What to Do If Your Ex-Spouse Denies You Access to Your Child
The Law on Access to Children following a Divorce in Singapore
Following divorce proceedings, the court will grant access orders and often fixes access times.
The Women’s Charter does not stipulate the amount of access time a parent should be given with his/her child. Instead, it merely states that the parent will be given access:
“at such times and with such frequency as the court may consider reasonable”.
However, the Women’s Charter does not define what would be considered “reasonable”. This means that the duration and frequency of access is left to the court’s discretion.
This may sometimes include an order for the child to be sent to and picked up at Family Service Centres at stipulated times.
In addition, the court is unable to regulate whether the access orders are followed.
Types of access orders
The court is able to make 2 types of access orders:
Most access orders are non-supervised orders. That is, the parent without care and control of the child can have access to the child without a third-party supervising the session.
Supervised access orders are usually given for reasons such as to protect the child from potential physical or emotional abuse, or to assess the relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent.
Seeking Enforcement of Access Orders
1. Try to work things out with your ex-spouse
It is advisable that you approach a family mediation centre or counsellor to try to work things out with your ex-spouse.
This is especially if your ex-spouse has been unreasonable in denying access to your child, and communication with your ex-spouse has broken down.
It is important that you remain cordial and civil towards your ex-spouse, and continue maintenance payments, for the sake of your child’s best interests. At the same time, you may try approaching your ex-spouse’s friends and relatives to help you in reaching out to your ex-spouse.
2. Apply for shared care and control of your child
Alternatively, you may want to consider pursuing an application for shared care and control with your ex-spouse. This means that your child will share his/her time spent with both parents equally.
However for your application to succeed, you may ideally have to have been the primary caregiver for the child before the divorce. Furthermore, the courts are generally reluctant to grant shared care and control to where school-going children are involved, given the inconvenience they will face in moving between 2 homes during weekdays.
3. File for contempt of court
A last resort that some turn to is to file for a case of contempt of court against your ex-spouse for failing to obey the access order.
You must have compelling evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your ex-spouse deliberately disobeyed the court order. For example, if your ex-spouse was unable to obey the order due to illness or accident, this would not constitute contempt.
Getting a court judgment pronouncing your ex-spouse in contempt may also take some time. For example, it could take anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months, from the time that you first file your contempt of court application, for the court to decide on it.
If a person is found guilty of contempt of court for not complying with the access order, he/she can be fined up to $20,000 and/or jailed up to 12 months. However, this may not be an ideal outcome given that it is likely only to worsen the relationship with your ex-spouse, and may have a negative impact on your child.
Maintaining access to your child after a divorce is an important way in helping your child cope with a divorce. Unfortunately, the current law in Singapore may not provide adequate redress for parents who have been denied access to their child.
On your end, you should keep up with efforts to reach out to your child and assure your child that you are still invested in his/her life. You may also want to approach one of our divorce lawyers to explore the possible legal avenues to resolve this access issue.
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