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The latest amendments come following engagement efforts with the public and stakeholders since last September to provide more support for couples getting married or divorced. — Unsplash pic
The latest amendments come following engagement efforts with the public and stakeholders since last September to provide more support for couples getting married or divorced. — Unsplash pic

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SINGAPORE, Nov 1 — Couples who have mutually agreed to part ways may soon have the option of a less acrimonious divorce, following amendments to the Women’s Charter tabled in Parliament today.

If passed, couples will be able to cite divorce by mutual agreement to prove the irretrievable breakdown of their marriage.

This is on top of the existing five facts that couples may cite when applying for a divorce. They are adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, separation of three years with consent and separation of four years without consent.

The amendments, which were introduced for its first reading today, will also make it more convenient for couples to get married by allowing all pre-solemnisation steps to be done online and making video-link solemnisations a permanent option for couples.

The latest amendments come following engagement efforts with the public and stakeholders since last September to provide more support for couples getting married or divorced.

The option to cite divorce by mutual agreement was introduced after “strong feedback” from divorcees that citing one of the other fault-based facts, such as adultery and unreasonable behaviour, can cause parties to point fingers at each other and dredge up the past to prove the facts, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said in a press release.

Couples may also have to put their lives on hold for three to four years if they cite separation as a fact.

This can be detrimental to the emotional well-being of the divorcing parties and their children, the ministry added.

Couples who cite divorce by mutual agreement must provide to the court information on the reasons for their marital breakdown. Unlike fault-based facts, they may cite reasons where they take joint responsibility for the breakdown of their marriage, such as a significant difference in parenting or a deep-seated difference in values.

The divorcing couple must also provide information on efforts they made to reconcile and considerations of their children and financial affairs.

The court may reject the divorcing parties’ agreement if reconciliation is a reasonable possibility, and order them to attend further mediation, counselling or other programmes instead.

Speaking to the media at a briefing last week, Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Social and Family Development, stressed that the new option is to make the divorce less acrimonious for couples, rather than make it easier for them to divorce.

“When couples file for divorce under the sixth fact, they have to demonstrate that they tried to make this marriage work and they are undertaking joint responsibility for breakdown for the marriage.

“We are proposing that they file as applicant and respondent as compared to current proceedings where both parties file as plaintiffs or defendants which makes the divorce process very adversarial,” said Ms Sun.

She added that the current safeguards, which include the three years minimum marriage period before couples file for divorce and the minimum three months period before the divorce is finalised, will ensure that couples have sufficient time to make their marriage work.

Mandatory parenting programme

If passed, the amendments will also require all divorcing parents with children under the age of 21 to attend the Mandatory Parenting Programme before they file for divorce.

The programme aims to help divorcing couples make decisions which prioritise the well-being of their children.

Currently, only couples with children going through contested divorce proceedings have to attend the programme. Couples who agree to the terms of their divorce do not need to attend the programme.

The amendments will also introduce a range of measures to enforce child access orders. These include educating parents on the negative impact on children when access to the other parent is denied or compensating a parent with lost access time.

Changes to marriage solemnisations

The amendments will also make marriage procedures more convenient, including making permanent some changes brought about by the pandemic.

They are:

  • All pre-solemnisation steps can be completed online unlike currently where couples must verify their documents and make a statutory declaration of their solemnisation in person at the Registry of Marriages.
  • Marriage certificates will be digital and couples will receive a ceremonial certificate for keepsake.
  • Video-link solemnisations, which was introduced last May during the pandemic, will now be a permanent option for couples where at least one is a Singapore citizen or permanent resident. Both parties must be in Singapore during the ceremony.
  • Parties will have the option to cancel their notice of marriage if there are good grounds to do so. If the cancellation is granted, they will be able to receive a refund of their marriage application fee. Currently, there is no such option and a notice of marriage lapses after three months, resulting in couples forfeiting their application fee.
  • Religious ceremonies can take place before, during or after a solemnisation. Currently, solemnisations must take place before the religious ceremony.
  • To prevent misuse of marriage certificates, only the parties to the marriage, persons applying on behalf of either party, such as their lawyers, or family members will be allowed to obtain a copy of or an extract of the marriage certificate from the State Marriage Register. Currently, anyone is able to do so. — TODAY

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