Mandatory Counselling: When Will It be Ordered by the Court?
Disputes involving family members are often emotionally charged, and the process of litigating such a dispute may not necessarily resolve its relational aspects.
Counselling is viewed as a less acrimonious means of helping parties with ongoing relationships, such as family members, to reach an amicable resolution to their dispute. Counselling may therefore be made compulsory by the court in certain circumstances.
This article explains more about Mandatory Counselling Orders, and will cover:
- What is mandatory counselling?
- When will a counselling order be issued?
- What happens if I have been issued with a counselling order?
- What happens if I fail to abide by a counselling order?
- How long would the counselling last?
What is Mandatory Counselling?
A Mandatory Counselling Order is a court order that requires the party/parties named in the order to attend a counselling session(s). It aims to provide therapeutic support and assistance to individuals and families dealing with certain legal issues.
When Will a Counselling Order be Issued?
A counselling order may be issued in the following situations:
A couple undergoing divorce proceedings and who have at least one child below the age of 21 years are legally required to undergo mandatory counselling and mediation as part of the divorce proceedings.
These mandatory counselling and mediation sessions, as administered through the Mandatory Parenting Programme, aim to identify and promote the children’s best interests. It does so by building an appropriate and sustainable parenting agreement that will allow the children to continue to have meaningful relationships with both parents even after the divorce.
The sessions also seek to help parents effect positive co-parenting and find a more amicable closure to the divorce proceedings, which can often be acrimonious in nature.
Mandatory counselling is a court-ordered counselling programme administered by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) to help persons who have experienced or used family violence. It aims to keep families safe by helping family members learn more respectful behaviours to resolve conflicts, and providing family members with the necessary support and skills to ensure the safety of all family members.
In cases of family violence, a Counselling Order may be issued when a Personal Protection Order (PPO) is granted. A PPO is an order restraining the Respondent (the person who committed family violence) from committing further family violence against a person or persons. It is made when the court is satisfied that family violence has been or is likely to be committed, and that a PPO is necessary in the circumstances.
Where a PPO has been applied for, the person who applies for the PPO (also known as the “Complainant”), the Respondent as well as other family members can be ordered by the court to attend counselling.
According to the Women’s Charter, a “family member” includes:
- A spouse or former spouse;
- A child, including an adopted child and a step-child;
- A father or mother;
- A father-in-law or mother-in-law;
- A brother or sister; or
- Any other relative or an incapacitated person whom the court regards, in the circumstances of the case, as a family member.
Youth Court cases
The Youth Courts adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to manage the many complex issues involved in cases involving:
- A young offender;
- A child/youth requiring the State’s intervention; or
- A child/youth in need of protection
A young offender
When a youth is arrested and charged with committing an offence, the Youth Courts may make an order requiring both the youth and his/her parents or guardians to undergo mandatory counselling or other therapeutic programmes that the Youth Courts deem necessary.
This is to assist the youth in resolving any relationship problems with his/her parents or guardian, as well as in their rehabilitation.
A child/youth requiring the State’s intervention
State intervention by MSF’s Child Protective Service (CPS) is warranted in cases where there are serious child protection concerns posed to the child/youth.
Examples where State intervention is warranted include in cases of sexual abuse or severe neglect and cases with serious injuries inflicted by a parent/caregiver, and there is a need for immediate intervention. Such intervention could range from counselling for both the child and family to placing the child/youth in foster care.
A child/youth in need of protection
For situations that do not warrant immediate reporting to CPS, but a child/youth still needs protection, CPS may refer the families to community-based Child Protection Specialist Centres (CPSCs) for ongoing support.
These situations include cases where there was inappropriate or excessive discipline, but the parents/caregivers are willing to receive help and improve on their parenting/caregiving methods. Of the CPSCs’ various services, counselling is also provided to strengthen the parent-child relationship.
Other situations where mandatory counselling may be ordered
Do note that mandatory counselling also applies in other situations besides divorce or family violence matters.
For example, under the Ministry of Health’s Guidelines on Termination of Pregnancy, all pregnant women seeking termination of pregnancy in Singapore are required to undergo mandatory pre-abortion counselling. This is regardless of the woman’s nationality, education level and number of children she had already given birth to,
Pre-abortion counselling seeks to provide holistic information to the pregnant woman on the abortion procedure and its risks, understand the woman’s reasons for undergoing abortion and explore alternatives to abortion. This is to ensure that the pregnant woman makes an informed decision about undergoing abortion.
