Overcoming 4 Legal Hurdles that Single Mothers Face in Singapore

mom and son

Being a parent and raising a family may be one of the most significant blessings a person can experience, but this also comes with its own unique set of challenges. These challenges are heightened when parenting has to be done solo, especially for single mothers in Singapore.

This article lays down 4 legal hurdles that single mothers in Singapore currently face and gives suggestions on what may be done to overcome them.

Before going into these hurdles, it is important to note that there are at least 3 categories of single mothers, as follows: 

  1. Unmarried; 
  2. Widowed; and
  3. Divorced. 

These categories are important to note because the rights (and accompanying challenges) of being a single mother may depend on which category you are in.

The following infographic is a quick summary of the legal hurdles single mothers may face but overcome in Singapore. You may click on it to download it in a new tab.

Overcoming 4 Legal Hurdles that Single Mothers Face in Singapore

1. Hurdles of Public Housing 

Unmarried single mothers may be unable to purchase HDB flats until the age of 35

One of the biggest hurdles that an unmarried single mother has to face is having access to public housing in Singapore. This is because housing policies implemented by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) currently reflect schemes that may encourage Singaporeans to get married before having children. 

Under HDB’s Public Scheme, to be eligible to purchase a Build-to-Order (BTO) HDB flat, a person must form a family nucleus as follows: 

  1. With a spouse, and children (if any); 
  2. With parents, and siblings (if any); and 
  3. With children under their legal custody, care and control (if widowed/divorced). 

Since unmarried single mothers with children are not recognised as a family nucleus, they are unable to purchase new HDB flats under the Public Scheme. As a result, if you are an unmarried single mother, you will only be eligible to buy a resale flat under the Singles Scheme once you turn 35.

However, CPF housing grant amounts will be lower for first-time unmarried single buyers.

Unmarried single mothers are provided less housing grants and assistance 

If you are a divorced or widowed single mother with at least one child below the age of 18, you will be eligible for the Assistance Scheme for Second-Timers (ASSIST) wherein 2-room and 3-room flats in non-mature estates are set aside for you in order to allow for a smoother housing transition after the divorce (if applicable).

Divorced persons may also each own a subsidised flat after the divorce, as long as they are able to meet the eligibility requirements.

The Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS) is also available for divorced or widowed mothers who have applied to purchase a BTO flat but are still waiting for completion of their flat and there are no other housing options available. Under this scheme, divorced or widowed mothers, along with their children, may rent a flat for up to 3 years, until their BTO flat is ready.

Unfortunately, if you are an unmarried single mother, these schemes are currently not applicable to you.

Difficulty of single mothers to qualify for the public rental scheme due to low income cap

The HDB also sets aside public rental flats for widowed and divorced parents with a total household income not exceeding $1,500.

However, it may be very difficult to qualify for this scheme because in reality, if you have two or more children to raise, $1,500 may be too little to provide for the family, and yet any earning beyond this amount already makes you ineligible for public rental housing. 

And this is only for divorced or widowed mothers. If you are an unmarried single mother, in order to qualify for the public rental scheme in the first place, you have to apply alongside your parents.

2. Financial Hurdles On Paid Leaves 

Another important consideration for any single mother is how to make ends meet. The potential financial hurdles of parenthood start from pregnancy and the costs only increase as the child is born and subsequently raised.

Reduced weeks of maternity leave and pay if the child is not a Singapore citizen

While all single mothers in Singapore are entitled to maternity leave regardless of their nationality, there is a 4-week difference in the amount of leave they can get, depending on the citizenship status of their children.

If the child is a Singapore citizen, single mothers are entitled to the Government-Paid Maternity Leave (GPML) scheme, which allows for 16 weeks of paid maternity leave if the following criteria are met:

  • For employees: you have served your employer for a continuous period of at least 3 months immediately before the birth of your child. You must also have notified your employer at least 1 week before commencing maternity leave, else the benefits may be slashed in half if there is no good reason to not give such notice beforehand.
  • For self-employed: you have been engaged in your work for at least 3 months continuously and have lost or would lose income during the period of maternity leave.

