Alternatives to Divorce in Singapore: A Practical Guide

Last updated on March 26, 2021

couple upset and not looking at each other

If you wish to split up with your spouse, divorce may be the first option that comes to your mind. However, this may not be the most suitable option for you.

Perhaps you are worried about the stigma surrounding a divorce from your friends and family, or you may not meet the requirements for divorce as you have been married to your spouse for less than 3 years.

This article will explore separation and annulment as alternatives to divorce in Singapore, as well as the pros and cons of these options. It will explain:

Separation

How separation works and how it is different from divorce

Separation is suitable when you and your spouse may want to live apart from each other but wish to stay legally married. It is also appropriate when you and your spouse are contemplating reconciliation, or when you wish to rely on the ground of separation to apply for divorce.

Unlike divorce, there are no prerequisites to commence separation. Additionally, unlike divorce, you and your spouse will not be free to remarry while you are separated.

Types of Separation

Informal separation 

Informal separation is the most flexible type of separation, where you and your spouse will live apart based on mutually agreed terms.

During separation, you and your spouse can live in the same house but should lead separate lives from each other. For instance, there should be a discontinuation of spousal duties like cooking for each other. You and your spouse should also be financially independent from each other, and sleep in different rooms.

Separation with a Deed of Separation

You and your spouse can also choose to separate based on a Deed of Separation. This is a document that sets out the terms and conditions of your separation, and covers areas such as living arrangements and financial arrangements.

The Deed of Separation is usually drafted by a lawyer and if so, you will incur lawyers’ fees and administrative cost in drafting the Deed of Separation.

Obtaining a Deed of Separation is useful if you and your spouse are considering commencing divorce proceedings in the future. This is because the Deed will cover matters that are usually covered during ancillary proceedings in divorce. Hence, it will prepare you and your spouse for the termination of your marriage.

Judicial separation

Lastly, judicial separation involves you and your spouse filing for an official judgment of separation from the court. To do so, you must have been married to your spouse for at least 3 years and your marriage must have been irretrievably broken down.

If successful, you will receive a Judgment of Judicial Separation from the court, which is a court order. Filing for judicial separation is appropriate when you believe that your spouse will not comply with a Deed of Separation. This is because a failure to comply with a court order is an offence, such that your spouse may be deterred from breaching the Judgment of Judicial Separation.

For more information, refer to our article on when and how to file for judicial separation in Singapore.

Pros and Cons of Separation Compared to Divorce

Unlike divorce, there are no prerequisites to you and your spouse starting separation proceedings. Furthermore, because you and your spouse remain legally married, there is less stigma as compared to commencing divorce proceedings.

Further, informal separation and separation with a Deed of Separation can be more flexible than divorce, since you and your spouse are free to agree on the terms of your separation yourselves.

If You Separate Now, Can You Still File for Divorce Later on?

If you separate now, you can still file for divorce later on. 3 years of separation is required when you are filing for divorce with your spouse’s consent, and 4 years of separation is needed for divorce without your spouse’s consent.

Divorce based on separation may be a preferred option to prove an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage when neither party is at fault for the breakdown of the marriage, since there is no need to prove wrongdoing on the part of either party.

Annulment

How it works and how it is different from divorce

An annulment of marriage is a court order declaring that the marriage is null and void. A divorce and annulment are similar in that both result in the dissolution of your marriage.

However, a key difference is that the effect of annulment is that the marriage never existed. On the other hand, even after a divorce, the marriage will still be legally recognised as having existed.

Moreover, all property and liability will be assigned back to its original owner in an annulment. In contrast, in a divorce, the matrimonial assets will be split between the parties. In deciding how the assets will be split, the court will consider factors such as the needs of each party after divorce and the extent of contributions towards the matrimonial assets.

Eligibility criteria

To be eligible for annulment, your marriage must be either void or voidable.

