Sonny Patel, senior solicitor and head of Expatriate Law’s Singapore office summarises common issues arising in UK/Singapore divorce and family law issues.
As if a divorce is not difficult enough, a divorce with an international dimension has many additional layers of complexity. Sonny Patel specialises in UK / Singapore divorce and family law cases. This article provides a brief overview of the most common issues that arise in the context of divorces that cross Singapore and English jurisdiction.
Divorce in England or Singapore?
An expat couple can divorce in Singapore only if one of the parties is domiciled in Singapore at the start of proceedings, or has been habitually resident in Singapore for 3 years.
Relocation to England from Singapore
On separation, one parent might want to relocate with the children back to England. They may have only ever considered the move to Singapore as temporary assignment, and they view the separation as the obvious trigger to return. However, what if the other parent wishes to remain in Singapore and does not wish to be separated from the children? Because the children are likely to have become “habitually resident” in Singapore, the parent who wishes to return to England has to make a formal court application in Singapore for permission to relocate the children.
It is not uncommon for the parent who wants to stay in Singapore to attempt to use consent to relocate the children as leverage in financial negotiations i.e. consent to relocate with the children is withheld unless the other party agrees to an imbalanced financial settlement.
If a parent gambles and chooses to flee to England with the children, without the other parents’ consent, they are at risk of a Hague Convention return application. If a legal defence cannot be established, they can be forced to bring the children back to Singapore.
Financial considerations in UK/Singapore divorce
All else being equal, female higher earners can be better off divorcing in Singapore because spousal maintenance to husbands is payable only in very limited circumstances. The law in England is, at least in theory, gender neutral.
In a Singapore divorce, non-matrimonial assets can be definitively excluded from division. In England, non-matrimonial assets can be accessed to meet “needs”. Needs are an elastic concept and can be measured in 6 or even 7 figures.
Attempts to divorce in Singapore to achieve a particular financial outcome have to be balanced against potential subsequent financial claims that could be made in England for a financial settlement after a foreign divorce (known as “Part III” claims). The Singapore Court of Appeal case, VEW and VEV , confirmed that where British expats have a Singapore divorce imposed upon them, and certain assets were excluded from division because they were defined as “non-matrimonial”, it is a viable route to pursue Part III claims in England to seek additional financial provision.
Forum disputes involving UK and Singapore
The strategic advantages of pursuing a Singapore divorce and defending English jurisdiction should be considered carefully in the context of the availability of Part III claims. Is there sufficient value spending time and resources fighting for Singapore jurisdiction if the English court can step in at a later date anyway to improve the outcome?
A dependant spouse’s immigration status is commonly based on their marriage to the holder of the employment visa. When the marriage ends, the children’s dependant pass is retained, but the spouse’s dependant pass expires. There are limited solutions.
Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live. School fees are a major expense for those without traditional expat packages. Rental prices in Singapore have recently reached all-time highs. It is significantly more difficult to fund two households in Singapore from the same limited resources.
Other factors to consider
If party A remains in Singapore and party B returns to England, should A receive, on a needs basis, a greater share of the assets and the income to reflect the higher cost of living in Singapore?
In a Singapore divorce there is restricted access to legal aid and litigation loans, and no equivalent of Legal Services Orders (which can force the party with control of family resources to pay the other’s legal fees).
Enforcing Singapore orders in England (and vice versa) is not straightforward. The enforcement process varies depending on whether the order relates to maintenance, property transfer, a lump sum or pension sharing.
Anyone considering (or likely to be subject to) a divorce while living abroad should take specialist legal advice at the earliest opportunity. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for confidential advice.
This article was prepared by Sonny Patel for the Singapore Legal Advice website.