If the child is NOT a Singapore citizen, single mothers may only be entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave instead of 16 weeks. However, this is provided that they are covered under the Employment Act (EA) and have served their employer for a continuous 3 months immediately before the birth of the child. 

The employer will also only pay for the first 8 weeks of maternity leave if the mother has fewer than 2 living children of her own at the time of delivery, and had provided the employer the requisite 1-week notice before going on maternity leave. The last 4 weeks of maternity leave is unfortunately unpaid, unless otherwise stated in your employment contract. 

Single mothers are not entitled to enhanced baby bonus

Single mothers are NOT entitled to the one-off Enhanced Baby Bonus cash gift, which may amount to a total of $8,000 for a first or second child, or $10,000 for subsequent children. 

Other baby bonuses cannot be used for daily costs

Although single mothers are ineligible for the Enhanced Baby Bonus, there are still two other Baby Bonuses which they may be entitled to: 

  1. The First Step Grant of $3,000; and 
  2. The dollar-for-dollar matching of savings, where the government matches the savings made by the mother for the child one-for-one for up to a certain amount. 

It must be noted that any mother, regardless of whether they are married or single, can only use the baby bonuses for approved expenses, such as for the children’s educational and healthcare expenses.  

While this policy is intended to be directly beneficial to the child, this means that single mothers cannot use the baby bonuses for other costs of daily living, even if such expenses are being incurred for their child’s benefit. As a result, the extent to which the baby bonuses can help single mothers make ends meet may be limited.  

3. Hurdles on Inheritance  

Unmarried single mothers need to issue a will or legitimate their children in order for their children to receive inheritance

There are several brutal truths that come with having a child born out of wedlock in Singapore, such as with regard to the child’s right to inherit from either of his/her unmarried parents’ estate.

The Intestate Succession Act defines a child, for inheritance purposes, as one who is legitimate (born within a valid marriage), or who has been legally adopted. 

As a result, without the mother making a valid will, the children of unmarried single mothers may not be entitled to receive a share of their mother’s inheritance if she has existing legitimate children. This is because her legitimate children will have priority in inheritance over the illegitimate children. 

The illegitimate children will only have equal inheritance status as the legitimate children if the mother adopts the illegitimate child, or marries the other biological parent of the child in order to legitimate the child. In this regard, it is advised that mothers with children born out of wedlock (i.e. unmarried single mothers) make a valid will to ensure their child’s right to inherit in case anything untoward happens in the future.

4. Hurdle of Child Support

In Singapore, every parent has a legally binding duty to maintain or support their child until he or she turns 21 years old. But for unmarried mothers, or married mothers who are undergoing divorce proceedings, an added challenge arises when their partners refuse to share in this duty.

In this case, a single mother may apply for child maintenance against the other parent and the court may order the payment of child maintenance either as a monthly allowance or a lump sum. 

Divorcing parents, however, may come to an agreement during the divorce proceedings regarding the division of support and care provided for the affected children. It must be noted that courts look at these agreements carefully and will not hesitate to refuse endorsement of an agreement that leaves a child with inadequate support.

If the other parent refuses to comply with the maintenance order issued by the court, then a single mother may apply to enforce the order at the Family Justice Courts.

If you are a single mother, there are resources available that may offer you assistance as you continue raising your family in Singapore. For one, the Association for Women in Action and Research (AWARE) has a free legal clinic that may provide legal assistance to single mothers. AWARE may also be able to support you in other personal matters related to raising a family in Singapore. 

The Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) may also provide parenting skills training to newly-single mothers in order to help them with financial and related hurdles.

It is also best to contact one of our lawyers in order to seek legal advice as you navigate the challenges of motherhood solo. With the right support, and alongside groups that advocate for providing equal rights to single mothers in Singapore, the challenges that come with raising a family as a single mother do not have to be quite so burdensome.