Getting a divorce is oftentimes a life-changing decision that can have a significant impact on your family’s life, including your children, if any. If you are considering getting a divorce in Singapore, there are a number of issues that you should keep in mind as you think through this decision.
These include not just the legal aspects of getting a divorce, but several practical considerations such as:
- Is reconciliation possible?
- Do you meet the eligibility criteria for getting a divorce?
- On what ground will you divorce?
- Have you considered the best interests of your children?
- Are you prepared for the financial costs of a divorce?
- Have you planned out your living arrangements post-divorce?
By keeping these considerations in mind, you can make a more informed and carefully considered decision, even if you ultimately decide to end your marriage.
1. Is Reconciliation Possible to Save Your Marriage?
The first question that you would need to ask yourself if you are considering a divorce is whether there is a way to save your marriage.
Every relationship has its share of challenges, and it is important that you try to make your concerns clear with your spouse so that both of you have the opportunity to work through these challenges together.
For example, you may believe that your spouse is not making you a priority and not spending enough time with you. Alternatively, your spouse may expect you to take the lead in managing the household finances, but you would prefer not to.
Both of you should try to raise these concerns with each other for a start, and work together to better manage each other’s expectations.
For more complex challenges or situations, you may consider either individual counselling or therapy, or even attending marriage counselling together with your spouse. You can also consider reaching out for support from your religious community through faith-based counselling or therapy if you and/or your spouse have a particular religious affiliation or belief.
Counselling and/or therapy can allow you and your spouse the opportunity to air your grievances and try to reconcile with one another to improve your relationship. A counsellor or therapist can also guide you and your spouse in making a decision that is in your best interests and emotional and mental well-being if you are contemplating a divorce.
If you have tried your best and done everything possible to make the marriage work but the relationship remains challenging, or there are circumstances that have made the relationship irreparable, then you may want to consider getting a divorce to move on with your life.
2. Do You Meet the Eligibility Criteria For Getting a Divorce in Singapore?
Before you proceed with getting a divorce, you would need to ensure that you meet the eligibility criteria for getting a divorce in Singapore. These criteria are set out under sections 93 and 94 of the Women’s Charter and include that you must:
- Be domiciled in Singapore at the point of starting the divorce proceedings, or habitually resident in Singapore for at least 3 years before starting the proceedings; and
- Have been married for at least 3 years.
Please see our other article for a detailed discussion on the eligibility criteria and process for getting a divorce in Singapore. Do also note that additional criteria may apply to you if you were married under Muslim law.
If you do not (yet) meet these eligibility criteria, then it might not be possible for you to get a divorce right away even if you want to.
Nevertheless, you and your spouse may have other options for legally ending your relationship even if you do not currently meet the eligibility requirements for getting a divorce. Some of these options are set out below:
Proving exceptional hardship or unreasonable and cruel behaviour
If you have suffered exceptional hardship or exceptionally unreasonable and cruel behaviour, the Singapore courts may make an exception to the requirement of being married for at least 3 years.
However, do note that whether you will be able to successfully prove exceptional hardship or exceptional depravity would depend on the particular facts of your case.
Annulling the marriage
You can also consider applying to annul the marriage. This is a declaration by the court that your marriage is void or invalid – in other words, it is treated by law as if it had never existed in the first place.
The facts that you would have to prove to obtain an annulment or a divorce are therefore different. With a divorce, you must show that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This can in turn be proved using certain facts such as adultery.
With an annulment, on the other hand, you have to prove that your marriage is void or voidable. This means that the facts that you bring up must concern whether your marriage was even valid in the first place.
For example, for a marriage to be rendered void, you must prove that there was an error in fulfilling the requirements for a valid, legal marriage, e.g. the marriage was improperly solemnised.
For a voidable marriage, you will need to prove other grounds, for example, that your marriage was not consummated due to your spouse’s refusal or incapacity.
For a detailed discussion, you may refer to our other article on annulment.
If you have no choice but to wait out the 3-year period before filing for a divorce, there are other steps that you can take in the meantime.
For one, you and your spouse can decide to separate informally by living apart from each other at any time that you wish to do so.
You and your spouse must be physically separate. Even if you and your spouse continue to reside in the same place of residence, there must be no continued or ongoing marital or sexual relations. Neither should there be the performance of typical spousal duties such as cooking or cleaning for each other.
In Singapore, it is also possible to obtain a Deed of Separation. This is a formal, legally binding document that you and your spouse will sign, and which contains the terms of your arrangement to live separately.
Do note that a Deed of Separation does not change the legal state of your marriage i.e., you and your spouse will still be considered legally married. Nevertheless, it is considered a useful precursor to getting a divorce.
For more information, you may refer to our other article on the ways in which spouses can separate from each other.
In any of the above circumstances, it is usually advisable to consult a divorce lawyer who can assess your situation to determine if it falls under any of these exceptions for ending a marriage shorter than 3 years.
3. On What Ground Will You Divorce?
If you meet the eligibility requirements for getting a divorce, then you would need to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This is currently the only accepted legal ground for getting a divorce in Singapore.
