How to Prove Unreasonable Behaviour in a Singapore Divorce

Last updated on March 30, 2022

Arguing couple

Getting a Divorce in Singapore by Showing Unreasonable Behaviour

In order to get a divorce under Singapore law, one of the two spouses must prove that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage such that the two spouses cannot be expected to continue to live with each other.

One way to prove this, under section 95(3)(b) of the Women’s Charter, is by showing that the other spouse has behaved such that it would be unreasonable to expect the two married persons to live together.

What Exactly is Unreasonable Behaviour?

“Unreasonable behaviour” has a very wide meaning, and has been held to include any act, active or passive, or failure to act, of the other spouse. It has been found in a variety of situations from domestic violence to cases involving less serious complaints that, although not unreasonable as individual complaints, were cumulatively taken to indicate unreasonable behaviour.

Other instances include a case involving one spouse refusing to have conjugal relations with the aggrieved spouse for a period of over 10 years, and another in which one spouse constantly belittled the aggrieved spouse.

The central question here is whether the aggrieved spouse can be reasonably expected to continue living with the other spouse. The court will take into account both spouses’ character, attitude, and other attributes and the way in which they had acted throughout the duration of marriage.

Insufficient Instances of Showing Unreasonable Behaviour 

To show unreasonable behaviour, it is not enough that the parties are merely incompatible.  As was ruled in the case of Wong Siew Boey v Lee Boon Fatt, it is not sufficient “that [the parties] no longer have anything in common and cannot communicate or that one of them is bored with the marriage”.

It must go beyond a mere state of affairs or state of mind. For example, a feeling that one party’s love is not being reciprocated would be unlikely to be a valid basis.

The Test for Unreasonable Behaviour in Singapore

The steps that the Singapore court will take when deciding whether there has been unreasonable behaviour were laid out in the case of Castello Anna Paula Costa Fusillier v Lobo Carlos Manuel Rosado. The court will first look at whether the spouse seeking divorce finds it intolerable to live with the other spouse. This analysis is subjective, thus it is irrelevant whether the aggrieved spouse had reasonable cause for his or her attitude.

The court will then look at the behaviour of the other spouse, taking into account any active or passive acts, to determine whether it is unreasonable for the aggrieved spouse to continue to live with the other. These acts must, of course, affect the marriage in some manner, but can include behaviour towards other family members and outsiders.  

While it does matter whether the conduct was malicious, it is not necessary to show malice to prove unreasonable behaviour.

The court will also look at the cumulative effect of the behaviour, i.e. whether there has been such behaviour for a long period of time. This means that a series of acts over a significant period of time that, while taken individually may not seem serious or unreasonable, when viewed as a whole may be found to be unreasonable.

For example in the case of Wong Siew Boey v Lee Boon Fatt, the aggrieved spouse had 23 paragraphs of complaints that, individually, may have seemed like the ordinary wear and tear of family life. When taken together, however, they were found to be a relevant factor in finding that there was unreasonable behaviour.

In another case, a man divorced his wife of 45 years after she developed an obsession with cats and adopted many of them. However, they were not toilet-trained and urinated and defecated everywhere in the matrimonial home. The man ended up moving out after one of the cats urinated on him while he was asleep. He filed for divorce more than 10 years later, and the court granted the divorce on the ground that the marriage had irretrievably broken down due to unreasonable behaviour and separation.

Further, while a spouse’s poor financial status is not a sufficient reason for a couple to divorce, a spouse’s financial irresponsibility may amount to unreasonable behaviour as proven in the following case. In an attempt to make quick profits via investments, a husband’s poor financial management had landed him in debts amounting to $250,000 and was made bankrupt. 

The husband also ignored house bills and property taxes which the wife had to fork out money for, in addition to paying off his loans, using her salary and bonus. In this case, the court found the husband’s behaviour unreasonable because it had taken an emotional toll on the wife and affected her health. It had also left the family in financial ruin, which affected not only his wife but his children as well. 

A determination in favour of divorce or against divorce does not necessarily mean that the offending spouse is guilty of any misconduct. This is because the verdict pertains only to the marriage and whether or not the court finds that it may reasonably be expected to continue. The focus here is on whether the acts make it unreasonable to expect the couple to continue living together.

As there is no bright-line test to determine whether or not a particular situation would fall under “unreasonable behaviour”, we would recommend the aggrieved spouse to seek an experienced family lawyer who can provide legal advice on the matter.

Should you require any guidance on the costs of engaging a divorce lawyer in Singapore, please refer to our divorce fee guide.

