Getting a Divorce: How to Prove Desertion

Last updated on March 11, 2022

Featured image for the "Getting a Divorce: How to Prove Desertion" article. It features a wife sitting on the floor in a darkened setting, crying.

One day, your spouse walked out of the house and never came back.

You waited.

And waited.

But your spouse didn’t return.

It took you some time, but you’ve finally overcome your grief. You’ve decided to file for divorce.

There are a few ways of proving irretrievable breakdown of marriage so as to get a divorce. One way is to prove that your spouse has deserted you.

Alternatively, if you are the spouse who left and believe you had a good reason for doing so, you may be able to file for divorce by proving “constructive desertion”.

What is “Desertion”?

Under the Women’s Charter, which provides for the law on divorce, “desertion” implies an abandonment of one party against his or her wishes.

In the context of divorce, this means that the deserting spouse has completely rejected the marital relationship.

Minimum Period of Desertion

Before the court will grant a divorce, the deserted spouse must prove that he/she has been deserted for a continuous period of at least 2 years before filing for divorce.

“Continuous” desertion for at least 2 years does not mean that the desertion must have happened for 2 years straight. The 2 years can include “breaks”, of up to 6 months in total, where the parties continued to live together. For example, where the deserting spouse returned to the household for some time before leaving again.

However, these “breaks” have to be made up so that there has been a total desertion period of 2 years.

Proving Desertion

To prove desertion:

  1. The parties must have been physically separated; and
  2. The deserting spouse must have had the intention to desert his/her spouse.

Physical separation

Desertion can only be proved with physical separation and not any other type of separation.

Here, physical separation refers to the parties living in separate households. This is different from living in separate houses, or even sleeping in different bedrooms of the same house. Rather, the parties have to keep separate households.

For example, parties who sleep in separate houses can still be considered as living in the same household if they spend their waking hours together.

Intention to desert

The deserted spouse must also be able to prove that his/her spouse had the intention to desert him/her. The intention to desert is commonly understood as an intention to “bring the matrimonial union permanently to an end”.

More importantly, the intention to desert must be non-consensual. This means that parties cannot use the fact that they had agreed to live apart to get a divorce on the basis of desertion.

That said, the intention to desert can still form even after parties agreed to live apart. One example of this is where the parties have separated and one spouse later expresses the intention to cohabitate again, but the other refuses. Only at this point will that other spouse then be considered to have the intention to desert.

Finally, desertion implies the breakdown of a common household by one spouse even though this was not required by his/her personal circumstances. Therefore, there is no intention to desert if the parties’ situation required them to live apart, such as one spouse going overseas for work or further studies.

Constructive desertion

If you are the deserting party filing for divorce and are relying on the ground of desertion, it is possible for you to cite “constructive desertion” to prove your case. 

Constructive desertion is understood to have occurred when a deserting party leaves his/her spouse because the spouse drove him/her out with the intention to end the marriage.

The deserting spouse must be able to prove that the spouse’s conduct was of such gravity that it gives the deserting spouse a “good cause to leave the matrimonial union”. This may include, for example, physical or mental abuse.

Difference between Separation and Desertion

It is important to appreciate the difference between separation and desertion since they form different facts for proving irretrievable breakdown of marriage under the Women’s Charter.

Separation occurs when both spouses form the intention to terminate the marital relationship and act on such intention. This can include physical separation, but is more than that. There must be a loss of consortium and a total breakdown in the marital relationship.

Separation is the most appropriate fact for proving irretrievable breakdown of marriage when neither party is at fault for their marriage breaking down. It can occur anytime, with the parties agreeing to do so.

On the other hand, desertion is essentially non-consensual separation. The line between separation and desertion is therefore whether there was an intention to desert by one party.

As mentioned above, desertion occurs when one has been abandoned by his/her spouse. This means that the parties are separated not by agreement, but because one spouse has chosen to leave his/her spouse without that spouse’s consent. An agreed separation cannot give rise to desertion.

If you need legal advice on getting a divorce from your spouse, whether on the fact of desertion or another fact, feel free to get in touch with one of our trusted divorce lawyers.

You can also check out our comprehensive guide to divorce fees in Singapore.

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?