Expat divorce law in Singapore
To commence a divorce in Singapore, an expat must be ‘domiciled’ in Singapore at the time that the divorce is begun, or habitually resident in Singapore for more than 3 years before the start of the divorce. Long absences may break the continuity of habitual residence in Singapore. If you have not been resident in Singapore for 3 years, legal advice should be taken to determine whether you are ‘domiciled’ there. The definition of ‘domicile’ under Singapore law is broadly speaking residence in Singapore coupled with an intention to remain there permanently. However a temporary stay for work purposes is not sufficient to merit domicile in Singapore. The onus is on you to prove that you are domiciled in Singapore.
An expatriate may only divorce in Singapore if they have been married for 3 years. This is different to a divorce in England, where a separating couple must have been married for just one year before they can divorce.
The ground for divorce in Singapore is ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’, using one of the five supporting facts:
- Adultery of one spouse
- Unreasonable behaviour by one spouse
- One spouse has deserted the other for two years without any intention of returning
- The parties have lived apart for 3 years and the other party consents to a divorce
- The parties have lived apart for 4 years
A divorce in Singapore, if uncontested, generally takes 5-6 months
Division of assets
Financial claims may be made on the back of a divorce. The Singapore court is able to order the division of assets, most usually this is a division of ‘matrimonial assets’, being those acquired during the marriage. The court will take in to account all the circumstances of the cause including the non-working wife’s contribution towards the marriage as a home maker and carer of the children; her financial needs; her financial resources and conduct of the parties. Commonly assets are divided equally but a wife may be awarded a larger or smaller share depending on needs, volume of assets and contribution.
Maintenance orders are available, providing maintenance for children and for a wife. Child maintenance orders can be made for children, unless the Court orders otherwise, up to the age of 21. Spousal maintenance orders can be made on an interim basis, and in the long term depending on the circumstances of the case.
Under Singapore law, both parents may be awarded custody of a child, but one parent with whom the child lives will be awarded ‘care and control’. The parent without ‘care and control’ will usually be granted contact with the child for specific nights or times during the day.
Neither parent may take a child to permanently relocate to another country (even if the other country is where the parent or child were born) without the consent of the other parent or order of the court. Permanent relocation without consent or order of the court may constitute ‘child abduction’. Singapore is a signatory to the Hague Convention on child abduction. Therefore if an expat parent relocates to another Hague signatory country (such as England, France, Germany, US), the left behind parent may seek orders for the child’s return to Singapore. Please seek advice from a lawyer in Singapore or Reunite (the child abduction charity) if you are considering relocating with your child following marriage breakdown.
Get the right advice
If you are a British expatriate residing in Singapore, we can advise you of the divorce process and likely financial outcome of divorcing through the English courts. We can refer you to divorce lawyers in Singapore that advise you of the likely outcome through the Singapore courts and your financial entitlement there. When considering divorce as a British expat in Singapore, it is vital that you seek advice in both countries to enable you to ascertain the most favourable jurisdiction for your situation, before you commence a court application. Further consideration should be given to the enforceability of orders, the location of any assets, and the ability of each court to make the orders you require (for example an order from the Singapore court is often not sufficient to enact the sharing of an English pension provision).
With thanks to Sarjit Singh of Gavan Law Practice LLC for his advice on Singapore family laws, used to prepare this article. Mr Singh specialises in divorce and family law and can be contacted on [email protected] or by telephone on (+65) 6333 1323. Gavan Law Practice LLC is based at 111 North Bridge Road, #13-02 Peninsula Plaza, Singapore 179098.