Before getting a divorce
  1. Drafting a Deed of Separation in Singapore (Instead of Divorcing)
  2. Alternatives to Divorce in Singapore: A Practical Guide
  3. Process for Getting Divorced in Singapore (With Diagram)
  4. What are the Legal Grounds for Getting a Divorce?
  5. 3 Finance Questions To Ask Before a Divorce
  6. Practical Preparations for a Divorce
  7. How to Divorce Within 3 Years of Marriage in Singapore
  8. Getting Divorced: Documents and Evidence to Prepare
  9. Getting a Divorce Due to “Irreconcilable Differences” in Singapore
  10. Online Divorce in Singapore: How It Works and Should You Get One?
  11. How Can I Divorce Overseas After Marrying in Singapore?
Divorce Fees
  1. Comprehensive Guide to Divorce Fees in Singapore
Getting a Divorce Lawyer
  1. 7 Experienced Female Divorce Lawyers in Singapore (2024)
  2. Can a Divorcing Couple Use the Same Lawyer? Pros and Cons
  3. 7 Best Divorce and Family Lawyers in Singapore (2024)
  4. The Complete Guide to Choosing a Good Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  5. Don’t Just Go for the Cheapest Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
  6. Find Highly Rated Divorce Lawyers in Singapore
  7. Child Custody Lawyers in Singapore: Do I Need One?
Proving Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage
  1. How to Prove Adultery for Divorce Purposes in Singapore
  2. Getting a Divorce: How to Prove Desertion
  3. Getting a Divorce by Mutual Agreement in Singapore
  4. How to Prove Unreasonable Behaviour in a Singapore Divorce
  5. How to Prove Separation for a Singapore Divorce
Application for Divorce Part I: Dissolution of Marriage
  1. Your Spouse Doesn't Want to Divorce: What to Do
  2. Procedure for Dissolution of Marriage
  3. Simplified Uncontested Divorce vs Contested Divorce in Singapore
  4. Mandatory Parenting Programme Guide for Divorcing Parents
  5. Divorce Mediation in Singapore
  6. Divorce Application: What to Do If Your Spouse Cannot be Found
Application for Divorce Part 2: Ancillary Matters (Maintenance, Assets, Custody)
  1. Contempt of Court in Divorce: When You Can be Punished
  2. Guide to Co-Parenting for Divorcing Parents in Singapore
  3. Procedure for Ancillary Matters
  4. Maintenance of Spouse in a Singapore Divorce
  5. Filling in a Matrimonial Property Plan for a Singapore Divorce
  6. Dividing Matrimonial Assets in a Singapore Divorce
  7. What Happens to Your HDB Flat after Divorce?
  8. What Happens to Gifts Between Spouses During a Divorce?
  9. What Happens to Property and Assets Located Overseas Upon a Divorce in Singapore?
  10. Child Custody, Care and Control & Access: Singapore Guide
  11. Getting Divorced: Child Maintenance in Singapore
  12. Singapore Divorcee's Guide to Relocating Your Child Overseas
  1. How to Vary a Child Custody Order in Singapore
  2. How to Appeal Your Divorce Case in Singapore
  3. Divorce Certs in Singapore: How to Get a Copy and Other FAQs
  4. Transfer of Matrimonial Home to Ex-Spouse After Divorce
  5. Can Divorcees Buy or Rent HDB Flats, and How?
  6. What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Does Not Provide Maintenance
  7. How to Vary a Maintenance Order After a Singapore Divorce
  8. What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Denies You Access to Your Child
  9. Division of CPF Assets (Monies, House, Investments) After a Divorce
Expatriate Divorce
  1. Divorce for British Expats: Spousal Maintenance Under the Law of England and Wales
  2. Settling Ancillary Matters in Singapore After Foreign Divorce
  3. Typical issues in Singapore/England Divorces
  4. Immigration Issues for Divorcing Expatriates
  5. Can Foreigners Divorce in Singapore?
  6. Expat or Foreigner Divorce in Singapore: 10 Legal Issues to Consider
  7. Hague Convention: Overseas Child Abduction in Singapore Divorce
  8. Case Study: Cross-Border Child Custody and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction
  9. Can British Expats in Singapore Choose to Divorce in England?
  10. Divorce for British Expats: Approach to Matrimonial and Non-Matrimonial Assets in England vs Singapore
  11. Divorce for British Expats: How the English Courts Deal with Financial Matters
Muslim or Syariah Divorce
  1. Fasakh in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore: Grounds & Process
  2. Divorce by Cerai Taklik: Guide for Muslim Wives in Singapore
  3. Muslim Divorce in Singapore
  4. Talak in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore (and Its Effects)
  5. Guide to Divorcing by Khuluk for Muslim Wives in Singapore
  6. Applying for Nafkah Idaah and Mutaah in a Muslim Divorce in Singapore
Other divorce matters
  1. Guide to Personal Protection Orders in Singapore
  2. Case Study - Love conquers All: The Divorce That Didn’t Happen
  1. Annulling a Singapore Marriage: Requirements and Process
  2. What Happens to Your HDB Flat After an Annulment?
  1. Separation in Singapore Via Deed of Separation and More
  2. Judicial or Legal Separation in Singapore: When and How to File
Prenuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements
  1. Prenuptial Agreements in Singapore
  2. Should You Make a Post-Nuptial Agreement in Singapore?