Divorce Mediation in Singapore
There is a growing number of mediation schemes in place for couples seeking a divorce in Singapore. If you are considering a divorce, or are undergoing divorce proceedings, you are highly encouraged to attend mediation sessions. This may help to expedite agreements regarding custody and assets, and end the marriage in a more amicable manner.
There are two possible routes for mediation:
- Court-based mediation
- Private family mediation (Conducted out of court)
I. Child Focused Resolution Centre mediation sessions
Mediation sessions conducted at the Child Focused Resolution Centre (CFRC) are compulsory for couples with children under 21 years of age, and who are opting for a contested divorce. Divorcing couples will be sent formal notices to attend the sessions, which are conducted free of charge.
Should you have appointed lawyers to represent you, you should attend these sessions with your lawyer so that he/she may advise you on various matters, such as whether the proposal by your spouse is considered reasonable.
The sessions will be conducted at the early stages of the divorce proceedings, usually between the time of filing of divorce papers and the first divorce hearing. The duration of the sessions may vary according to the complexity of the case. Typically, cases are settled within 3 sessions or less. The mediators involved include trained judge-mediators and family counsellors.
The focus of these mediation sessions are on the children and their needs following their parents’ divorce. Couples will be directed to discuss issues of custody upon identifying the child’s best interests.
It is hoped that couples reach reasonable agreements to ensure the child maintains a positive relationship with both parents. The sessions will also aid couples in working out a co-parenting arrangement tailored to meet the unique needs of every child, rather than leave these decisions in the hands of a judge.
When both parties manage to reach an agreement, the judge will record it and it will be binding on them by law. Should the mediation sessions not work out, you can still bring the proceedings to court for hearing. Information shared during the mediation sessions in CFRC is not allowed to be used as evidence in court.
The CFRC is located at two locations:
- Central Mall (Office Tower), 1 Magazine Road #04-10/13, S059567 – for those with children under 14 years old
- Family Justice Courts Level 4, 3 Havelock Square, S059725 – for those with children between the ages of 14 and 21
II. Mediation ordered by the family court
Under the Family Justice Act, the court is empowered to direct suitable cases to mediation or counselling services provided by the courts. Such cases would have commenced proceedings and is likely to be in the midst of hearings.
Given that judges take a more pro-active role in directing proceedings in divorce cases, they will be able to better understand and assess if the dispute could be resolved more amicably and quickly through mediation or counselling.
For cases considered suitable by the family court judge, mediation will be held at the Family Resolution Chambers at Level 4 of the Family Justice Courts. The mediators involved include trained judge-mediators and family counsellors. Similar to mediation at the CFRC, should both parties manage to reach an agreement, the judge will record it and it will be binding on them by law.
Co-mediation may be necessary if the judge considers that there are complex legal and emotional issues involved in the case. During co-mediation sessions, a judge-mediator and family counsellor will be present to help the couple and lawyers address such issues more holistically.
Where necessary, sessions will be arranged for the children to speak to the judge-mediator or family counsellor.
Unlike court-based mediation sessions which are mostly compulsory or directed, these private mediation sessions are voluntary and applicants have to take the initiative to sign up for such mediation schemes. With private mediation, parties are in a better position to decide the time frame of the mediation process as compared to that for court-based mediation.
Parties may also undergo mediation before filing any court papers, thus leaving open the possibility of an uncontested divorce should the result of mediation be successful. However, private mediation comes at a fee, unlike court-based mediation sessions.
I. Family Mediation Scheme
The Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC) has developed a cheaper and faster alternative to litigation of matrimonial matters, in the form of the Family Mediation Scheme. Under this scheme, the mediator, as a neutral third party, will assist couples undergoing divorce to resolve the relevant issues involved.
The mediators appointed by SMC comprise of judges, family law practitioners and legal professionals jointly accredited by SMC and the Family Justice Courts. The mediation can be initiated by a sole party; following which SMC will contact the other party to try and convince him/her to participate in mediation.
The aims of the Family Mediation Scheme are:
- To encourage a constructive and conciliatory approach to resolution of matrimonial disputes
- Resolve matrimonial disputes in an effectively and timely manner
- Help to maintain long-term family relationships, while reducing emotional turmoil for parties
- Ensure that costs are kept affordable
The sessions will be conducted in absolute confidentiality, with no recording in any form allowed. Following mediation, should the parties manage to reach an agreement, it will only be binding when it is recorded in writing and signed by both parties.
If no agreement was reached, at the request of the parties and with the consent of the mediator, the mediator will produce a non-binding written recommendation of the terms of settlement. Nonetheless, this recommendation is merely the mediator’s personal assessment and is not to be used in any proceedings.
Each party is required to pay an initial, non-refundable filing fee of $267.50 to SMC. Following which, the mediation fee payable per party per day is $2,140. Additional charges may apply should the sessions be conducted overtime, or on a weekend or public holiday. Should parties choose their own mediator, the mediator is entitled to charge commercial rates and the mediation fee will not be applicable.
II. Collaborative Family Practice
The Collaborative Family Practice (CFP) was introduced in 2013 and is an alternative option divorcing couples can consider. Similar to the Family Mediation Scheme, the CFP is run by SMC. The CFP is undertaken before the commencement of any court proceedings, and must be agreed on by both parties.
Most disputes will be suitable for CFP, except those which involve:
- A party who is incapacitated in some way;
- There is a history of violence or substance abuse; or
- There are serious concerns about dishonesty.
Under CFP, specially-trained lawyers are assigned to help couples negotiate issues involved in a divorce. It aims to assist couples in reaching an agreement by addressing the needs of both parties, thereby avoiding the acrimony caused by litigation altogether.
The CFP lawyers will play a more facilitative role by encouraging the couple to communicate directly with each other. They will provide legal advice where necessary, and try to help parties reach a consensus on legal issues. Should an agreement be reached between parties through the CFP, the agreement will be filed with the Family Justice Courts, which will prioritize closing the case.
However, should the couple fail to reach an agreement, the representing lawyers are not allowed to further represent their clients. Instead, parties will have to engage another lawyer to represent them for divorce proceedings. This incentivizes couples to reach a resolution.
Nonetheless, this may also mean that acrimonious couples whose negotiations are in a stalemate may be stranded, unless they are willing to pay the cost of hiring another lawyer out of the scheme. In contrast, under mediation outside of the CFP, even if negotiations were futile, parties are allowed to retain their lawyers and commence court proceedings.
A deposit is payable to SMC once the CFP lawyers are assigned. Do note that there is a fixed hourly rate of $428 under the CFP. The application form for the CFP can be similarly obtained from the SMC website.
Mediation is Not a Must
Nonetheless, divorce mediation may not be necessary for every couple undergoing divorce. If couples, especially those opting for an uncontested divorce, are able to reach a consensus amongst themselves on the key issues, mediation may be unnecessary. Hence it is best for divorcing couples to discern their most appropriate course of action before commencing divorce proceedings.
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