Settling Ancillary Matters in Singapore After Foreign Divorce
A couple may choose to commence divorce proceedings outside Singapore and subsequently resolve financial matters, such as the division of matrimonial assets or payment of maintenance, in Singapore. One or both parties to the marriage may prefer to obtain the divorce order in a foreign country, perhaps because they are a national of the foreign country and are therefore more familiar with the laws of that jurisdiction. Others may feel that it is less hassle to obtain a divorce order in that foreign country.
However, just because a divorce order is obtained in that foreign country does not mean that the couple is shut off from having the Singapore courts make orders for financial relief. This is because the Singapore courts are empowered to make orders for financial relief for divorces, annulments or judicial separation orders obtained in foreign countries.
In addition, you do not need to have been married in Singapore to have the Singapore court hear matters relating to financial relief. Nevertheless, parties must still fulfil certain requirements before they can make an application for financial relief in Singapore.
This article will discuss:
- What ancillary matters can the Singapore court hear following a foreign divorce/annulment/separation
- Whether you should seek financial relief from the Singapore courts or the foreign court that heard your divorce
- How to apply to the Singapore courts for financial relief
- A case study of how a wife obtained permission to commence financial relief matters in Singapore courts following a divorce in Indonesia
What Ancillary Matters Can the Singapore Court Hear Following a Foreign Divorce/Annulment/Separation?
If the Singapore courts are willing to hear ancillary matters after the parties have obtained a foreign divorce/annulment/judicial separation order, they have the power to make orders only in respect of division of assets and maintenance, i.e. financial relief, and not in respect of non-financial matters such as child custody. For non-financial matters, the parties may have to seek recourse from the foreign court that granted them the foreign divorce/annulment/judicial separation order.
In addition, the Singapore courts have the power to make orders for interim financial provision. These are typically in cases where the spouse applying for financial relief (i.e. the wife/former wife/child(ren)/incapacitated husband/incapacitated former husband) is in immediate financial need. In such cases, the court may order maintenance for such a term that the court deems reasonable.
Should You Seek Financial Relief from the Singapore Courts or the Foreign Court That Heard Your Divorce?
As mentioned above, parties must fulfil certain requirements before they can make an application for financial relief in Singapore. The court also takes into consideration many factors (discussed below) in determining whether the applicant has a good reason to have the financial relief matters heard in Singapore.
In this sense, there is no guarantee that the Singapore court will hear matters concerning financial relief after the parties have obtained a foreign divorce order. Therefore, if the option is open to parties to have the financial reliefs also made by the foreign court that made the divorce/annulment/judicial separation order, then they should consider availing themselves of that option.
However, if reasons of practicality and enforceability of financial orders dictate otherwise, parties can apply to the Singapore court to decide on financial matters.
Will the Singapore Court Grant You Leave to Apply for Financial Relief in Singapore?
The party seeking financial relief must make an application to the Singapore Family Justice Courts for the hearing of the financial matters. There are two stages to this application. The first stage is where the party seeking financial relief must obtain leave (i.e. permission of court) for the court to even hear the financial-related matters. Only when leave is obtained can the actual application for financial relief be made at the second stage.
1. Can your foreign divorce/annulment/judicial separation order be recognised as valid in Singapore?
At the first stage, the applicant must show that the foreign divorce, annulment or judicial separation is entitled to be recognised as valid in Singapore under Singapore law. The Singapore courts typically recognise a foreign judgment of divorce as valid if it is granted by a court of either party’s domicile (i.e. the country that a party treats as a permanent home). This is unless the recognition of the foreign judgment will be contrary to public policy.
2. Does the Singapore court have the jurisdiction to hear your application for financial relief?
The Singapore court would have jurisdiction (i.e. the authority) to hear your application for financial relief if one of the parties to the marriage must have been either:
- Domiciled in Singapore on the date of the application for leave, or on the date the foreign divorce/annulment/judicial separation order was made; or
- Habitually resident in Singapore for a continuous period of one year preceding the date of the application for leave, or the date the foreign order was made.
