Singapore Family Lawyers: What Do They Do and When Do I Need One?
Family Lawyer or Divorce Lawyer – Is there a Difference?
Most people mix up a family lawyer with a divorce lawyer, and understandably so, because divorce forms the main bulk of a family lawyer’s workload. Divorce, however, is only part of a family lawyer’s job scope.
While a divorce lawyer specialises in divorce matters, a family lawyer deals with adoptions, family violence, maintenance, probate and Youth Court matters, in addition to divorce (collectively known as family law).
Nevertheless, a divorce lawyer can also be known as a family lawyer, should he deal with the varied scope of family law (mentioned above).
The role of a family lawyer in dealing with certain aspects of family law, and how he/she can assist you, will be explained briefly in this article.
What is the Role of a Family Lawyer in Assisting Me?
If you are contemplating a divorce, you should consult a family lawyer.
The lawyer will first advise you on whether, given your circumstances, you can get a divorce.
If there are sufficient grounds for a divorce, the lawyer will explore whether a simplified uncontested divorce or a contested divorce is in the best interests of you and your children.
For instance, the lawyer will advise you on the percentage of matrimonial assets you may obtain in an uncontested divorce as compared to a contested divorce, and weigh it against the estimated legal fees, as well as the physical/mental load placed on you and your children, in both situations.
The lawyer will also discuss the main ancillary issues in a divorce, namely:
On the division of matrimonial assets and maintenance, the focus will be whether you will get the matrimonial home or whether it has to be sold after the divorce and the amount of maintenance that may be granted to your spouse and children (if any).
For the care and custody of your children, the lawyer will advise you on the possible custody arrangements and your chances of getting your desired arrangement.
Beyond the law, a good family lawyer will also prioritise the welfare of the child. The lawyer will manage and reduce any conflict or strained relationships between all parties affected by the divorce to minimise any potential negative impact on the child.
For example, the family lawyer must be able to refer you and/or your child to appropriate therapists or mental-health professionals, such as at a Family Service Centre, for emotional assistance.
A good family lawyer will also handle negotiations with your spouse, work with his or her counsel, avoid unnecessary applications and hearings, and recommend alternative dispute resolution processes such as counselling or mediation where appropriate.
In short, a family lawyer is indispensable for a divorce.
If you wish to ensure that your interests are taken care of in the unfortunate event that you become unable to make decisions for yourself, you should approach a family lawyer.
Not only will a family lawyer be equipped to answer your queries on issues relating to mental capacity, he or she will also be able to help you execute a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), through which you can nominate a person (i.e. a donee) to make decisions for you in the event you lose mental capacity.
Apart from choosing your own donee, you may also engage a family lawyer to assist you in appointing a deputy for a loved one who has already lost their mental capacity. A deputy is someone who has the authority to make important decisions on behalf of someone lacking mental capacity.
A family lawyer will be able to guide you through the process of appointing a deputy, including the documents to file and how to fill in those documents.
Distribution of assets
Apart from an LPA, you should also approach a family lawyer if you wish to make a will.
A family lawyer will explain the difference between an LPA and a will to you, and what happens if you pass away without a will. A lawyer will also explain the difference between the various types of wills and recommend the most appropriate one for your needs.
Most importantly, a family lawyer can help you draft a will so that your assets will be distributed in accordance to your wishes once you pass on.
A family lawyer can also guide you through the steps to take when executing the will of your deceased loved one. For example, he/she may assist you in applying for a Grant of Probate that will empower you to carry out the instructions in your loved one’s will.
What are the Duties of Family Lawyers when Representing Me?
All lawyers are guided by the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules 2015, and family lawyers are no exception.
Among other duties, all lawyers must be honest, act with reasonable diligence and competence, advance your best interests, and keep any information provided by you confidential.
At the same time, because the courts have recognised the unique needs of family justice in Singapore, especially in divorce matters, family lawyers are imposed with additional duties and responsibilities.
For instance, if a matter may end up in court, a family lawyer is obliged to:
- Inform you of all dispute resolution options, such as mediation and counselling, that are reasonably available to you, to allow you to make an informed decision on how to resolve the issue.
- Advise you to consider resolving issues amicably, whenever this is reasonably possible.
