A new amendment to the Women's Charter will allow couples to mutually agree to separate without having to point fingers and dredge up blame.
This and other changes to marriage and family matters were debated at the second reading of the Women's Charter Amendments in Parliament on Jan. 10.
Existing requirement for divorce led to emotionally trying situations
Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Social & Family Development, laid out in her opening speech in Parliament the existing five facts that divorcing parties may cite to demonstrate an "irretrievable breakdown of marriage, namely adultery, desertion and unreasonable behaviour (fault-based) and separation of three years with consent or four years without (non-fault based).
However, after taking in feedback, the authorities learned that having to cite one of the fault-based facts often led to bring up examples of hurtful behaviour in the past, which in turn could have a negative impact on children.
Sun shared the example of one woman, "Jane":
"Jane, which is not her real name, shared the pain that she went through during her divorce three years ago. Initially, she and her ex-husband had wanted to settle their divorce amicably. However, they had to pinpoint each other’s faults to prove that their marriage had broken down irretrievably.
And this led to many quarrels and worsened their relationship. While Jane admitted that there were faults on both sides, she wished there was an option to allow them to acknowledge that they were jointly responsible, rather than blame each other."
Adding sixth fact of divorce
The amendment adds the Divorce by Mutual Agreement of the Irretrievable Breakdown of the Marriage (DMA) as the sixth fact of divorce.
Under the DMA, couples who mutually agree that their marriage has broken down irretrievably have to submit to the court:
- The reasons leading parties to conclude that their marriage has irretrievably broken down;
- The efforts made to reconcile; and
- Considerations are given to the arrangements to be made in relation to the parties’ children and financial affairs.
Sun noted that the DMA is not a simple "handshake" a mutual agreement to divorce and it is not a quick and easy divorce.
An agreement without reasons for divorce is not enough under the DMA, as DMA allows a couple to take joint responsibility for the breakdown of their marriage.
Parties must also be acting voluntarily with having the requisite knowledge of the terms and intend to enter into the agreement.
If the court finds the required submission insufficient or believes there is a possibility of reconciliation, the court may order further mediation, counselling, or family support programmes as appropriate.
The court must also reject any agreement if the court considers that reconciliation is reasonably possible. All other safeguards of the divorce regime continue to apply.
Sun said that the amendment struck a balance between upholding the institution of marriage, and ensuring that a divorce can be done without unnecessary acrimony once a marriage has truly broken down.
Digitalising pre-solemnisation steps
With the amendment, couples can complete pre-solemnisation steps online via the Registry of Marriage (ROM)'s Our Marriage Journey IT portal.
Currently, couples are required to complete in-person pre-solemnisation procedures.
Video-link solemnisation, that was first introduced under the Covid-19 Temporary Measures Act in 2020, will also become a permanent option. This allows couples to marry even under challenging circumstances.
Digital marriage certificates will also be issued to couples, and physical certificates will be given for a keepsake.
However, as a safeguard, where there are concerns such as an individual lacking mental capacity or marriages of convenience, the couples may not perform the declaration online, or the Registrar of marriages may decide not to permit any couples to solemnise marriages via video link.
Such couples would have to appear in person.
Religious ceremonies will also be allowed to be conducted before, on or after solemnisation as ROM received appeals to allow the religious ceremony to take place before or during the solemnisation.
Non-Singaporean and non-Permanent Residents must be physically present in Singapore for 31 days to get married
Other marriage-related proposals also include updating safeguards to protect the institution of marriage from abuse.
Currently, non-residents who are not Singaporean Citizens or Permanent Residents, including those with no nexus to Singapore, can get married in Singapore as long as at least one party has been present in Singapore for 15 days preceding the filing notice of marriage.
Moving forward, the government will impose stricter requirements for such persons to marry here, as they intend to prescribe that at least one party must have been physically present in Singapore for 31 continuous days.
This would prevent couples on Short-Term Visit Passes, which are valid for up to 30 days, from marrying in Singapore.
For exceptional cases, the Registrar will be empowered to waive this requirement should he or she be satisfied that there is a good reason to do so.
This would ensure that Singapore does not become a "marriage hub" for marriages where neither party has any nexus to Singapore, as it could compromise ROM’s ability to carry out its due diligence and inadvertently undermine the significance of marriage.
Extension of the Mandatory Parenting Programme
The Mandatory Parenting Programme (MPP) will also be extended to parents with minor children on the simplified divorce track. This is to encourage cooperative co-parenting post-divorce, in the interest of their children.
The Court has also been empowered to advise key-related persons to participate in family support programmes that will benefit the children.
If deemed beneficial, the Court may also advise parents to secure their child's attendance at the Programme for Children at any stage of the proceedings or even after the final judgement.
The Programme for Children is a broad term that covers a range of possible support for children, including an assessment of the needs of the child, as well as specific interventions, such as group programmes, counselling or psychological services.
In making any custody, care and control, and access orders, among other relevant factors in determining the welfare of the child, the Court may take non-compliance to the MPP into consideration.
Other measures have also been introduced to enhance enforcement of child access orders which empower the Court to order:
- The care and control parent to compensate the access parent for expenses incurred as a result of the breach of the order;
- The care and control parent to provide an additional child access to the access parent to make up for the access denied;
- Both parents and the child, or any of them, to attend counselling, mediation, therapeutic or educational programmes, or family support programmes;
- The care and control parent to enter into a performance bond to ensure future compliance with the order; and
- As a last resort, imprisonment or fine for the care and control parent.
The legislation was passed after its third reading in Parliament on the same day, Jan. 10.
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