired before the marriage by one party or both parties to the marriage
    1. Ordinarily used or enjoyed by both parties or one or more of their children while the parties are residing together for shelter or transportation or for household, education, recreational, social or aesthetic purposes; or
    2. Which has been substantially improved during the marriage by the other party or by both parties to the marriage; and
  2. Any other asset of any nature acquired during the marriage by one party or both parties to the marriage.

Once these assets located overseas are deemed as matrimonial assets, they will be divided according to Singapore law based on the factors listed in section 112(2) of the Women’s Charter.

In order to navigate through international divorces, you would need a family lawyer that is well-equipped to deal with complex cross-border issues. If you wish to commence a divorce in Singapore, but require greater clarification and guidance on several international aspects, do engage a competent family lawyer for consultation and advice.

High Net Worth Divorce

High net worth divorces are often more complex as a considerable amount of assets and wealth are involved. Parties often go to great lengths to protect their property and assets in such a divorce, which may prolong the process and lead to a variety of difficult issues along the way. Potential issues may include the presence of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, the valuation and hiding of assets as well as the possible intersection with trust law.

Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements

As high net worth individuals often accumulate a vast amount of wealth, they will do their very best to protect their assets through the creation of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements. Prenuptial agreements are agreements made between parties about to get married and they determine how assets should be split or maintenance should be paid in the event of a divorce. 

Postnuptial agreements deal with the same matters, with the only difference being that they are made after a marriage. Prenuptial agreements and postnuptial agreements may be enforceable in Singapore, with generally more weight given to the latter. Such agreements thus have a considerable impact on financial assets and maintenance in divorce, and should be carefully considered.

Matrimonial Assets

It is common for high net worth divorces to involve a significant number of assets, some of which may even be located in other jurisdictions. As a result, determining the pool of matrimonial assets to be divided may often be a very tedious and complicated process. The assets held by either spouse have to be valued, including any business assets or assets held overseas, which are often more difficult to trace.

Furthermore, there may be an issue with assets that have been hidden or dissipated by a spouse. When determining the matrimonial assets, both parties need to have full and frank disclosure of all assets that they own. In an event where you have reasonable grounds to suspect that your spouse did not disclose all assets, there are measures in place such as discovery to ensure a full and frank disclosure.

Intersection with Trust Law

High net worth divorces may involve the creation of trusts in order to protect certain assets, some of which are created right before the divorce. Such trusts are often difficult to detect and trace and may even be established in offshore jurisdictions. 

There have also been instances of sham trusts being created to give off a false appearance of property rights. In an event where a trust has been created deliberately to defeat claims to maintenance or deprive the spouse of any rights to the property, section 132 of the Women’s Charter can be invoked to set aside the trust.

A significant amount of wealth is involved in high net worth divorces, and it is thus understandable to feel worried when entering into such a divorce. As a firm that specialises in high net worth divorces, you can rest assured that we will have the requisite experience and capabilities to better protect and secure your financial interests and assets.

Enforcement of Foreign Court Orders

Even if you did not commence divorce proceedings in Singapore, you may still be wondering if you would be able to enforce certain foreign court orders or maintenance orders in Singapore. Alternatively, you may have decided to commence divorce proceedings overseas and you are now thinking of obtaining financial relief in the Singapore courts. Over the years, Singapore’s family law has expanded to allow for such foreign elements in divorce proceedings through the recognition of foreign orders and the provision of financial relief consequential on an overseas divorce.

Recognition of Foreign Orders

Foreign court orders and divorce judgments are usually recognised by the Singapore courts. There are three generally recognised bases for recognition of a foreign divorce judgment, as listed in the High Court case of Yap Chai Ling and another v Hou Wa Yi [2016] 1 SLR 660:

  1. Where the judgment was granted by a court of the domicile of one of the parties;
  2. Where the judgment was granted by a court which exercised jurisdiction on the same basis that a Singapore court would have exercised jurisdiction;
  3. Where there is a real and sufficient connection between the court which granted the judgment and either party to the marriage.

Enforcement of Maintenance Orders made Overseas

Singapore courts are also able to enforce foreign maintenance orders. The Maintenance Orders (Facilities for Enforcement) Act and Maintenance Orders (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act are two statutes that provide for the enforcement of foreign maintenance orders in Singapore, as well as for Singapore maintenance orders to be enforced in other jurisdictions. Additionally, parties are able to vary or revoke foreign maintenance orders that are registered in a Singapore court.