A void marriage is a non-marriage, and hence the marriage is not a valid one. Some examples are:

  • Underage marriages;
  • Marriage between persons who, at the date of marriage, are already married to another person; or
  • Marriage between persons of the same sex

In contrast, a voidable marriage is one that is legally valid until it is annulled by a judgment of nullity. Some examples are:

  • Where the marriage has not been consummated due to the incapacity of one party to consummate it;
  • Where the marriage has not been consummated as one party has wilfully refused to consummate it; or
  • There was no valid consent to the marriage because of duress, mistake, mental disorder or otherwise.

Pros and Cons of Annulment Compared to Divorce

One advantage of annulment is that there is no 3-year waiting period, unlike for divorce. Furthermore, your marital status will be reinstated as “single” once a judgment of nullity is obtained, instead of you being legally considered “divorced” at the end of divorce proceedings.

An annulment also does not affect the legitimacy of any children born during your marriage.

However, an annulment is available only if your marriage is void or voidable. Marriage licences would generally not be awarded to marriages that would be void in the first place. Hence, it is more common to seek annulment of voidable marriages instead of void ones.

You Can Still Get a Divorce Even If Your Spouse Does Not Want to

If you wish to commence divorce proceedings, you can do so even if your spouse does not want to. It is a misconception that you must consider alternatives for divorce if your spouse does not wish to get a divorce.

In cases where your spouse does not consent to the divorce, you will likely have to undergo a contested divorce as you will need to prove that you are deserving of the divorce despite your spouse’s objections to it.

Contested divorce proceedings refer to divorces where at least one issue of the divorce still needs to be resolved. An example of such an issue is whether the marriage has irretrievably broken down, such that a divorce should be granted. On the other hand, uncontested divorce proceedings refer to divorces where both parties have privately come to an agreement on all issues in their divorce.

However, you should note that contested divorce proceedings may be more expensive and complex than an uncontested divorce.

This is because parties will have to attend trial and provide evidence on their own cases for (or against) divorce. For instance, if a party argues that the marriage has irretrievably broken down due to adultery, he/she will need to provide evidence to prove the adultery.

Counselling Services for Readers Who are Trying to Save Their Marriage

If you wish to save your marriage, you may also consider going for marriage counselling with your spouse. A counsellor can help you and your spouse to understand the difficulties in your marriage, and help to improve communication with each other.

There are various types of counselling agencies available in Singapore. These include Government Accredited Counselling Agencies, Independent Counselling Agencies and those run by Religious Organisations. Here are some counselling agencies that you can approach:

Government accredited counselling agencies

Government accredited counselling agencies are those that are approved by the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

Independent counselling agencies

Independent counselling agencies include secular organisations such as voluntary welfare organisations and Family Service Centres.

Religious organisations

Religious organisations such as churches and temples may also provide counselling services.

If you are religious, you may also wish to check if your place of worship offers counselling services.

If you are looking for alternatives to divorce in Singapore, or if you need assistance with filing for divorce, consider consulting a divorce lawyer. Your lawyer can help explain the merits and process of each alternative to you and advise you on the most suitable option.

However if you do decide to commence divorce proceedings, your lawyer can also help you with mediation proceedings so that the divorce is settled as amicably as possible.

You may get in touch with experienced divorce lawyers here.