3. Do you have a “substantial ground” for making the financial relief application?
Once the two jurisdictional hurdles above are met, then the applicant must show “substantial ground” for the making of an application for financial relief. This does not mean a high threshold must be met. Rather, it is a ground that is “solid” in that it should not be plainly unmeritorious.
The Women’s Charter lists some provisions that assist the court in determining if a substantial ground has been shown. The court considers the connection that the parties of the marriage have to:
- The country they obtained their divorce/annulment/judicial separation order; and/or to
- Any other foreign country.
Other factors the court considers include:
- Any financial benefit that the applicant or a child of the marriage has received, or is likely to receive by virtue of any agreement or law in the foreign country;
- (Where a foreign court has made an order for payment or transfer of any property) Whether such an order has been complied with or is likely to be complied with;
- Any right that the applicant has or had to apply for financial relief from the other party to the marriage under the law of any foreign country, and reasons if any, the applicant chose not to do so;
- The matrimonial assets available in Singapore;
- The extent to which any orders made is likely to be enforceable; and
- The length of time since the date of the divorce/annulment/judicial separation order.
If the court is satisfied that there is a substantial ground for the making of such an application, leave is granted and the applicant can then make the substantive and actual application to the Singapore courts for financial relief.
Case Study: Permission to Commence Financial Relief Matters in Singapore Following a Divorce in Indonesia
The 2019 Court of Appeal decision of UFN v UFM addressed issues relating to a leave application for financial relief after a divorce order was made in a foreign court.
In that case, the husband and wife married in Indonesia. They had 3 children. The husband, wife and children were all permanent residents of Singapore. The wife filed for divorce in Indonesia and obtained a divorce order in Indonesia in 2013. The Indonesian court granted the divorce and gave custody of the three children to the wife. The husband was also ordered to pay monthly maintenance to the children.
About 3 years after the Indonesian divorce proceedings, the wife applied to the Singapore court for leave to commence proceedings for financial relief in Singapore. In particular, she sought an order for the division of a property in Singapore that she jointly owned with her former husband. At the time of the hearing, the wife and children were residing in Indonesia while the husband was in Singapore.
Applying the jurisdictional test above, the Court of Appeal found that it had jurisdiction to hear the matter. This was because there had been a valid divorce order made in Indonesia (the husband had previously agreed to this in an affidavit). The husband had also been habitually resident in Singapore for the past year preceding the date of the application for leave.
Lastly, the court accepted that the wife had a substantial ground for making the application as all parties had connections to Singapore – namely that they were Singapore permanent residents and had a matrimonial property located in Singapore.
The court also agreed that the wife was likely to face difficulty in enforcing any Indonesian court order against the husband in Singapore. This was in view of the husband’s blatant disregard of Indonesian court orders in respect of maintenance for the children.
Given the above, the court granted the wife’s application for leave to commence proceedings in relation to financial relief in Singapore.
The case of UFN v UFM is a good example of the numerous factors that the court weighs and balances when determining whether Singapore is the best forum (or court) for hearing proceedings for financial relief.
An applicant is not expected to exhaust all available remedies in the jurisdiction in which the foreign divorce was obtained before making a leave application in Singapore. Instead, the factors laid out in the Women’s Charter simply invites the court to assess whether the applicant had a good reason for choosing Singapore over any other jurisdiction in which he or she may have a right to obtain financial relief from the other party.
The issue of seeking financial relief after a divorce can be complex, especially if you had obtained the divorce in the court of one country but are considering applying for financial relief in the court of another. If you are unsure as to the best course of action, do consult a divorce lawyer familiar with the laws of the country in which you obtained your divorce on whether you should seek a resolution of the ancillary matters in that country.
Further, speak to a Singapore divorce lawyer for advice on whether you should apply for financial relief in Singapore after obtaining an overseas divorce/annulment/judicial separation order.
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