How to Divorce Within 3 Years of Marriage in Singapore

Last updated on January 13, 2022

unhappy husband and wife facing opposite each other while sleeping

Usually, to obtain a divorce in Singapore, parties need to have been married for at least 3 years. This is due to the policy consideration of promoting the sanctity of marriage, and to ensure that parties do not rush into and out of marriage capriciously.

However, in certain exceptional situations, the court may allow a couple to file for divorce even if their marriage has lasted less than 3 years. This article will explain how.

Obtaining a Divorce in Singapore Where Parties Have Not been Married For At Least 3 Years

The Singapore court may make an exception to the requirement of being married for 3 years if it can be shown that the plaintiff (i.e. the party filing the divorce) is suffering from exceptional hardship, or if the defendant (i.e. the other party to the divorce) has engaged in exceptional depravity.

What amounts to exceptional hardship or exceptional depravity depends on the facts of each case, but past cases suggest that the courts will not readily rule that there was exceptional hardship or exceptional depravity in order to grant an early divorce.

Examples where exceptional hardship or depravity were not, or will not be found:

  • Mere disruption to the plaintiff’s career due to a rocky marriage;
  • Mere adultery, because every case where one party commits adultery will likely bring about some hardship on the innocent spouse.
  • Where there is a reasonable probability of reconciliation, or where the interests of any child of the marriage is in question, the court will not readily grant a divorce before the 3-year period.
  • Stress from a controlling spouse and parents-in-law does not amount to exceptional hardship.
  • Physical abuse, if only occurring in isolated incidents and not frequently, does not amount to exceptional hardship.

Examples where exceptional hardship or depravity was found:

  • In Ng Kee Shee v Fu Gaofei, the court ruled that the plaintiff, being the husband, had suffered from exceptional hardship and therefore allowed him to file for divorce within 3 years of marriage. The court found that the wife had entered into the arranged marriage “capriciously”, and ran away from the husband back to China within months of the marriage, threatening to commit suicide if she was made to return. While the marriage was consummated, the wife did not allow the husband to touch her, and restricted sex to only once a week, and the court found this to be contrary to the intimacy expected in a marriage. The court also took into account the plaintiff’s desire to start a family which was clearly not forthcoming in this current marriage.
  • In Foo Teck Guan v Chan Yoke Han, the defendant being the wife was found to have behaved with exceptional depravity when she committed adultery in the marital home, and while the husband was in the same house. The husband suffered from depression as a result.

Consequences of misrepresenting the nature of the case in order to divorce early

Where the plaintiff misrepresents the nature of the case in order to obtain permission to file for divorce within 3 years of marriage, the court may grant interim judgment (granted before the settlement of ancillary issues like maintenance and custody of children) on the condition that final judgment is made only after 3 years from the date of marriage.

This would nullify the filing of a divorce before the 3-year bar is cleared. The court may also dismiss the proceedings.

Other Requirements for Obtaining a Divorce in Singapore

Apart from proving exceptional hardship or depravity, the plaintiff will also need to fulfil other requirements before the Singapore court will grant a divorce.

For example, the plaintiff must prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This is different from showing that the plaintiff has suffered exceptional hardship, or that the defendant has engaged in exceptional depravity.

Read our other article for more information on the requirements and process for obtaining a Singapore divorce.

Alternatives If “Exceptional Depravity” Cannot be Shown

Apply to annul the marriage

An annulment of marriage is a declaration by the court that a marriage is void or invalid, (i.e the marriage is treated by law as if it never existed). This is unlike a divorce, that leads to the dissolution of a legally valid marriage.

Either spouse may apply for an annulment of the marriage if it can be shown that the marriage was void or voidable.

Some instances where a marriage can be declared void from the date of judgment, before the 3-year time period include where:

  • The marriage has not been consummated;
  • Either party did not validly consent to entering the marriage due to duress, mistake, mental disorder or otherwise;
  • The defendant was suffering from a communicable sexually-transmitted disease at the time of marriage; or
  • The defendant was pregnant by some person other than the plaintiff at the time of marriage.

To rely on the grounds of sexually-transmitted disease or pregnancy by another man, the plaintiff must not have been aware of the facts alleged at the time of the marriage.

It should also be noted that the court will not grant a judgment of nullity if the plaintiff knew of facts that allowed him to apply for such a judgment, but behaved in a manner that led the defendant to believe he would not do so, and where it would be unjust to the defendant to grant the judgment.

Wait out the 3-year period before filing for divorce

If parties have no choice but to wait out the 3-year period before filing for divorce, there are certain interim steps the aggrieved party can take, if relevant, such as:

  • Personal Protection Order (PPO) – If one spouse has been placed in fear of hurt, has in fact been hurt, wrongfully confined or restrained, or is suffering from continued harassment, she can apply for a PPO, if she can prove that such an order is necessary.
  • Maintenance (for the wife) – While the marriage is still subsisting, the wife can apply for an order of maintenance on proof that her husband has neglected or refused to provide reasonable maintenance for her.
  • Executing a deed of separation – Parties may choose to separate from each other, i.e. live apart, and execute a legally binding deed of separation that states the terms of their separation. Expressly stating the separation terms would help the parties be clear on their obligations towards each other during the period of separation, as opposed to doing an informal separation. However, the parties will still be married to each other until they successfully file for divorce.
  • Judicial separation – Either party to the marriage may apply for a judgment of judicial separation, to formalise the couple’s separation in court and make it no longer obligatory for the parties to cohabit. Similar to executing a deed of separation, however, the couple is still legally married and will remain so until they obtain a judgment of divorce. Find out more in our other article about judicial separation.

Hiring a Lawyer to Advise on Your Divorce

It is possible to file for divorce in Singapore yourself without hiring a lawyer. However, if you wish to file for divorce, whether this is within the 3-year time-bar or otherwise, you are encouraged to engage a lawyer to protect your rights as the process of getting a divorce might be a difficult and emotionally-trying period.

An experienced lawyer will be able to advise you on your likelihood of obtaining a divorce within 3 years of marriage, and guide you through the various legal and procedural requirements involved in filing for divorce. For instance, this could include the making of the necessary applications and the drafting and filing of required documents.

Where the divorce is contested, a lawyer will also be better placed to advocate for your rights in court.

An experienced divorce lawyer will also be able to assist you in the proceedings after an interim judgment for divorce is granted, for important ancillary matters such as maintenance and division of matrimonial assets.

You can get in touch with experienced divorce lawyers here.

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?