Before getting a divorce
  1. Drafting a Deed of Separation in Singapore (Instead of Divorcing)
  2. Alternatives to Divorce in Singapore: A Practical Guide
  3. Process for Getting Divorced in Singapore (With Diagram)
  4. What are the Legal Grounds for Getting a Divorce?
  5. 3 Finance Questions To Ask Before a Divorce
  6. Practical Preparations for a Divorce
  7. How to Divorce Within 3 Years of Marriage in Singapore
  8. Getting a Divorce Due to “Irreconcilable Differences” in Singapore
  9. Online Divorce in Singapore: How It Works and Should You Get One?
  10. How Can I Divorce Overseas?
Divorce Fees
  1. Comprehensive Guide to Divorce Fees in Singapore
Getting a Divorce Lawyer
  1. 7 Experienced Female Divorce Lawyers in Singapore (2021)
  2. Can a Divorcing Couple Use the Same Lawyer? Pros and Cons
  3. The Complete Guide to Choosing a Good Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  4. Don’t Just Go for the Cheapest Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  5. Find Experienced Divorce Lawyers in Singapore
  6. Child Custody Lawyers in Singapore
  7. First Meeting with Your Divorce Lawyer: What to Bring
Proving Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage
  1. How to Prove Adultery for Divorce Purposes in Singapore
  2. Getting a Divorce: How to Prove Desertion
  3. How to Prove Unreasonable Behaviour
  4. How to Prove Separation for a Singapore Divorce
Application for Divorce Part I: Dissolution of Marriage
  1. Your Spouse Doesn't Want to Divorce: What to Do
  2. Procedure for Dissolution of Marriage
  3. Simplified Uncontested Divorce vs Contested Divorce in Singapore
  4. Mandatory Parenting Programme Guide for Divorcing Parents
  5. Divorce Mediation in Singapore
  6. Divorce Application: What to Do If Your Spouse Cannot be Found
Application for Divorce Part 2: Ancillary Matters (Maintenance, Assets, Custody)
  1. Guide to Co-Parenting for Divorcing Parents in Singapore
  2. Procedure for Ancillary Matters
  3. Maintenance of Spouse in a Singapore Divorce
  4. Filling in a Matrimonial Property Plan for a Singapore Divorce
  5. Dividing Matrimonial Assets in a Singapore Divorce
  6. What Happens to Your HDB Flat after Divorce?
  7. What Happens to Gifts Between Spouses During a Divorce?
  8. What Happens to Property and Assets Located Overseas Upon a Divorce in Singapore?
  9. Child Custody, Care and Control & Access: Singapore Guide
  10. Getting Divorced: Child Maintenance in Singapore
  11. Singapore Divorcee's Guide to Relocating Your Child Overseas
Post-Divorce
  1. How to Vary a Child Custody Order in Singapore
  2. How to Appeal Your Divorce Case in Singapore
  3. Divorce Certs in Singapore: How to Get a Copy and Other FAQs
  4. Transfer of Matrimonial Home to Ex-Spouse After Divorce
  5. Can Divorcees Buy or Rent HDB Flats, and How?
  6. What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Does Not Provide Maintenance
  7. Variation of Maintenance Orders in Singapore
  8. What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Denies You Access to Your Child
  9. Division of CPF Assets (Monies, House, Investments) After a Divorce
Expatriate Divorce
  1. Immigration Issues for Divorcing Expatriates
  2. Can Foreigners Divorce in Singapore?
  3. Expat or Foreigner Divorce in Singapore: 10 Legal Issues to Consider
  4. Hague Convention: Overseas Child Abduction in Singapore Divorce
  5. Case Study: Cross-Border Child Custody and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction
  6. Can British Expats in Singapore Choose to Divorce in England?
  7. Divorce for British Expats: Approach to Matrimonial and Non-Matrimonial Assets in England vs Singapore
  8. Divorce for British Expats: How the English Courts Deal with Financial Matters
Muslim or Syariah Divorce
  1. Fasakh in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore: Grounds & Process
  2. Divorce by Cerai Taklik: Guide for Muslim Wives in Singapore
  3. Muslim Divorce in Singapore
  4. Talak in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore (and Its Effects)
  5. Guide to Divorcing by Khuluk for Muslim Wives in Singapore
  6. Applying for Nafkah Idaah and Mutaah in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore
Other divorce matters
  1. Guide to Personal Protection Orders in Singapore
  2. Case Study - Love conquers All: The Divorce That Didn’t Happen
Annulment
  1. Annulling a Singapore Marriage: Requirements and Process
  2. What Happens to Your HDB Flat After an Annulment?
Separation
  1. Separation in Singapore Via Deed of Separation and More
  2. Judicial or Legal Separation in Singapore: When and How to File
Prenuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements
  1. Prenuptial Agreements in Singapore
  2. Should You Make a Post-Nuptial Agreement in Singapore?