What are the Legal Grounds for Getting a Divorce?

Last updated on April 14, 2022

Featured image for the "What are the Legal Grounds for Getting a Divorce" article. It features a divorced couple reading their statement in the court.

By law, there is only one ground for divorce in Singapore, 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

To get a divorce in Singapore, you generally have to be married for at least 3 years.

In special cases, a divorce can be filed before 3 years of marriage have passed. 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. You may wish to discuss with a divorce lawyer to find out if your situation falls under any such extreme circumstances.

If there are no exceptional circumstances, then your marriage must have lasted for at least 3 years before you can file for divorce.

Relation to Singapore

To obtain a divorce in the Singapore justice system, you or your spouse must be domiciled (i.e. have 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 in Singapore

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 4 legally defined facts. The 4 facts that can be used to obtain a divorce in Singapore are:

  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable behaviour
  3. Desertion
  4. Separation

A new fact of “mutual agreement” will also be introduced sometime in 2023.

In the following explanations on each of these facts, we will use A and B to denote the two parties in a divorce:


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 may not readily admit to the adultery. If you cannot get hold of evidence yourself, then you may have to hire a private investigator.

You may want to get in touch with our partnering private investigator.

Unreasonable behaviour

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:

  • Violence
  • 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 therefore less likely that there will be consent to divorce for reason of adultery. Read more about unreasonable behaviour in divorce in our other article.


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 separation, 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-year period for living apart.

If A and B get back together briefly during the period of living apart, the separation can still be considered continuous as long as the period of the reconciliation does not exceed 6 months. However, the time they spent living together will not count towards the required duration of separation.

You may want to find out more about how to prove separation in our other article.

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 before A can file for divorce.

Mutual agreement

Following changes to the law that are expected to take effect in 2023, parties will in the future be allowed to divorce by “mutual agreement”, where both A and B agree that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

This agreement must be in writing and must state:

  • A and B’s reasons for concluding that the marriage has irretrievably broken down
  • The efforts that A and B have made to reconcile
  • The consideration that A and B have given to the arrangements for their financial affairs and any children of the marriage, post-divorce

However, the court has the discretion to not dissolve the marriage if it believes that there is still a reasonable possibility of A and B reconciling.

What about “irreconcilable differences”?

You may have read news reports about celebrities getting a divorce due to “irreconcilable differences”. However, this is not an accepted way of proving irretrievable breakdown of marriage in Singapore.

Instead, you will have to prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down based on at least one of the 4 facts mentioned above.

How We Can Help You

Divorce papers 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.

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?