Can a counselling order be issued in lieu of or in addition to other punishment or penalties?
A counselling order is usually issued in addition to other orders that may be made by the courts, based on the circumstances of the case or dispute.
In youth arrest cases involving young offenders below 16 years of age who are charged in the Youth Courts, if the youth offender is found guilty of committing the offence in question, the Youth Courts may make any of the orders as set out in section 44 of the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA). These can include orders for the youth offender to perform community service or to be sent to a juvenile rehabilitation centre.
In addition to these orders, the Youth Court is also empowered to make additional orders for the child/youth and his/her parents, guardians or caregivers. For example, an order can be made requiring such parties to attend counselling or any other programmes as necessary for the purpose of:
- Resolving any relationship problems;
- Assisting in the rehabilitation of the young offender;
- Enabling the parent/caregiver to manage the young offender; and
- Enhancing, promoting or protecting the physical, social and emotional wellbeing and safety of the young offender.
In cases of family violence where a PPO has been applied for, the courts can issue the PPO against the Respondent as well as issue an order for the parties to undergo mandatory counselling as a means of providing further assistance and support.
For example, in a case involving a father who stalked and harassed his 24-year-old son over a 10-month period, the court issued a PPO against the father in favour of the son. The court also ordered the parties to undergo mandatory counselling at a family violence service centre to help them reconcile.
What Happens If I have been Issued with a Counselling Order?
Where parents are undergoing divorce proceedings in Singapore and have at least one child under the age of 21, the parties to the divorce proceedings will meet with a court-appointed mediator for mediation and a Court Family Specialist (CFS) from the Counselling and Psychological Services for counselling. This is to resolve any disagreements over their divorce and other related matters, such as children’s living arrangements, maintenance, and division of matrimonial property/assets.
Do note that only the parties to the divorce proceedings are involved in the counselling sessions, and lawyers are not allowed to sit in for these sessions.
At the counselling sessions, parents, with the support of the CFS, can work through a parenting plan by joint agreement.
Family violence cases
If a Counselling Order is issued against you together with a PPO, the court will inform you of the objectives of counselling, the consequences of not attending counselling as well as the date and time when you have to return to court for a Court Review.
You will then be contacted by a counsellor from a Social Service Agency to set the date, time, and venue for your first counselling appointment. At the first few sessions, the counsellor may conduct an interview to better understand the overall family situation of the parties concerned.
The counsellor will also discuss the number and frequency of counselling sessions, although this would depend on the progress made during counselling. The counselling sessions may continue for as long as there are still issues that need to be addressed, and where the Counselling Order is still in effect.
The counselling sessions may be conducted individually with the parties concerned, or in groups with other individuals who have had similar experiences, depending on the counsellor’s assessment of the circumstances of the case/dispute.
The counsellor will also assess if there is a need for other family members to receive counselling.
What happens If I Fail to Abide by a Counselling Order?
As a Counselling Order is a court order, a failure to attending counselling is considered a breach of a court order. Therefore if you fail to abide by a counselling order, you will be deemed to be in contempt of court, which is an offence that is punishable by law.
In Youth Courts cases, the parents/guardians may also be required to execute a bond to ensure that they and/or the youth complies with the Mandatory Counselling order, as necessary. A failure to comply with the order would mean that the bond is forfeited. The bonded parents/guardian may also be liable to a fine of up to S$2,000.
How Long will the Counselling Last?
According to the MSF, the counsellor will typically conduct 4 counselling sessions with the party or parties concerned. A review report will then be sent to the Family Justice Courts and the MSF on the progress of the counselling.
The parties will then return to the Family Justice Courts at the specified date and time of the Court Review. At the Court Review, the judge will consider the parties’ progress in counselling by referring to the review report submitted by the counsellor, as well as any other relevant information. Do note that the judge may require the parties to return for a second Court Review.
After the Court Review, counselling sessions may continue. If there is progress in the counselling, the counsellor will recommend in the counselling report that the parties be discharged from attending counselling at the next Court Review.
If you are required to attend mandatory counselling, it is important that you attend the counselling sessions and take the counselling seriously. Counselling is conducted with the aim of assisting and supporting the parties concerned and requires the full cooperation of the parties who are required to attend the counselling.
If you wish to find out more about mandatory counselling, its process and whether attending mandatory counselling might affect your rights or liabilities in a particular case or dispute, you may wish to consult a family lawyer for more information.
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