Navigating divorce proceedings can be complex and often emotionally difficult for all parties involved, especially when there are children to the marriage. Parents who wish to obtain a divorce would need to consider the arrangements they would need to make for their children. These would include issues such as who would have care and control of the children post-divorce.
With news highlighting that more divorced couples in Singapore are being granted shared care and control of their children, what are the pros and cons of this option? In this article, we discuss the considerations that parents should keep in mind when deciding whether to seek shared care and control of their children after a divorce. It will cover:
What is Care and Control?
An order of care and control is a court order that determines which parent the child should reside with post-divorce. Care and control also encompasses the:
- Time spent with the child
- Caregiving responsibilities
- Residence of the child with the parent
- Parent’s decision-making responsibilities over day-to-day matters, including the child’s daily needs.
Custody, on the other hand, refers to the decision-making authority that the parent would have in major aspects of the child’s life – these would include, for example, religion, education, and healthcare. Custody does not necessarily involve spending time with the child.
Access refers to the visitation rights that a parent can have with the child. This refers to the specified days or periods of time during which the parent who does not have care and control of the child can spend with the child.
What is Shared Care and Control? How Does It Differ From Sole Care and Control?
Shared care and control refers to an arrangement where both parents share physical time, caregiving and decision-making responsibilities over their child.
For example, under a shared care and control arrangement, the child might live with one parent for a few days a week, and then reside with the other parent for the remaining days of the week. The child might also spend alternate weeks at each parent’s house. Under these arrangements, the child would effectively have two homes.
On the other hand, sole care and control is granted to either one of the parents. If so, the child will reside at only that parent’s house, and the parent that has been granted sole care and control will be the child’s primary caregiver. The other parent who is not the primary caregiver will then typically be granted access, or visitation rights, to the child.
How Often are Shared Care and Control Orders Granted in Singapore?
Shared care and control has typically not been commonly granted in Singapore and has been said to be an exception, rather than the norm. Nevertheless, whether shared care and control is a suitable arrangement for a particular family depends on the precise facts and circumstances of that case, and whether such an arrangement may ultimately be in the child’s best interests.
Notably, there has been an increase in shared care and control orders being granted to divorced couples in Singapore in recent years. As a means of promoting joint parenting, shared care and control orders encourage parents to put aside their personal differences or grievances and focus instead on ensuring their child’s welfare. A shared care and control arrangement can also help ensure that the child continues, even after the parent’s divorce, to have the guidance of both parents in his or her life.
Why Might You Want to Seek Shared Care and Control?
Parents might seek shared care and control for a number of reasons and considerations. For one, both parents might wish to continue to have an active role in their children’s lives through such an arrangement.
From a practical perspective, shared care and control also enables a divorced parent to obtain housing, which may be an important consideration for a spouse who desires to have their own property post-divorce. This is because eligibility requirements for subsidised public housing include the formation of a family nucleus (e.g. a divorcee and his/her child).
Hence, a divorced parent without shared care and control of their child or children may fail to meet the eligibility requirement for public housing. They may then have to resort to more transient housing arrangements (e.g. renting a flat/apartment, residing with friends). Further, such housing instability can be a source of stress to both the parent and their child, as they may not be able to maintain their usual family rituals and routines. This does not ensure consistency and stability for the child and can, in turn, have negative impacts on the child’s mental and physical well-being.
That said, do note that under a shared care and control arrangement with children under the age of 21, the parent applying for public housing will need to obtain their ex-spouse’s written agreement to list the child in the application for public housing. In the event that the parents are unable to reach an agreement on this matter, they can approach the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to discuss their options.
On a case-by-case basis, HDB may make an exception and waive the requirement for the ex-spouse’s consent, as the paramount consideration here would be the child’s welfare and interests in having a home to reside in.
What are Some Considerations to Keep in Mind If You Decide to Seek Shared Care and Control?
If you are seeking shared care and control of your child/children, there are several considerations to keep in mind.
Shared care and control arrangements allow each parent the opportunity to have significant and almost equal time with their children. It also enables them to continue to have an active role in their children’s lives.
However, such arrangements could be potentially disruptive for your child, as they would need to constantly adjust to two different living environments. Younger children, who may find it difficult to adapt to different environments, may be particularly affected. This can also potentially be a source of stress for the child, which could affect their performance in school and their social lives or activities.
Shared care and control arrangements may also not be ideal if you and your spouse have an acrimonious relationship and very different parenting styles. This can place a significant amount of stress on the child, who has to navigate the different parenting styles and each parent’s expectations, and could be far more detrimental to their welfare.
For example, in one case, the Singapore High Court held that shared care and control was not suitable due to the young age of the child and the fact that the parties to the divorce had a stark contrast in parenting styles. The father had intended to take the child for various enrichment classes, including speech and drama as well as art and craft classes, which he had deemed to be in the best interests of the child. The mother, on the other hand, had a more laid-back approach to parenting and was less insistent on the child attending numerous enrichment classes.
In another case, the court held that shared care and control may potentially be too disruptive to the child’s daily routine, which was exacerbated by the fact that the parents had an acrimonious and fractured relationship.
Separately, there might also be concerns that the father is at a disadvantage if they are seeking shared care and control for their child. This is due to the courts having held, as well as studies indicating, that in the normal run of things, the mother usually is the better caregiver to the child. However, this is not always the case as care and control is not always awarded to the mother.
Either parent can seek an order for shared care and control depending on their family situation and are encouraged to work out a care arrangement that is ultimately in their children’s best interests. The court will then make its determination based on each individual case, with the paramount consideration ultimately being what would best serve the children’s welfare.
If You and Your Spouse Agree to Share Care and Control of Your Children, Will the Court Agree to This?
The overarching principle that underpins whether a court will agree to shared care and control of children is whether the arrangement would be in the child’s best interests. This would include determining, as a practical question, what living arrangements would best safeguard the child’s welfare and support the maximum involvement of both parents in the child’s life.
Some of the factors that the court will consider in this regard include:
- The particular child’s needs at that stage of life;
- The extent to which the parents are able to co-operate when carrying out such an arrangement;
- Whether it is easy for that child, bearing in mind his or her age and personality, to live in two homes within one week (or according to the parents’ proposed care arrangement).
As a result, while parents are strongly encouraged to work together to reach a sustainable and workable schedule for their children, the court will agree to a shared care and control arrangement only if it will promote the children’s welfare, taking into account all the facts and circumstances of the case.
Can My Children Have a Say in the Care and Control Arrangements?
In addition to the key considerations outlined above, the court may also take into account the wishes of the children if they are older than 7 years old and are sufficiently mature to be able to share their preferred living and care arrangements.
However, it must be emphasised that the court will ultimately prioritise the arrangement that would be in the child’s best interests, even if this arrangement may not be in line with the child’s wishes and personal preferences.
Navigating divorce proceedings and arrangements involving children can be emotionally challenging. However, parents should ultimately make a decision based on what is in their children’s best interests, and do their best to put aside any animosity or acrimony with their spouse while doing so. In this regard, it is also ideal to consult a family lawyer to discuss your goals for care and control of your children and the options that might be best suited for your particular situation.
If you need further advice on seeking shared care and control of your children in your divorce proceedings, please contact me. I am a divorce and family law specialist with more than 15 years’ experience. To date, I have handled more than 20,000 divorce cases and am recognised as one of the best divorce family lawyers in Singapore. For more information, you can view my profile here.