What are the Legal Grounds for Getting a Divorce?
By law, there is only one ground for divorce, and that is the irretrievable breakdown of marriage. The other terms that we commonly hear as being “grounds for divorce”, such as unreasonable behaviour or adultery, are the facts used to show that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. This is a common misconception.
Before we can talk about proving irretrievable breakdown, we need to know that there are pre-conditions for getting a divorce.
Pre-conditions for Divorce
Married for at least 3 years
In order to get a divorce, you have to be married for at least 3 years.
In special cases, a divorce can be filed before there has been 3 years of marriage. However, you will have to prove that you have suffered exceptional hardship or if your spouse has been exceptionally unreasonable and cruel.
If you’re wondering what will be considered “exceptional hardship” or “exceptionally unreasonable and cruel” – there is no fixed legal definition. The reason is that the applicant has to use his personal circumstances to persuade the court that there is exceptional hardship as a whole. However, there are certain extreme circumstances that may justify an early divorce.
If there are no exceptional circumstances, then there has to be 3 years of marriage before divorce.
Relation to Singapore
To obtain a divorce in the Singapore justice system, you or your spouse must be domiciled (treated Singapore as your permanent abode) at the start of the divorce proceedings. Alternatively, either of you must have resided in Singapore for 3 years immediately before the commencement of divorce proceedings.
If you are a foreigner in Singapore, you may wish to refer to our article on whether foreigners can divorce in Singapore.
Proving Irretrievable Breakdown – Grounds for Divorce
For there to be a divorce, there has to be an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. This is the sole ground of divorce. As an example, “unreasonable behaviour” is a fact that is used to prove the irretrievable breakdown.
In order to show an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, you have to prove at least one of these legally-defined facts. (To make things simpler, we have used A and B to denote the two parties in a divorce.) They are:
- Unreasonable behaviour
“What about ‘irreconcilable differences’? Can I use that to get a divorce in Singapore?” – The answer is no – that’s only a legit ground if you’re getting divorced in the US. In Singapore, you’ll have to prove 1 of the 4 ways above. Speak to a lawyer if you need advice on this. #SingaporeLegalAdvice
If A has committed adultery, and B finds it intolerable to live with A, B can file for divorce. The main hurdle with proving adultery is in gathering the evidence, since A is unlikely to admit to the adultery. If you cannot get hold of evidence yourself, then a private investigator has to be hired.
You may want to get in touch with our partnering private investigator.
For unreasonable behaviour, A has to show that B has behaved in such a way that A cannot reasonably be expected to live with B.
What constitutes unreasonable behaviour is subjective. That is to say, what are the actions that are unreasonable to you? Some examples include:
- Constant late nights
- Refusal to socialise
- Drug addiction
- Compulsive gambling habits
- Deprivation of sex
- Working too many hours
The list is not exhaustive. Unreasonable behaviour is an easier fact to use for an uncontested divorce, as B does not have to admit to the behaviour. This is in contrast to adultery which has to be proven, and this can be embarrassing. It is unlikely that there will be consent to divorce for reason of adultery. Read more about unreasonable behaviour in divorce.
In the Women’s Charter, desertion is described as B having deserted A for a continuous period of at least 2 years immediately before the filing of divorce. A should show that they have been living separately, and that B has the intention to desert. Usually, this is shown by proving that B has no intention of returning.
Separation (live apart) for 3 years
For this fact, A has to prove that A and B have lived separately continuously for a period of 3 years. B also has to agree to the divorce. A will have to show evidence of living separately. Sometimes, a deed of separation is used. For this fact and the point below, the living apart must be by choice of the parties and not due to necessity. For example, if B has been posted overseas for work, that time is unlikely to be counted as part of the 3 years required.
If A and B get back together briefly during the period of living apart, as long as the period of the reconciliation does not exceed 6 months, the separation can still be considered continuous, but the time they spent living together will not count towards the 3 or 4 years, as the case may be. You may want to find out more about how to prove separation.
Separation (live apart) for 4 years
Supposing A and B have lived separately continuously for a period of 4 years, then the consent of B is not necessary.
How We Can Help You
The Statement of Particulars and other documentation are best drafted by a lawyer.
We provide a simple system for you to get in touch with divorce lawyers so that you can find out more and compare what they have to offer. Just go to our divorce lawyers page.
At the same time, should you require any guidance on the costs of engaging a divorce lawyer, please refer to our Divorce Fee Guide.
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- Prenuptial Agreements in Singapore
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- Separation in Singapore
- Annulment of Marriage in Singapore
- Practical Preparations for a Divorce
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- What Happens to Gifts Between Spouses During a Divorce?
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- Getting Divorced: Child Maintenance in Singapore
- Maintenance of Spouse in a Singapore Divorce
- The Guide to Child Custody, Care and Control, and Access in Singapore
- How Does the Court Divide Matrimonial Assets in a Singapore Divorce?
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- Variation of Maintenance Orders in Singapore
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- Can Foreigners Divorce in Singapore?
- Expat or Foreigner Divorce in Singapore: 10 Legal Issues to Consider
- Immigration Issues for Divorcing Expatriates
- Hague Convention in Singapore: Overseas Child Abduction in Divorce
- Case Study: Cross-Border Child Custody and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction