Divorce in Singapore

A divorce is the term used for legally ending a marriage, according to Singapore divorce law. The first stage of your divorce proceedings is the Interim Judgement of Divorce. The second stage of proceedings is where the ancillary matters are dealt with. After this has been done, you will be granted a Certificate of Final Judgment by the Court. This can only happen once three months have passed from the date of Interim Judgment.

How do I get a divorce in Singapore?

You must satisfy three requirements in order to get a divorce in Singapore.

Firstly, as a plaintiff you must prove you have been married for at least three years. The alternative is to prove that you have suffered ‘exceptional hardship’, or that your spouse has been ‘cruel’ and/or ‘unreasonable’. Although there is no clear legal definition of these terms, the following are examples of when they may apply:

  • Extreme physical or mental abuse
  • Severe mental distress
  • Extreme, cruel adultery
  • Adultery which causes pregnancy
  • Homosexuality

The second requirement you must satisfy in order to divorce is that either party must (1) be a Citizen of Singapore or Permanent Resident (PR), (2) have been domiciled in Singapore at the start of the divorce process, or (3) have lived in Singapore for the three years preceding the application for divorce.

Thirdly, it must be shown that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

What counts as ‘irretrievable’ marital breakdown?

In order to prove ‘irretrievable breakdown’, the person filing for divorce must prove one of the following five circumstances has happened:

  1. Unreasonable behaviour
  2. Adultery
  3. Desertion lasting two years
  4. Separation lasting three years (with defendant consenting to divorce)
  5. Separation lasting four years

Let’s look at these in more detail:

Unreasonable behaviour

To prove this ground for divorce, a plaintiff needs to demonstrate that the defendant’s conduct means the plaintiff can’t reasonably be expected to continue living with them.

This ground for divorce is set out in section 95(3)(b) of the Women’s charter.

Examples of unreasonable behaviour include the following (non-exhaustive) list:

  • Verbal abuse and continual criticism
  • Domestic violence
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Refusing to contribute to household expenses
  • Lack of respect
  • Alcoholism
  • Lack of affection, concern and care
  • Improper association with another party
  • Obsessive behaviour

Adultery

This is when a married person has sexual intercourse with someone who is not their spouse.

If sexual intercourse does not happen, the behaviour is not classed as adultery, regardless of how intimate it was. As well as this requirement, the plaintiff must show it is intolerable for them to keep living with their spouse. The plaintiff will not be able to cite adultery if they have continued to live with their spouse for more than six months after discovering the adultery.

Desertion lasting two years

The deserting spouse must have decided to leave the marriage without reasonable justification, for the plaintiff to prove desertion.

Separation for three years (with defendant consenting to divorce)

The court will grant a divorce if it can be shown that the parties have lived apart continuously for at least three years, before commencing the divorce, and with the defendant’s consent to the divorce. To prove separation, it is sufficient that the parties live separate lives and don’t interact as husband and wife.

Separation for four years

If the parties have lived apart continuously for a period of four years prior to divorce, then there is no requirement for the defendant to consent to the divorce, and it will be granted on the grounds of separation.

Simplified or uncontested divorce

These terms are used in a situation where both parties agree to the divorce and all ancillary issues. The main areas they must agree on are the reason for the divorce, the childcare and control arrangements, division of assets, and maintenance amount.

Interim judgement is given after four weeks in a simplified / uncontested divorce. Following this, final judgement will be issued three months after the date of the interim judgement.

If my spouse can’t be found, can I still get divorced?

Yes, divorce can still be obtained with a missing spouse, but the applicant must show they have used all reasonable means to locate and contact the missing party.

To do this, an applicant can submit documents for a dispensation of service, showing proof of their attempts to track down their partner. For example, they could contact their spouse’s friends/relatives, and search at the spouse’s alternate addresses or previously known locations.

Procedural requirements are waived if a dispensation of service is granted.

On the other hand, if the plaintiff can prove the spouse deserted the applicant deliberately, against their will, then the divorce can happen on the grounds of desertion.

What if my spouse refuses to divorce me?

In this case, you can still file for a contested divorce. Contested divorces can usually be concluded within 6 to 12 months.

What is adultery?

The meaning of adultery in a legal context is very specific. It means having sexual intercourse with someone outside of the marital relationship.

To prove adultery, there must be evidence of sexual intercourse having taken place between the applicant’s spouse and a third party. Anything which falls short of the act of intercourse will not suffice, even if the behaviour was of a very intimate nature.

In addition, it must be intolerable for the applicant to live with their spouse. But if the applicant continues living with the spouse for more than 6 months after discovering the adultery, they can no longer rely on the grounds of adultery.

When deciding on division of assets or child custody, will adultery or unreasonable behaviour affect the court’s decision?

The answer to this question is no. The court will not let adultery or unreasonable behaviour influence its decision with regard to dividing assets or child custody. They will merely be factors they will consider as to whether to grant a divorce. They play no part in deciding ancillary matters later on in the process.

Division of assets: The court will consider each party’s contribution to the marriage when deciding on asset division. In short marriages, direct monetary contributions are given most weight when splitting the assets. But in longer, single-income marriages, it is more likely that both parties will get an equal share.

Child custody: the welfare of the child is the court’s paramount concern here. Frequently in Singapore, joint custody is granted so that both parents are involved in decision-making for the child, whilst care and control is given to the parent the court deems most fit to have this duty.

How long does a divorce take?

The time it talks to get a divorce depends on whether the parties choose a contested or uncontested divorce.

Contested divorces: the duration will depend on how complex the case is. Usually it will take between six months and a year to finalise, but a contentious case may last longer than this.

Uncontested divorces: for parties who agree on the grounds for divorce and how to settle ancillary matters, interim judgement takes around a month, and final judgement is given around three months after that.

How much does a divorce cost?

Again, it depends on the case. Fees for divorce in Singapore range from $1,500 to $3,500 for simplified, uncontested cases according to a survey by Singapore Legal Advice. However, contested divorces can cost between $10,000 to $35,000.

Here at PKWA, we understand that divorces are emotional, stressful events. That’s why we don’t charge clients hourly for simple divorces. Our fees are fixed, and are always clear and transparent so you’ll never have to worry about hidden costs. We might charge an hourly rate for certain contested divorces, but if so we will also offer a fee cap for eligible clients.

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Lim Chong Boon

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