Settling Ancillary Matters in Singapore After Foreign Divorce

Last updated on July 18, 2022

divorced couple holding document

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?  

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:

  • Singapore;
  • 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.

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 (2022)
  2. Can a Divorcing Couple Use the Same Lawyer? Pros and Cons
  3. 7 Best Divorce and Family Lawyers in Singapore (2022)
  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
Post-Divorce
  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. Immigration Issues for Divorcing Expatriates
  4. Can Foreigners Divorce in Singapore?
  5. Expat or Foreigner Divorce in Singapore: 10 Legal Issues to Consider
  6. Hague Convention: Overseas Child Abduction in Singapore Divorce
  7. Case Study: Cross-Border Child Custody and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction
  8. Can British Expats in Singapore Choose to Divorce in England?
  9. Divorce for British Expats: Approach to Matrimonial and Non-Matrimonial Assets in England vs Singapore
  10. 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
Annulment
  1. Annulling a Singapore Marriage: Requirements and Process
  2. What Happens to Your HDB Flat After an Annulment?
Separation
  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?