Divorce may be difficult for all parties involved, including children. If you are a parent thinking of getting a divorce, you may wish to consider some issues relating to your children when deciding whether or not to continue with the divorce.
This article will address 6 such key issues, namely:
- Your children’s possible reactions to the divorce
- Who will have custody and care and control of the child
- Whether child maintenance is payable
- Whether you will be able to bring your children overseas after the divorce
- Whether your children have a say in the divorce
- Whether you should wait until the children have grown up before divorcing
1. Your Children’s Possible Reactions to the Divorce
Your children may not necessarily react negatively to the news of your divorce depending on their age, if they have been living in a family filled with tension and acrimony. This is particularly so for older children. Studies show that older children may be the pillar of support for the family and may be encouraging towards the notion of divorce for their parents.
For younger children, having to witness the events leading up to divorce in your family, such as witnessing fights between you and your spouse, or seeing the both of you live apart, may confuse them.
Regardless of age, some emotions that your children may experience include sadness, anger, resentment towards you and/or your spouse, withdrawal, and the feeling of being caught in the middle.
You may want to mitigate the potential negative reactions by preparing how best to work out a care plan for them after divorce, with minimal disruptions to them. You may also reassure your children that the divorce is not their fault, express your love and support for them, and explain what would happen next while being open to any questions they might have relating to the divorce.
You may approach a family lawyer who is willing to help the families work out the best post-divorce arrangement.
2. Who Will have Custody and Care and Control of the Child
In the event of a divorce, you may want custody, care and control or access to your children. Child custody grants the custodial parent the authority to make major life decisions relating to the children. This may relate to decisions on the children’s education, religion and healthcare.
One or both parents can have custody of the children. Generally, the Family Justice Courts will grant joint custody to parents as a default. One of the reasons that a parent may lose custody is if he/she commits a crime on the child such as sexual assault.
Conversely, care and control are usually given to only one parent, whom the children will live with to promote stability in the child’s life. This parent will be involved in the day-to-day matters of the children, like what the children should eat or where the children should go. The other parent who does not have care and control can be granted access to the children for certain periods.
In Singapore, the courts are increasingly leaning towards awarding shared care and control orders over sole care and control orders. This is because the courts recognise that divorced parents may continue to care for the children hand in hand, and that the presence of both parents in the lives of the children is crucial for the children’s development.
It is incorrect to assume that care and control is in most cases awarded to the mother. The society in Singapore has evolved where both parents are usually working and women enjoy equal or sometimes even better financial standing than men. There is an increase in fathers sharing the task of caring for the children.
Either parent may seek an order for shared care and control if the family situation calls for it. Here, the parties will work out the amount of time to care for the children. For instance, the children may stay with either parent for 3-4 days each week. The rule of thumb is that parties must ensure that their care arrangement fits the welfare of the children and minimises disruptions to their schooling and activities.
Generally, if care and control is agreed or granted to one parent, the other parent would be granted access or visitation rights. If parties cannot agree on the visitation schedule, the court may decide what amount of access is fair and reasonable.
The legal system encourages parents to mutually work out a sustainable and workable schedule for issues relating to children. This is especially since the process of contesting custody and care and control of your children can be prolonged and adversarial, and the court may not award judgment in your favour. The court order on the issues of your children may hence not be ideal for the family.
That said, as a whole, the court will strive to grant orders that promote the welfare of the child, even if such orders may not be in line with what the parents want. Welfare does not refer only to physical comfort and is not measured only in monetary terms. It also includes your children’s moral, religious and physical well-being and relationship with you and your spouse.
3. Whether Child Maintenance is Payable
If you are a parent of children under 21 years old, you have a legal duty to provide child maintenance (also known as child support) until they turn 21, even after you have divorced. You may also still be required to maintain your children even after they turn 21 if your children are still schooling or undergoing training for a profession, have a physical or mental disability, or are currently or will be serving full-time national service.
The parent with care and control of the children can typically make the application for child maintenance from the other parent during the ancillary matters hearing as part of divorce proceedings. If the court is satisfied that a parent has neglected or refused to provide reasonable maintenance for the children, then the court may order child maintenance in the form of a monthly allowance or a lump-sum payment.
Generally, maintenance helps the children with their basic needs to the extent that the parent is able to meet them. Therefore, when the court is deciding whether to grant child maintenance, and the amount of maintenance, it will look at several factors. These include the children’s financial needs, earning capacity of the applicant and the children, and standard of living enjoyed by the children. The court may also look at the financial ability of the parent who is being requested to pay maintenance to meet the children’s financial needs.
