Can Foreigners Divorce in Singapore?

Last updated on November 1, 2018

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The Singapore courts can only grant divorces where at least one party to the marriage has a strong enough connection with Singapore.

There are 2 ways to show this connection:

  1. That at least one of the parties is “domiciled” in Singapore, or
  2. At least one of the parties has been habitually resident in Singapore for at least 3 years immediately before applying to court for the divorce.

“Domiciled” in Singapore

Domicile is a complex legal concept that is difficult to determine precisely. However, it generally means the place where a person has his permanent home.

Therefore, staying in a country for a time for a particular purpose (for example, to study or to work abroad for a limited time) does not mean that the person’s domicile has changed to that country.

For example, expatriates who come to Singapore for temporary work-related purposes in Singapore are generally not domiciled in Singapore.

Singapore citizens are generally presumed to be domiciled in Singapore, although in exceptional situations (where a citizen intends to live permanently elsewhere) this presumption can be challenged.

“Habitually Resident in Singapore”

“Habitual residence” connotes that the residence must be voluntary and for a settled purpose, albeit such a purpose need not be extremely concrete.

For example, it is sufficient if the purpose is “to study”, without necessarily specifying a particular school or institution. Merely establishing a pattern of always returning to a place would be sufficient.

However, the habitual residence must also be continuous for more than 3 years immediately preceding the petition. Brief holidays or business trips would not, in principle, break the continuity of residence.

In contrast, if there are long absences, the court will hold that the continuity of residence has been broken. In the case of Lee Mei-Chih v Chang Kuo-Yuan, the wife in that case had spent 12 months out of the last 3 years abroad; the court held that her long absences had broken her period of habitual residence in Singapore.

Void or Voidable Marriages

Even if neither the domicile or habitual residence requirement is satisfied, it is possible for a marriage to be set aside as being void or voidable if both parties reside in Singapore when the proceedings are started.

In a nutshell, there are 3 types of “marriages”:

  1. Valid
  2. Void
  3. Voidable

Valid marriages are proper marriages that can still be dissolved via divorce.

Void marriages are not really marriages at all, because they have not fulfilled the minimum steps that need to be done to create a legally binding marriage relationship, for example, if one of the parties is too young to be legally married.

Voidable marriages are considered as valid marriages, but there is some problem with the marriage that allows it to be set aside as long as one party wishes to do so, for example if there was a fundamental mistake regarding the marriage (e.g. if one party to the marriage had undergone an undisclosed sex-change operation in the past).

For void and voidable marriages, one party can ask for a decree of nullity even if the requirements of domicile or habitual residence are not satisfied, as long as both parties are resident in Singapore.

Proceedings in Foreign Jurisdictions

If a marriage has been validly dissolved in a foreign jurisdiction, it cannot be dissolved again in Singapore. In other words, if a foreign court has granted a divorce, the Singapore court cannot grant another divorce. This is often an issue in marriages that take place between foreigners from different countries, or a foreigner and a Singaporean.

There may be cases where the parties to a marriage may pursue divorce proceedings in different countries, because they feel that the courts of that other country may grant them more favourable terms of divorce (for example, they may award custody of the children to one party).

In such a case, the first court to grant a divorce will dissolve the marriage, and will also have power to decide all the matters relating to the terms of divorce (division of property, custody of children, maintenance of spouse etc).

Usually, however, the Singapore courts will only recognise a foreign judgment of divorce where that foreign court has some connection to the marriage or the parties. If the foreign court has little connection to the marriage, the Singapore courts may refuse to recognise the divorce as a valid one.

For example, if the parties were citizens of country X, and one of the parties sued for divorce in the courts of country Y, Singaporean courts would not recognise this divorce if neither of the parties was resident in country Y.

If the marriage has a strong connection to Singapore (e.g. if one of the parties is Singaporean), it may be possible to ask the court to prevent the other party from suing for divorce in another country.

This article was written by Tan Kia Hua, who graduated from SMU School of Law in 2013.

Before getting a divorce
  1. Overview of How to Get a Divorce in Singapore
  2. How Can I Divorce Overseas?
  3. Mandatory Parenting Programme Guide for Divorcing Parents
  4. How to Get a Divorce Within 3 Years of Marriage
  5. Personal Protection Orders (PPOs), Expedited Orders (EOs) and Domestic Exclusion Orders (DEOs) in Singapore
  6. Prenuptial Agreements in Singapore
  7. What are the Legal Grounds for Getting a Divorce?
  8. Separation in Singapore
  9. Annulment of Marriage in Singapore
  10. Practical Preparations for a Divorce
  11. 3 Finance Questions To Ask Before a Divorce
Divorce Fees
  1. Comprehensive Guide to Divorce Fees in Singapore (Updated Sep 2018)
Getting a Divorce Lawyer
  1. The Complete Guide to Choosing a Good Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  2. First Meeting with Your Divorce Lawyer: What to Bring
  3. Don’t Just Go for the Cheapest Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  4. Find Experienced Divorce Lawyers in Singapore
  5. Child Custody Lawyers in Singapore
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. Procedure for Dissolution of Marriage
  2. Divorce Mediation in Singapore
  3. Divorce Application: What to Do If Your Spouse Cannot be Found
  4. Simplified Uncontested Divorce vs Contested Divorce in Singapore
Application for Divorce Part 2: Ancillary Matters (Maintenance, Assets, Custody)
  1. Procedure for Ancillary Matters
  2. What happens to gifts between spouses when a marriage breaks down?
  3. What Happens to Property and Assets Located Overseas Upon a Divorce in Singapore?
  4. Getting Divorced: Child Maintenance in Singapore
  5. Maintenance of Spouse in a Singapore Divorce
  6. The Guide to Child Custody, Care and Control, and Access in Singapore
  7. How Does the Court Divide Matrimonial Assets in a Divorce?
Post-divorce
  1. What Happens to Your HDB Flat after Divorce?
  2. Variation of Maintenance Orders in Singapore
  3. Divorce Certificates in Singapore: How to Get a Copy and Other FAQs
  4. What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Denies You Access to Your Child
  5. What Happens If Your Ex-Spouse Does Not Provide Maintenance?
Expatriate Divorce
  1. Can Foreigners Divorce in Singapore?
  2. Expat/Foreigner Divorce in Singapore: 10 Legal Issues to Consider
  3. Immigration Issues for Divorcing Expatriates
  4. International child abduction in a cross-border divorce
  5. Case Study: Cross-Border Child Custody and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction
Muslim or Syariah Divorce
  1. Muslim Divorce in Singapore
Other divorce matters
  1. What Happens to your HDB Flat After an Annulment?
  2. Case Study - Love conquers All: The Divorce That Didn’t Happen