- Advise you to be constructive and reasonable when participating in any proceedings.
If at least one child below 21 years old is involved, a family lawyer must:
- Advise you that the best interests of the child take priority in any decision affecting the child, even if the child and/or his parents have other wishes for the child.
- Advise you to consider the welfare of the child, and the potentially adverse impact of any proceedings on your child.
Beyond legal duties, the Chief Justice has also encouraged family lawyers to provide their clients with information in a way that can be understood easily, to allow them to make good decisions.
The Chief Justice has also pointed out (as mentioned above) that a good family lawyer should be able to address any underlying issues and needs their clients may have, and refer them to the appropriate professionals such as family service centres, local police, crisis shelters, or therapists where necessary.
Hence, you can rest assured that you will be in good hands if you decide to hire a family lawyer.
Can I Choose Not to Hire a Family Lawyer?
Generally, there is no legal requirement that you need to hire a family lawyer. For example, you are not required to hire a lawyer to:
- Draft and execute a will
- Initiate divorce proceedings
- Apply for a Grant of Probate if the total value of the estate of the deceased person is below S$3 million
The list goes on, but because of how complex legal proceedings or drafting of legal documents can be, it is recommended that you hire a family lawyer for your family law matter.
By hiring a lawyer, you will also receive professional representation should you need to make a court appearance. As such, you may be more likely to get what you want out of the matter, and have greater peace of mind during the entire process.
This is as compared to representing yourself, for example, in a contested divorce proceeding, and possibly being less aware of the divorce laws and legal procedures that can help or hinder your case.
What is the Cost of Hiring a Family Lawyer?
Of course, we recognise that there are cost considerations when hiring a family lawyer.
The legal fees depend largely on the type of family law issue that you are dealing with and the complexity of the matter.
For divorce in particular, you should be prepared to spend at least $2,500 in legal fees, even for the simplest divorce with the cheapest lawyer.
Factors such as the types and extent of assets you own, and the number of children you have, may also increase the complexity of a divorce case and hence the legal fees you can expect to pay.
You can read our comprehensive guide to divorce fees in Singapore for more information.
Your best bet is to attend a preliminary consultation session (which may cost a small fee) with a family lawyer. During the consultation, the lawyer will review your situation and give an estimate of the legal costs.
If possible, you should consult a few family lawyers to determine roughly how much it would cost for full settlement of the matter, so that you can make an informed decision as to whether you want to see the matter through.
How Do I Choose a Family Lawyer?
Step 1: Educate yourself
The first step is to identify and educate yourself on the legal matters which you require advice on.
The internet is full of information, so the last thing you should be spending money on are answers that can be found online. For example, you should find out about the requirements for getting a divorce or the requirements for making a valid will.
This is also important as it helps you to evaluate the lawyers you talk to (for example, whether they are providing up-to-date information) and understand the kind of legal service you require.
Step 2: Have the end in mind
Having the end in mind means figuring out matters such as:
- How much time and money you are willing to spend on the matter?
- Are you willing to go to court?
- What do you want to get out of the situation?
- In the worst-case scenario, what are you willing to settle for?
Your answers to these issues will help you decide on your budget and find a lawyer who can work within it to achieve your goals (as far as possible), or decide whether you should even engage a lawyer at all.
Step 3: Find and select your lawyer
Last but not least, you need to find, shortlist, and choose your lawyer.
There are no shortages in family lawyers, and they come from all walks of the profession. What is most important is that you feel comfortable sharing your personal issue with the lawyer and that you feel confident your lawyer will fight for your best interests.
For starters, you may choose a lawyer based on word-of-mouth. The advantage of this method is that you can find out from your friends or relatives if they had a good experience with the lawyer.
But even if you have heard raving reviews about a certain lawyer or law firm, it is recommended that you do some research online and meet the lawyer, or lawyer(s) from that law firm, in person to ensure that you make the right choice.
The Legal Services Regulatory Authority of Singapore keeps an updated list of the practising lawyers and law firms in Singapore.
In particular, SingaporeLegalAdvice.com also has a list of experienced family lawyers that you can approach.
Once you have chosen a lawyer who seems to be the best fit for the job, you can contact the lawyer by email, phone or through the law firm’s portal to fix an appointment.
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