You would have to prove at least one of the 4 legally defined facts, which are:
- Unreasonable behaviour
For a detailed discussion, you may refer to our other article on the facts for proving irretrievable breakdown of marriage. Do note that the grounds of divorce vary for a Muslim marriage.
Choosing the appropriate fact is often a strategic decision based on your personal circumstances. For example, some of the facts are fault-based – this means that choosing to divorce through such facts can potentially require you and/or your spouse to find fault with each other, causing more acrimony between the both of you. If you value the preservation of good relations with your spouse post-divorce, you may hence not want to seek a divorce using such facts.
Some facts may also require more evidence to prove and at times, this can be costly. For example, if you suspect your spouse of committing adultery, and you are unable to gather the evidence yourself, then you may have to pay for the services of a private investigator to do so.
It is therefore advisable that you consult a divorce lawyer to get an assessment on the most appropriate fact to go with your case.
4. How Can You and Your Spouse Best Handle a Divorce to Minimise Any Harm or Negative Impacts On Your Children?
While getting a divorce would ultimately result in you ending your marital relationship with your spouse, you and your spouse will always be parents if you have children together. There are several issues that you would need to consider when children are involved.
These considerations include:
- Your children’s reactions/responses to the divorce: If the relationship between you and your spouse has been tense or acrimonious for long periods, then your children might not necessarily react negatively to a divorce. However, younger children might feel confused, and your children may also experience emotions like sadness or resentment towards you and/or your spouse.
- Custody, care and control of your children: Getting custody over your children grants you the authority to make major life decisions relating to them, such as their education, religious beliefs and healthcare. Care and control, on the other hand, is typically given to one parent with whom your children will live with to ensure stability in their lives. You and your spouse should try to mutually work out these arrangements. Do note that the courts may take into consideration the children’s wishes on their preferred living and care arrangements in divorce proceedings, if they are older than 7 years of age. Ultimately, however, the court will make its decision based on what would be, in its assessment, in the children’s best interests.
- Payment of maintenance: If your children are below the age of 21 years, you and/or your spouse have a legal duty to provide child maintenance to help meet their basic needs and daily expenses. You and your spouse will need to consider your respective financial abilities, needs and earning capacity to ensure that both of you can continue to care for your children after the divorce. For more information, you may refer to our other article on child maintenance.
5. Are You Prepared For the Financial Costs of Getting a Divorce?
Getting a divorce can potentially be a costly affair, especially if you are looking to hire a lawyer to represent you in the proceedings and assist with your divorce.
Generally speaking, divorce fees in Singapore can range from S$1,500 to S$3,500 for simplified, uncontested divorces (where both spouses agree on all the terms of the divorce), and S$10,000 to S$35,000 for contested divorces (where both spouses are contesting at least one term of the divorce). More complex matters can also cause the fees payable to exceed these general estimates. For more information, you may refer to our comprehensive guide to divorce fees in Singapore.
In addition to the legal costs of divorce proceedings, you should factor in the subsequent costs of living that you would incur should you live on your own after getting a divorce.
You may have to support yourself and your children financially and pay your bills, taxes and other daily expenses without sharing these costs with your spouse. It is therefore important that you take steps to plan and prepare yourself financially if you are considering a divorce, especially if it is your spouse who is currently taking care of the family’s financial matters.
6. Have You Planned Out Your Living Arrangements Post-Divorce?
For most married couples, the residential property that you and your spouse own is likely to be the largest asset that would need to be divided post-divorce.
You and your spouse are free to reach a mutual agreement on what should happen to the residential property post-divorce. For example, you might agree to transfer your interest in the property to your spouse so that he or she can continue to reside in it while you purchase your own property to reside in. Alternatively, you may both decide to sell the property and split the sale proceeds in a certain proportion.
If you and your spouse are unable to reach an agreement, then the court will step in to decide what would happen to the property after the divorce. For an example and discussion of how this might be done, you may refer to our other article on how a HDB flat might be divided by the courts during a divorce.
If you need a new place to stay, you can consider living with your parents, a friend or another family member as a temporary measure while you look to purchase or rent a new property.
In particular, if you are looking to purchase a HDB flat to reside in on your own, do consider the various HDB housing schemes and grants you may be eligible for as a divorcee. If you do not qualify for these schemes, you can consider purchasing a resale flat or alternatively, renting a subsidised flat under the Public Rental Scheme.
For a more detailed discussion, you may refer to our other article on the various public housing options that might be available to divorcees.
Making the decision to get a divorce can be a stressful and emotionally draining one. Apart from practical and personal considerations, the legal intricacies of the divorce process can be complicated. It is therefore helpful to seek legal assistance to help you navigate this process and ensure that you fully consider all your options before deciding to commence divorce proceedings.
If you are considering a divorce in Singapore and need further advice on whether you should proceed with getting a divorce, please contact me. I have over 14 years’ experience as a lawyer overseeing a broad range of practice areas, including family law, and have advised clients on matters relating to divorce. This includes guiding them on the legal steps and requirements of commencing divorce proceedings and assisting with the relevant paperwork.
Each divorce is different, and I can assess your situation and personal circumstances to help you make the best decision for you and your family. For more information, you can view my profile and contact me here.