What Happens If Your Ex-Spouse Does Not Provide Maintenance?
You may have received a maintenance order from the Judge for your spouse to provide maintenance for your child, yourself, or the both of you. However, your spouse has defaulted on maintenance payments. What can you do to enforce the order?
Lodging a Complaint
You may lodge a complaint to enforce the maintenance order before a District Judge or Magistrate in the Family Court. However, you need not necessarily travel to the Family Court to make the complaint. You can either choose to do it in person at the Family Court, or via video conference at the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations. Each complaint filed will be charged at a nominal fee of $1. To avoid delays, it is advisable that you call to make an appointment before heading down. These are the designated locations where such complaints can be filed as well.
The addresses of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations is as follows:
Maintenance Support Central (Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations)
96 Waterloo Street S187967
Contact number: 6571 0185
You should bring the following items with you when you approach it for assistance:
- Your identification card
- Photocopies of your marriage certificate (if applicable)
- Photocopies of your children’s birth certificate(s) (if applicable)
- Order of the Court previously granted (ie the original maintenance order)
What Happens after a Complaint is Lodged?
After a complaint is filed, the State Courts will serve a Summon on the person against whom the complaint was filed. A date for the Mention of the case will be set, and the complainant will be informed of the date. The Mention and Hearing will be held at the Family Court, and the complainant will have to be present in person.
At the Mention, both the Complainant and the Respondent will have to be present. During this time, the Judge will determine if the case may be resolved by mutual agreement, order evidence such as salary slips to be provided, and determine the length of Hearing required. Complainants or Respondents who wish to call for witnesses may inform the Judge during this time. The Judge may also direct the Respondent to provide reasons why he/she breached the maintenance order.
If the case involves no dispute over the maintenance, the Hearing may be held on the same day as the Mention. Otherwise, it will be conducted on a separate day. The Hearing may last from hours to days, depending on the complexity of the case. During the hearing, both sides will submit their documentary evidence and cross-examination will take place. Arguments will also be made for both sides. The Judge will then come to a decision and give his orders.
What Happens to the Defaulting Spouse?
The Judge has several courses of action against the defaulting spouse who failed to provide maintenance. Under section 71 of the Women’s Charter, the defaulting spouse may be fined or imprisoned for up to 1 month. Even if imprisonment is meted out, this does not excuse the defaulter from making payment upon release.
Beyond such sanctions, the Court may order for financial counselling, especially in cases where the defaulters themselves are in financial difficulties. The Court may also make an order for the defaulter to perform unpaid community service for up to 40 hours. Another move the Court can make is to give an attachment of earnings order – which compels the defaulter’s employer to deduct the maintenance money from his/her monthly wage and pay it to the Court. Complainants can also get a credit bureau to list the debt in a defaulter’s credit report, which can be accessed by banks and financial institutions. Should the defaulter desire to take out loans or sign up for hire-purchase schemes in future, it will be very difficult for him/her to do so.
What Else Can You Do?
Even if you may feel aggrieved that your spouse is not providing maintenance, you should continue to perform the duties required of you. For example, if you are the parent with care and control of your children, you should continue to grant access to your spouse.
Despite the changes made to streamline the process for filing complaints and to provide more options for Courts to deal with defaulters, persistent defaulters may still get away simply by refusing to pay. This will force their spouses to return to Court frequently each time they default on payment, causing them to incur additional legal expenses. This also causes cases to drag on indefinitely. Some do so in the hopes that the complaining spouse might give up after a while, given the hassle of repeatedly filing for complaints. If you are in such a situation, you may want to consider applying to Court to vary the monthly maintenance payments to a lump sum maintenance payment instead. Speak to one of our experienced divorce lawyers if you want to find out more about how to do so.
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