Procedure for Dissolution of Marriage
There are two stages to divorce proceedings. The first is the dissolution of the marriage, while the second concerns ancillary matters such as the division of matrimonial assets, the maintenance of spouse and children as well as custody, care and control of the children.
This article will primarily focus on the first stage of terminating a marriage in divorce proceedings. The person seeking to file for a divorce is known as the Plaintiff, while the other spouse is known as the Defendant.
Conditions to File for a Divorce
Before the Plaintiff may commence divorce proceedings, there are some conditions that must be fulfilled.
- Either the Plaintiff or the Defendant must have been domiciled in Singapore at the start of the proceeds, or either one has resided in Singapore for at least three years before the commencement of divorce proceedings;
- The Plaintiff and the Defendant must have been married for at least three years;
- The marriage has irretrievably broken down.
Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage
There are four ways of showing that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.
For the Plaintiff to show that the Defendant has committed adultery, a considerable amount of proof has to be adduced, such as by hiring a private investigator to obtain evidence. It would be advisable to file for a divorce under another ground if you have difficulty proving adultery.
2. Unreasonable behaviour
The Plaintiff may file for divorce on the basis that the marriage has broken down irretrievably due to your spouse’s unreasonable behaviour.
The Plaintiff will have to show that the Defendant has behaved in such a manner that you cannot be reasonably expected to live together with him/her any longer. Each marriage is unique with different circumstances, and the Plaintiff will be required to give incidences and examples of such instances of unreasonable behaviour in order for you to proceed on this ground.
If the Defendant has deserted the Plaintiff for 2 years without any intention or sign of returning, the marriage may be terminated on the fact of desertion.
If the parties of the marriage have lived apart for 3 years and both parties have consented to a divorce, the marriage will be dissolved.
If there is no consent, parties must have been separated for 4 years.
Deed of Separation
If the parties have not yet met the conditions to file for a divorce, you may wish to apply for a deed of separation. This will effectively allow you to live separately from your spouse, before you officially commence divorce proceedings. Further, a deed of separation is only preliminary to a divorce proceeding and is not conclusive – parties may attempt to reconcile and salvage their marriage in the interim.
A deed of separation will typically establish an agreement on the following:
- Continuation of separation for 3 years;
- Filing for Writ for Divorce under section 95(d) of the Women’s Charter;
- Consent of both Husband and Wife to Grant of Decree of Divorce;
- Spousal maintenance and support;
- Matrimonial property and other property arrangements;
Do note that a Deed of Separation does not terminate the marriage, but merely serves as an instrument to sort out matrimonial finances and properties before proceeding with a divorce.
Stage 1: Terminating a Marriage
As the Plaintiff of the divorce proceedings, you will have to engage a lawyer to act on your behalf, and authorise a Warrant to Act to enable your lawyer to represent you. Your spouse, the Defendant, may decide to engage his own lawyer if he wishes to contest the divorce (see below).
Preliminarily, with regard to matrimonial property, if you and your spouse are or had been living in a HDB flat, you will need to obtain HDB’s approval on how the HDB flat should be dealt with after the divorce. HDB’s reply will take approximately one month.
If all conditions for a divorce are met, and there is no possible way to reconcile or salvage the marriage, you may file a Writ of Divorce.
1. Writ of Divorce
A writ of divorce is the mode of commencing a divorce suit. if you are filing this, the same writ will be served on the Defendant personally.
2. Statement of Claim
The Statement of Claim will specify the fact of divorce upon which you are claiming that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. It may be based on adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion or separation.
3. Statement of Particulars
The Statement of Particulars is a standard statement detailing the particulars of the Plaintiff and Defendant. It will also state the particulars of the fact invoked for the termination of marriage, such as particulars of adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion or separation, with examples illustrating how this has caused the marriage to break down irretrievably.
An experienced divorce lawyer will help greatly in drafting this.
For a comprehensive guide on the costs of engaging a divorce lawyer in Singapore, please refer to our Divorce Fee Guide.
4. Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan
The Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan will include the particulars of the matrimonial property and the proposed arrangements with regard to payment of outstanding loans on the property, as well as division based on contributions to purchase price.
5. Proposed Parenting Plan
This would relate to the custody, care and control of the children, if any. The Proposed Parenting Plan is only required if the children of the marriage are below the age of 21. The document will outline how each parent will care for the children of the marriage during and after divorce.
The divorce papers may be served personally or by substituted service, if your spouse is living overseas, for example.
Following the service of divorce papers on the Defendant, he/she will have to enter appearance to state if he/she is contesting the divorce.
After the filing of divorce papers, the parties would have to go for compulsory mediation if there are children under the age of 21 in the marriage.
What if You Oppose the Divorce?
Once divorce papers are served on the Defendant, he has to enter appearance within 8 days if he/she wishes to contest the divorce. If the Defendant does not enter appearance, it may be taken that he/she does not wish to contest the divorce. The divorce will then be immediately set down for hearing and proceed to the second stage of divorce regarding ancillary matters.
Do note that during the first stage of divorce, the primary issue is the termination of the marriage. Any contest of divorce at this stage would relate to the dissolution of marriage. If you wish to contest the grounds of divorce, you will have to file a defence and a counterclaim.
For this, you will have to engage your own lawyer to commence litigation.
What If You Cannot Find Your Spouse?
If you cannot find your spouse, a Summons application will be taken out, and there will be a Court Order to proceed with the divorce. The Court may allow for substituted service or dispensation of service to your spouse.
It will be taken that the divorce is uncontested and you may proceed to the second stage of divorce regarding ancillary matters.
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