Procedure for Ancillary Matters
The first stage of a divorce proceeding ends after the Judge grants the divorce and hands down an Interim Judgment of Divorce. This first stage is discussed here (Divorce Procedure Part 1: Dissolution of Marriage).
However, the Interim Judgment does not deal with ancillary matters. These are typically addressed during the Ancillary Matters Pre-Trial Conference, which is usually held within a month after the Court has granted the Interim Judgment.
This article shall focus on the issues in the second stage of a divorce proceeding regarding ancillary matters, which are issues about care and custody of the children, maintenance and matrimonial assets. In the eyes of the law, both parents are responsible for maintaining the child. The Judge can order either or both parents to pay maintenance for the child, which the court may order to be paid to the parent with the custody, care and control of the child.
Custody, Care and Control/Access of Children
The definition of custody, care and access are as such, respectively :
- The parent who has custody over the child has the authority to make major life decisions for the child, in areas such as education, health and religion.
- Care and control means living with the child on a day-to-day basis.
- Access means the period where the parent without care and control of the child is allowed time to spend with the child.
In the event of joint custody, the consent of both parents is needed for major life decision. In Singapore, usually the parents will be given joint custody, with the mother given care and control.
Any parent is entitled to seek custody, care and control, or access to the child. However, in certain circumstances, the Judge may decide that it is in the child’s best interest to give custody or care and control to a relative or a children’s welfare.
Regarding custodial and care and control issues, while the court will take into account both parties’ wishes as well as the child’s, in the event that this contradicts with the child’s interest, the court will place the child’s interest as most crucial. The judge will typically grant the parent without custody and/or care and control, access to the child regularly, unless, such access would not be in the best interests of the child.
It is up to the parents to decide on a suitable, appropriate and practical time for access to the child. It is only when both parties cannot agree that the Judge will make the decision on behalf of both parents.
The court will usually try to allow the child time to spend with both parents and encourage both parents to bond with the child.
Maintenance of the Child
The question of how much maintenance to be given to the child depends on numerous factors such as
- The basic financial needs of the child in areas like education, food, lodging expenses; and
- Whether the child suffers any physical or mental disability.
An application can be made in Court to vary or cancel the Order of custody or maintenance of the child if there is a material or significant difference in circumstances after the Order was made, such as considerable increase in the pay of either parent, change in health conditions or the remarriage of one parent.
A “child” is defined by the Women’s Charter as a “child” of marriage under the age of 21. After the age of 21, the “child” of marriage is considered an adult and his or her parents no longer needs to provide maintenance. The order for custody or maintenance will automatically expire or become ineffective, or in case of child’s maintenance, after the child becomes financially independent.
There are times, however, when the Judge orders maintenance for a specific period, which extends beyond 21 years of age, for example, to the time after the child completes his University studies.
Maintenance of Spouse
A wife may apply for maintenance during marriage, separation or the course of divorce proceedings.
Again, this would depend on numerous factors such as:
- The financial standing and income of both the wife and the husband;
- Standard of living enjoyed by both during the marriage;
- Ages of the parties; and
- Duration of the marriage
Most often, the Judge will try to place the wife in the same standard of living she had enjoyed during the marriage.
The period of maintenance will last until the wife remarries.
An application can be made in Court to vary or cancel the order for maintenance at any time if there is a material change to the circumstances under which the original order was given.
Maintenance may also be granted to husbands in certain situations. You can read more about spousal maintenance here.
Division of Matrimonial Assets
Matrimonial assets include all property acquired during marriage, such as the matrimonial home as well as businesses, cars, and shares. In general, property acquired before the marriage is not included unless significant improvements were made by both or the other party during the marriage.
When deciding on the division of matrimonial assets, the Court will take various factors into account, including:
- The level of contribution made by each party in terms of financial contribution towards the acquisition of the assets
- The extent of non-financial contributions made by each party to the welfare of the family;
- Any debts owing by either party which were contracted for this joint benefit; and
- The needs of the children, especially minor children, of the marriage
- Any agreement between the parties with regards to the division of the matrimonial assets upon divorce.
However, in situations such as when one party had failed completely in carrying out their responsibility to the family, the other party could stand to receive the majority of the assets.
The court will attempt to allocate the assets in such a way that is just and equitable.
To consult a lawyer for divorce, you may want to contact our list of divorce lawyers.
Parties who cannot afford a lawyer can apply for assistance at the government-run Legal Aid Bureau if they can satisfy the means test, a procedure to ascertain one’s financial position.
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