Financial Relief Consequential on Overseas Divorce

If your marriage was terminated overseas, you may still be able to obtain an order for the division of matrimonial assets and maintenance from the Singapore Family Court.

The regime for the provision of financial relief after a foreign divorce is set out in Chapter 4A of the Women’s Charter. Three requirements have to be met, as highlighted in the High Court case of Harjit Kaur d/o Kulwant Singh v Saroop Singh a/I Amar Singh [2015] 4 SLR 1216:

  1. Parties must first satisfy the jurisdictional basis. One of the parties to the marriage should be domiciled in Singapore on the date of application or habitually resident in Singapore for a continuous period of one year preceding the date of application.
  2. Leave of court is required and there must be “substantial ground” for the application in order for leave to be granted.
  3. Singapore must be the appropriate forum to grant the reliefs.

Once all three of the above conditions are met, parties may be able to obtain financial relief consequential on a foreign divorce. However, one must also bear in mind that the Singapore court will be extra careful when financial relief has already been granted by a foreign court, so as to accord due respect for comity of nations and restrain a party from getting a second bite of the cherry.

All in all, the enforcement of foreign court orders is possible and financial relief can be obtained in Singapore consequential to an overseas divorce. However, there are certain conditions that have to be adhered to before such orders can be enforced or given.

Should you require any assistance when enforcing a foreign court order or requesting for financial relief, do engage a family lawyer who will be able to guide you through these processes.

Nuptial Agreements and Protection of Assets

Marital agreements are becoming increasingly popular as parties seek greater certainty and protection of their assets – especially in the event of a divorce. These marital agreements are usually drafted to safeguard important personal assets such as inheritances or gifts, so that they will not be included in the matrimonial pool of assets when a divorce occurs. Other issues that these marital agreements may cover include maintenance, division of matrimonial assets and custody, care and control of children.

Pre-nuptial Agreements

Pre-nuptial agreements, also known as ‘prenups’, are marital agreements that are made between parties before marriage. They are commonly perceived to be a form of “insurance” and stipulate how issues should be resolved in the event of a divorce. The fact that prenups are made before marriage ensures better protection of your personal assets and financial interests throughout the marriage and may help in preventing a costly and prolonged divorce if the marriage eventually comes to an end.

Post-nuptial Agreements

Conversely, post-nuptial agreements, or a ‘postnup’, is an agreement entered into by a husband and wife after marriage. In this agreement, parties will mutually agree on what would happen if they were to divorce or separate. Parties can choose to sign a postnup even when their relationship has not deteriorated or a divorce is not pending. For example, postnups may be created in response to certain key changes in the family, such as when there are children involved or when parties intend to migrate overseas.

Enforceability of Nuptial Agreements

Whether prenups or postnups can be enforced in Singapore depends on the content of these marital agreements. There are several considerations that have to be taken into account. If the agreement contains terms relating to custody, care, control or access to the child, it will undergo careful scrutiny and will have to satisfy the court that such an arrangement is indeed in the best interests of the child. The court is also careful when dealing with terms in agreements relating to the maintenance of child and wife and will ensure that such terms provide adequate maintenance. Lastly, matrimonial assets will have to be divided in a manner that is just and equitable under marital agreements.

It is also worth noting that more weight may be given to a postnup as compared to a prenup. This is because postnups paint a more accurate picture of the current state of the relationship between both parties as well as their intentions.

More couples are starting to recognise the value of prenups and postnups and their effectiveness in protecting the wealth and interests of both parties in a marriage. However, one should bear in mind the possible implications of these marital agreements and ensure that they are drafted carefully so that they will be enforceable in Singapore. Should you intend to draft a prenup or a postnup, do engage a competent family lawyer to guide you through this process in order to better safeguard your interests.

We are an empathetic team with expertise in every aspect of local and international family law matters.

We provide strategic advice in a supportive setting, allowing you to focus on the journey ahead.

We advise on many aspects of family and relationship laws including nuptial agreements, property settlements and protection of assets, financial agreements divorce, separation, financial support, and child related issues.

Please do not hesitate to call us or you may drop us an email! 

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