How to Appeal Your Divorce Case in Singapore
What Can I Appeal Against in a Divorce Case?
Parties to a divorce may wish to appeal against the decision of the initial court at the conclusion of the divorce proceedings if they are dissatisfied with the decision.
For example, they might want to appeal against the ancillary orders made by the court pertaining to the division of matrimonial assets, maintenance amounts payable, and/or custody of their children.
Alternatively, they can also appeal against a dismissal of an interlocutory application (meaning before the conclusion of the ancillary orders) such as a discovery application or relocation summons.
Appeals to the High Court (Family Division), which will hear all appeals pertaining to divorces, can be filed against the following:
- A decision of the District Judge or Magistrate in the Family Courts; or
- A decision of the Assistant Registrar or Deputy Registrar in the High Court (Family Division).
This article sets out what you need to know about appealing your divorce case in Singapore.
When Can I File an Appeal in a Divorce Case?
You can file an appeal after you have obtained the court order that you intend to appeal against.
For example, if you intend to appeal against an ancillary order, you can do so after receiving your ancillary matter hearing order.
Alternatively, if you intend to appeal against the court’s decision for a discovery application, you can file your appeal after receiving the court order for the discovery application.
You should also note that the respondent (i.e. the party against whom the appeal has been filed), may also file their own appeal against the decision of the initial court in the divorce proceedings.
How to File a Divorce Appeal
First, you must file a Notice of Appeal in the High Court (Family Division). The Notice must be filed and served within 14 days of receiving the initial court’s orders with regard to your divorce proceedings.
To appeal, you are also required to make a payment of $3,000 as security for the other party’s costs.
If you are unable to file an appeal within the deadline, the Notice of Appeal will be rejected. You will then need to file an Originating Summons in the High Court (Family Division) within 14 days of receiving the initial court’s orders to apply to extend the time to file the Notice of Appeal.
Do note that the Notice of Appeal must be served on all parties to the divorce proceedings and their solicitors at the time of filing the Notice.
What Happens After I’ve Filed the Appeal?
When the Notice of Appeal has been filed, the Judge who gave the judgment or made the order in the divorce proceedings will certify in writing the grounds of the judgment or order. If the judge does not give a certified grounds of judgment within 3 months after the date of the Notice of Appeal, you must still appeal and apply in writing for a copy of the record of proceedings.
Once the Notice of Appeal has been accepted, you will receive a Notice of Acceptance from the court. You must then retrieve the Notice of Appeal with the Court Seal affixed to it.
When the certified grounds of judgment or order are ready, you will receive a Court Notice informing you that the record of proceedings are ready for collection. The record of proceedings consists of the following:
- A certified copy of the judgment or grounds of judgment or order (if any); and
- A copy of the certified transcript of the official record of hearing taken at the hearing of the divorce proceedings.
You are required to pay a fee to obtain a copy of the record of proceedings. The fee starts from $15, with the total amount depending on the number of pages in the record of proceedings.
Do note that you should serve the Notice of Appeal on the other party and/or the other party’s lawyers within 14 days after the judgment date.
The Court Notice will also set out the steps to be taken by each party and timelines for completion of each step. These include the filing and serving of:
- The appellant’s (i.e. the party appealing against the decision of the initial court) case/submissions;
- Record of appeal; and
- The respondent’s case/submissions.
The record of appeal must consist of a copy of each of the following documents:
- The Notice of Appeal
- Certificate of payment of security for costs
- The record of proceedings
- The affidavits of evidence-in-chief
- All relevant documents in the nature of pleadings
- The judgment or order appealed from
You must file the appellant’s case and record of appeal within 1 month after you have received the Court Notice. You are also required to serve a copy each of the record of appeal and the appellant’s case on every respondent to the appeal and his/her solicitor.
A date for a Pre-Trial Conference will be fixed for the parties after the relevant steps in the Court Notice have been completed.
What happens at the Pre-Trial Conference?
During the Pre-Trial Conference, directions will usually be given by the court for the parties to ensure that the appeal proceeds in an expeditious and fair manner.
Parties to the appeal may also file interlocutory applications at this stage. Examples of common interlocutory applications that might be filed include:
- Applications to introduce new evidence
- Applications seeking an extension of time to file the relevant documents in preparation for the appeal hearing.
If the court determines that the appeal is ready for hearing, then a hearing date for the appeal will be fixed. However, it is also common for several Pre-Trial Conferences to be held before a hearing date is fixed.
What Can I Expect During the Divorce Appeal Hearing?
At the divorce appeal hearing, the appellant will be given the opportunity to set out, in relation to the divorce proceedings:
- The circumstances out of which the appeal arose;
- The key issues in the appeal and;
- The reasons why the appeal should be granted in the appellant’s favour.
The respondent will then be given the opportunity to respond to the appellant’s submissions and state the reasons against the appeal or why the decision of the initial court in the divorce proceedings should be affirmed.
Where the appeal concerns the division of matrimonial assets or maintenance amounts for example, the legal approach is to recognise the concept of marriage as an “equal co-operative partnership of efforts” and the court will make its determination accordingly. This would ensure that the contributions of both spouses to the marriage are equally and fairly recognised, especially in marriages where one spouse was the sole income earner and the other was a homemaker.
Where the appeal concerns issues involving children on the other hand, such as child custody, the court’s key consideration is what decision would best serve the interests of the children.
What Happens After the Decision has been Made?
Extract the order
If the parties to the appeal are satisfied with the decision of the court on appeal, either party to the appeal may extract the orders made by the court to finalise and complete the appeal.
Once the orders have been extracted, the parties to the appeal will need to ensure that they adhere to the orders made by the court in the appeal.
Possible appeals against the High Court’s decision on appeal
If a party is dissatisfied with a decision made on appeal, it is possible to file an appeal to the highest court, the Court of Appeal. Do note, however, that the party needs to seek the court’s permission to appeal against a decision of the High Court (Family Division).
Generally, the application for permission to appeal needs to be filed within 7 days of the date of the order or the judgment of the High Court (Family Division). If permission to appeal is granted, the Notice of Appeal must be filed within 1 month from the date on which permission was granted.
A 2017 decision of the Court of Appeal cautioned parties to a divorce against filing unmeritorious appeals and to give careful consideration before deciding to proceed with an appeal as these would prolong the divorce proceedings further and “re-fight old battles”.
For example, the Court of Appeal noted that it would generally not take kindly to appeals against orders made by the initial court in the divorce proceedings where the result is a potential adjustment of the sums awarded initially to less than 10%.
The court added that such appeals may be tantamount to a “disproportionate imposition” on the unsuccessful party and may not justify the time, effort and anxiety that goes into preparing for such appeals.
Divorcing couples should hence consider carefully whether to appeal against the decision of the initial court, or whether it might be wiser to move on instead. Nevertheless, should you decide to proceed with filing an appeal for your Singapore divorce, you should consult a lawyer for further advice on the relevant procedures and costs involved.
You can approach your existing lawyer (if you had already engaged one for the divorce proceedings) or consult one of our experienced family lawyers if you are considering engaging a different lawyer for your divorce appeal.
Reviewed by: Sarah-Mae Thomas and Cindy Chua of Sarah-Mae Thomas LLC
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