One of the key legal aspects in Singapore is the framework that deals with the various family problems in Singapore. It covers different types of issues such as divorce, adoption, child issues, personal protection orders, division of matrimonial property and maintenance of the divorcee etc. The Family Justice Courts of Singapore handles these legal issues. Singapore has two different sets of family law: one for Muslims and another for others. The Administration of Muslim Law Act codifies the family law for Muslims while the women’s charter codifies the family law Singapore for non-Muslims.
There are family justice courts that govern the procedural issues as per codified in the Family Justice Rules 2014. These rules are used to simplify and expedite the family law proceedings and reduce the acrimony in the familial issues. The courts are empowered by this law to depart from the adversarial common law process. In these family cases, the judge is proactive and uses an inquisitorial method to arrive at the right decision. There are standard procedures for simple uncontested divorces in which the issues related to the finances and children are agreed upon mutually. Because of this procedure, the attendance of the parties and the counsel in the court is obviated.
The family justice court has three types of courts:
1. Family court;
2. Youth court; and
3. The family division of the High court.
All the family related proceedings such as divorces, juvenile and youth crimes, children and parental rights, probate, mental capacity and succession related cases are handled by these courts. The first point of registration happens at the family and the youth courts. The original and appellate jurisdiction is exercised by the family division of the High Court. The highest court of appeal is also available in case the justice provided is not satisfactory to the parties.
In the case of divorce law, the grounds for divorce need to be established first before granting the divorce. The reason can be unreasonable behavior, desertion or adultery. The Singapore family law codifies this. Before one can file a divorce case, one party of the marriage has to be staying in Singapore for at least 3 years. While applying for divorce, one has to file a statement of particulars, a writ for divorce and statement of claim. The statement of claim contains the reason for divorce. The law allows for the proceeding of divorce case without an appointed divorce lawyer but it is up to the applicant whether to use a lawyer or not. The family court cannot decide on this.
Once the divorce case begins, the dispute is first sent to a marriage counselor for counseling and peaceful resolution. If counseling is found to be ineffective then both the parties are directed to file affidavits of evidence for the inspection of the jury. Based on the affidavits the judge will decide whether the case should proceed as a contested or uncontested divorce. After this decision, the judge will pass interim judgment that has a 3 month waiting period. This period is to provide a last chance of reconciliation to both the parties. If the reconciliation does not happen, then the ancillary process of divorce gets started. After investigation and questioning, if it is found out that the marriage has been broken down irreconcilably, the judge will then grant the divorce. After the divorce, the parties are free to marry only after waiting for 3 months.
Children related to family law in Singapore:
As per the December 2016 law, when parents who have at least one child that is below 14 years of age applied for a divorce, they are mandatorily required to attend a parenting programme in case of non-agreement on the divorce and other ancillary issues related to children.
Nullity of marriage in family law:
According to women’s charter, it is possible for a claimant to apply for making his/her marriage null and void on the following conditions
- If either party have deviated from monogamy and indulged in bigamy
- If the marriage has not been formally solemnized
- If both parties do not have the license to wed and have involved in relationship which is of prohibited kind
- If the defendant willfully refuses to consummate the relationship
- If the defendant suffers from a venereal disease
- If either party does not accept the marriage due to unsoundness of mind
However, the marriage will not be voided, if the claimant of the divorce has voluntarily known that any of the above action would nullify the marriage and have tricked the defendant into any of this situation. The legitimacy of the children born because of the marriage will not be affected because of the nullity of the marriage as per stated in Singapore’s family law book.