The court may vary the maintenance order if the parent with care and control of the children can prove there has been a material change in circumstances and good cause for variation. Maintenance orders are normally not permanent and can be changed to suit the changing financial circumstances and needs of both parties.
For instance, there may be a material change in circumstances justifying an increase in child maintenance, such as if the parent receiving the maintenance experiences a prolonged period of unemployment that is not self-inflicted.
On the other hand, remarriage may not be regarded as material change. The court is slow to reduce child maintenance of the previous family in favour of the new family and has commented that the decision to remarry and bear more children has to be considered prudently.
4. Will You be Able to Bring Your Children Overseas After the Divorce?
If you are given care and control of your children after the divorce, the court order will generally prohibit you from bringing your children out of Singapore for more than a month without your ex-spouse’s written consent. This prohibition will apply regardless of the purpose of travel, such as bringing your children overseas for a holiday or to permanently relocate them.
- If you want to relocate your children to live overseas in the long term, you will need to apply to the court to authorise the overseas travel or relocation to another country. Some factors the court will take into consideration when deciding to grant the application include: Whether it is in the best interests of the children to relocate
- The effects of the children’s relocation
- Whether the children can still keep in contact with the non-relocating parent.
Even if your application for relocation has been granted, the non-relocating parent may still appeal against the order. You should also be aware that if you wrongfully relocate your children overseas without consent from your ex-spouse, or without a proper court order in place, this would be considered child abduction.
5. Whether Your Children Will have a Say in the Divorce
When determining who the children should live with or other types of orders relating to children, the court may take into consideration the children’s wishes if the children are older than 7 years old and have sufficient maturity to convey their preferred living and care arrangements or which parent they wish to live with.
Other than the children’s wishes, courts will also consider other factors when deciding on custody and care and control. Such factors include who was the children’s primary caregiver during the marriage, and the current living arrangements.
However, the court will not prioritise the children’s wishes and preferences over what will be in their best interests. The law simply cannot be left in the hands of a minor child.
6. Whether You Should Wait Until the Children have Grown Up Before Divorcing
Unlike our grandparents’ time, many couples have moved away from the traditional notion of waiting for their children to “grow up” before proceeding with a divorce. This is because having children live in acrimonious or distorted households may not be good for their mental health, and may be the greatest stumbling block in their growing-up years.
In some instances, such as where there has been emotional and physical domestic abuse or chronic substance abuse by the other parent, it may also be in you and your children’s best interests to continue with the divorce application as soon as possible.
You and your spouse may be able to agree on all issues relating to the divorce and file for simplified uncontested divorce, where the process is less adversarial and hostile. It may also be beneficial to seek professional help from family lawyers and mediators on how to reach an amicable divorce.
As a responsible parent, it is important for you to consult a family lawyer to know your legal rights, explore your options and protect your children. Lastly, you may also want to focus on your children’s emotional well-being through regular communication, support and reassurance.
Divorce is a major and difficult decision to make, especially if you have children. Apart from issues relating to your children, there are also other issues to think about.
For example, the law currently requires parties to state one of the facts for the breakdown of the marriage due to adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion or separation. In this situation, parties are usually encouraged to agree on the “story” of the breakdown without having to furnish any evidence. Another method used in the Family Justice Courts is to encourage parties to “water down” their allegations against each other. These are done to promote uncontested divorce.
On the other hand, if you or your spouse wish to challenge one party’s version of breakdown of the marriage at trial, this may result in a long and drawn-out process involving the gathering of evidence and multiple hearings and witnesses.
Once you have obtained a dissolution of the marriage, the court will then move on to the ancillary matters stage. The court will have to decide on how to handle you and your spouse’s sole or joint assets, spousal and child maintenance, child custody and care and control, and division of matrimonial property such as an HDB flat or other types of property. This stage can be complicated if you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement on how to settle the ancillary matters.
If you have any questions on divorce in Singapore, you may wish to approach an experienced family lawyer to discuss your options and strategy as early as possible. Yeo & Associates LLC handles all aspects of family and divorce law matters in almost 20 years. The team of specialist divorce lawyers are highly skilled in family mediation and litigation and the firm has often been recognised as one of the top divorce law firms in Singapore.
Direct Helpline: 62203400 / 90303239 / 87171728
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Websites: www.yeolaw.com.sg / www.divorcebureau.com.sg