On 1 August 2017, the Singapore Parliament passed the Administration of Muslim Law (Amendment) Act (“the Amendment Act”).
The amendments made to the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) bring several important changes to the laws governing Muslim marriage and divorce.
These changes came into effect on 22 October 2018.
As such, this article seeks to provide a summary of some of these key changes that you may wish to know about.
Strengthening Muslim Marriages and Families
A couple who wishes for a wali of the to-be wedded woman to solemnise the marriage must now first seek approval from the Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM) by obtaining a Kadi or Naib Kadi’s written consent.
A Kadi or Naib Kadi must also be present during the solemnisation of the marriage.
A “wali” refers to a woman’s lawful guardian for the purposes of her marriage, according to Muslim law. Kadis and Naib Kadies are officials of religious standings responsible for solemnising Muslim marriages.
The requirement of seeking ROMM approval allows the Kadi or Naib Kadi to verify that the wali appointed to solemnise the marriage is a lawful one.
The wali can be the bride’s birth father, paternal grandfather, brother, paternal uncle or any male relative from her paternal side. Importantly, the wali must be a Muslim of sane mind, who has attained the age of puberty.
Where needed, the Kadi or Naib Kadi can direct the couple to go through the required processes set out in the AMLA, including new requirements as set out in the following paragraphs.
Parties to a minor marriage (a marriage where either party is below 21 years old) are now required to attend together and complete a mandatory marriage preparation programme.
This has to be done before the couple can apply to ROMM for the solemnisation of their marriage.
This rule comes amid a trend of high divorce rates among minor couples.
The marriage preparation programme will be aimed at raising couples’ awareness of the potential challenges and adjustments to be made in marriage, and at guiding them on how to manage their new responsibilities.
Couples will also be informed of available post-marriage support programmes and resources.
The parents and/or guardians of the minor party to a minor marriage must now also give their consent to the marriage.
Only with such consent can the couple apply to ROMM for the solemnisation of their marriage.
The requirement reinforces the importance of the support of parents and/or guardians in a minor marriage.
The required consent to be sought is not to be confused with the role of the wali in a marriage contract (a requirement of marriage under Syariah law).
In negotiating such contracts, the bride-to-be is usually represented by her wali, whose duty is to look out for her best interests.
Only when the consent of parents and/or guardians is obtained can the wali proceed to solemnise the marriage according to the Muslim law, as provided for in the AMLA.
Whose consent is required depends on a variety of factors, such as:
- Whether the minor is legitimate (i.e. born or conceived during the existence of a valid marriage between his or her biological parents)
- Whether the minor’s parents are still alive
- Whether the minor’s parents are living together or divorced
- Who has custody of the minor
For example, where the minor is legitimate and the minor’s parents are both alive and living together, both parents’ consent must be obtained.
If the minor’s parents are divorced, only the consent of the parent who has custody of the minor is required.
If the minor’s parents are both dead, it is the person who has custody of the minor whose consent is required.
Changes Relating to Muslim Divorce
There are new domicile requirements for parties applying for divorce at the Syariah Court (SYC).
Parties are required to be domiciled or habitually resident in Singapore (for a period of 3 years immediately before any application) before they begin any divorce proceedings at SYC.
This ensures that SYC does not hear cases involving foreign parties with no or negligible links to Singapore.
Men are now allowed to apply to the court for a divorce as plaintiffs without pronouncing the talak.
Previously, only women could apply for divorce. Men could only effect a divorce by uttering the word “talak”, upon which the couple would automatically be divorced.
This change is aimed at discouraging frivolous pronouncements of talak outside of SYC. It also allows SYC to encourage couples to attend counselling to save the marriage.
It is important to note that this amendment does not affect a Muslim man’s right to pronounce the talak if he still so chooses.
Parties to the marriage are now required to attend specified activities (such as a marriage counselling programme and/or parenting programme) before commencement of divorce proceedings.
These specified activities must be attended by the parties within the 6 months before the application for divorce is filed.
If the parties to the marriage:
- Do not have any children under 21, they are required to attend a marriage counselling programme.
- Have at least one child under 21, they must attend both a marriage counselling programme and a parenting programme.
The marriage counselling programme affords couples seeking divorce a chance to attempt to save their marriage.
For couples with children under 21, the parenting programme will provide guidance on preparing a parenting plan (regarding care and living arrangements for any child of the marriage) with the child’s best interests in mind.
The SYC may refer parties to the marriage for counselling or a family support programme at any stage of their divorce proceedings, should the court deem this to be in the interests of the parties or their children.
The family support programme will be carried out with the aim of resolving any relationship problems between spouses, between siblings, or between parent and child.
To better protect the interests of any children affected by divorce, the Amendment Act puts into place a more “child-centric” approach to divorce proceedings.
The SYC may:
- Appoint a child representative to represent the interests of a child in any proceedings involving the child or the child’s custody and welfare.
- Appoint a registered medical practitioner, psychologist, counsellor, social worker or mental health professional to examine and assess the child. This is for the purposes of preparing expert evidence for use in proceedings involving the child’s custody or welfare.
The changes brought about by the Amendment Act provide greater support to couples getting married, particularly minor couples who will now attend mandatory marriage preparation programmes.
The changes also draw attention to the important role that parents play in supporting the parties to a minor marriage.
The amendments to the laws governing Muslim divorce focus on providing couples with more support at the various stages of divorce proceedings, and on protecting the interests of any children involved.
You may read our other article for more information on Muslim divorce in Singapore.