Beatrice Yeo, Yeo & Associates LLC
This article will cover:
Divorce in Singapore
In my past 20 years of experience as a divorce lawyer, I have handled more than 20,000 divorce cases and roughly 65% of the cases go through simplified uncontested divorce. I believe that the majority of couples want their divorce to be uncontested. While some cases do in fact go through simplified uncontested divorce, other cases, unfortunately, turn contested when parties are unable to meet eye to eye and refuse to budge from their positions on issues relating to children or money.
Thus, lawyers play a critical role in these situations- if the lawyer takes a defensive or aggressive stance in their attitude and writing of the documents, or simply refuses to communicate with the other spouse, the matter would inevitably be contested right from the start. If lawyers hold the principle of writing more polite letters and gentler writings in the court documents without too much accusative words, or that the lawyers set up meetings or teleconferences with opposing party to attempt settlement with a view to earlier resolution, many contested matters will have a resolution to disputes and therefore achieve uncontested divorce in the end.
Recently, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) introduced a proposal to allow couples to divorce amicably, which has caused a stir as people have different reactions towards this proposal. However, MSF has stated that the aim of this divorce option is to make divorces less acrimonious, not easier. Furthermore, it may lessen the pain of the children involved.
Proposal of the new divorce option – Amicable divorce
The proposed amicable divorce option allows for couples who mutually agree to a divorce to file as joint applicants, instead of taking the position of a plaintiff or defendant. It also enables one spouse to file for divorce without citing a reason to blame his or her partner for the breakdown of the marriage. For example, instead of saying that your partner has committed adultery, you can just give notice that the marriage has broken down. Currently, to get a divorce, the divorcing spouse must cite an “irretrievable breakdown” of marriage, which could be demonstrated by one out of the five facts set out in the Women’s Charter.
The facts are namely:
- Unreasonable Behaviour,
- Desertion of 2 years,
- Separation for 3 years with spouse’s consent, or
- Separation for 4 years.
Citing these faults in a fault-based divorce may cause the parties to become aggressive or defensive, generating animosity. It makes relationships worse, and if children are involved, it could negatively affect them.
An amicable divorce is beneficial to both the divorced couple and the children involved. Firstly, an amicable divorce can help reduce legal costs, by avoiding months of tedious court hearings. Secondly, an amicable divorce will not put children in the crossfire between their parents. In the future, the divorced couple can also work better together to care for the children.
In my opinion, this proposal is idealistic but achievable, at least, to complete the process of divorce without burdening the judge with sob stories to decide who is right or wrong. An amicable divorce also removes the concept of a winner and loser.
Reasons to have an amicable divorce
It is not always adultery, or unreasonable behaviour, that leads a couple to divorce. Sometimes, a marriage simply falls apart as the relationship runs out of steam and both spouses are better off separated. I have seen many couples who believe that the marriage is not working out but are unable to attain a divorce because neither party wants their unreasonable behaviour detailed and submitted to Court. The proposal to allow amicable divorces would aid such couples in saving costs and time.
The proposal is commendable as it allows the parties to resolve their marriage, which has broken down, amicably.
Previously, I have dealt with a case of simplified uncontested divorce, that showed me the importance of amicable divorces.
In this particular case, the parties had a Personal Protection Order (PPO) against each other, and the Wife filed for divorce shortly after. In this case, it seemed like an amicable divorce was not on the cards. In the interests of therapeutic justice, we persuaded her to bring the Statement of Particulars and Draft Interim Judgment that we have drafted, to attempt discussions with the Husband.
To our surprise, the parties managed to have an honest and open conversation and agreed on the ground of divorce as well as ancillary matters. They had decided that they did not wish to spend too much time and money on the court processes and legal fees, and therefore, they were willing to withdraw the PPO and concentrate on finalising the divorce. It was deemed as a win-win situation for both parties since the divorce was completed earlier, even though the Wife had to remove the hostile allegations, leaving behind a watered-down version of the Statement of Particulars.
To me, that case was the exception that proves the norm that the ground for divorce remains a crucial stumbling block for many unhappy couples who may be better off separated.
Potential pitfalls of amicable divorce
When dealing with divorce cases, my firm aims to engage in the settlement negotiation process as early as possible, thus, clients are encouraged not to write in too many details of unpleasant incidents. Amicable divorce is a concept that many divorcing couples refuse to embrace since they want the judge to know the reason that led to the divorce.
For example, a wife who had suffered years of the husband’s adultery would want to voice her grievances during the divorce but may be prohibited by the court. It is akin to asking her to keep mum about her sufferance. To her, her Husband has “gotten away with his crime”, and it does not uphold the sanctity and values of the marriage
Amicable divorce = Easier divorce option?
It is believed that amicable divorce may cause more couples to divorce or make it “easier” for couples to do so, undermining the sanctity of marriage. However, the benefits of having the option for an amicable divorce do outweigh the potential repercussions.
There are still safeguards in place to protect the sanctity of marriage. For example, couples can file for a divorce only after they have been married for three years and this still applies to the amicable divorce option.
Even for a fault-less amicable divorce, there will still be a second stage of ancillary proceedings for matters like property and child custody. Parties can mediate to agree on the terms or they can bring disputed issues to trial. When disputes go to trial, parties can still bring out the other party’s faults in the past to advance in the case. For instance, a wife may still be entitled to bring up the violent or adulterous behavior of the husband to prove that she is the better contributor to the family, and thereby be entitled to more of the matrimonial assets or be the better candidate as the primary caregiver to the children.
Still, the option of an amicable divorce reduces the acrimony between parties, which in turn may reduce the likelihood that the children would be dragged into the divorce process.
When clients approach us, they have already made the ultimate decision to divorce. Our job is to ease the process of divorce for them.