Expat divorce law in Singapore

How we can help: Our firm advises British expats overseas and those expats with links to England on divorce and family law. Sonny Patel, our partner based in the Singapore office of Expatriate Law, acts for British expatriates to conduct family proceedings through the English courts and is available to advise those currently residing in Singapore. Raphaela Kohs, our trainee solicitor based in our London offices, is conversational in Tamil should advice be required.

Where to divorce if you live in Singapore

If you are a British expat living in Singapore and you are considering divorcing or separating from your spouse or partner, you will be wondering where to begin and what law will apply to you. You may think that you need to divorce in the country in which you were married; this is not the case. If you or your husband/wife were born in England, or have connections to England, you may be able to divorce through the English courts. You can read more about whether you can divorce in England on our jurisdiction advice page. If you contact us, one of our lawyers will telephone you without charge to give advice whether you can divorce in England.

We advise British clients across the Southeast Asia, and assist them to divorce through the English courts, and achieve a financial settlement under English law.

Family Law in Singapore for Unmarried Couples

We have also assisted many unmarried clients in Singapore to seek financial support from their partner. These claims can include maintenance, provision of school fees for a child, provision of a home and other capital claims. Unmarried expatriates can make use of the Schedule 1 claim procedure through the English courts. These claims can include an order that one parent provide the legal fees for another parent.

Child Disputes and Abduction in Singapore

Our lawyers advise on a range of children disputes involving British expat families living in Singapore. Our lawyers can advise on and draft a parenting plan for families requiring assistance post separation, or can assist to implement safeguards for children visiting or relocating to Singapore. We have assisted clients whose children have been abducted to England from Singapore, and have secured the children’s safe return.

Using the Family Laws in Singapore to Resolve Disputes

Sometimes, British expats living in Singapore may not have jurisdiction to divorce in England, or they may be advised that divorcing in Singapore will lead to a more favourable financial outcome. For those expats considering divorce in Singapore , it is important to note that financial claims can be made in England after a divorce abroad under Part III Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. When choosing to divorce abroad, careful advice should be taken about the potential claims that can be made in other countries, so that the right protective measures can be taken.

Applying for a divorce in Singapore

To commence a divorce in Singapore, an expat must be:

  1. a) habitually resident in Singapore for more than 3 years before the start of the divorce; or
  2. b) ‘domiciled’ in Singapore at the time that the divorce is begun.

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. 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

Divorce process in Singapore

If any one of these facts has been proved, the court may then grant Interim Judgment for divorce. Interim Judgment can be made final in 3 months’ time (the Court will grant Final Judgment), but this timeline may be longer if there are ancillary matters (e.g. children matters, division of assets and maintenance issues) to be decided by the Court.

A divorce in Singapore, if uncontested (i.e. all issues have been agreed between the parties), generally takes 5-6 months from the date of filing to the grant of Final Judgment.

On 1 January 2015, the Family Justice Courts initiated the simplified hearing track for divorce proceedings. The Plaintiff can now apply to have the case called on to the simplified hearing track, should the parties agree on the following matters:

  • Divorce proceedings will be uncontested
  • Both parties agree on all ancillary matters

Under the simplified hearing track, Interim Judgment may be granted within 1 – 2 months.

Division of assets

Financial claims may be made on the back of a divorce.

Division of matrimonial assets

The Singapore court is able to order the division of assets through its powers of division of ‘matrimonial assets’. Matrimonial assets are generally defined as assets acquired during the marriage, although there are exceptions.

The court will take into account all the circumstances of the case including the parties’ direct financial contributions towards the acquisition of the assets; parties’ non-financial contributions (e.g.running the household and looking after the children); parties and the children’s financial need; their financial resources and conduct of the parties. There is no automatic rule that assets are to be divided equally between the parties and much would depend on parties’ respective contributions, the length of the marriage and the volume of assets.

Maintenance orders

The Court may make maintenance orders 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.

Insofar as spousal maintenance is concerned, only the wife can apply for spousal maintenance from the husband. Husbands can only apply for spousal maintenance from their wives if they have been incapacitated due to illness or disability. Maintenance orders can take the form of a monthly allowance or a lump sum payment, depending on the circumstances of the case.

Child custody disputes in Singapore

Under Singapore law, it is common for both parents to be awarded joint custody of a child (which means the right to make major decisions for the child), but one parent with whom the child lives will be awarded ‘care and control’, although orders granting both parents shared care and control is also possible, depending on the circumstances of the case. 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 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 in more detail of the divorce process as well as the likely financial outcome of divorcing through the English courts. We can also refer you to divorce lawyers in Singapore that can 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).

For advice on Singapore divorce and family laws, please contact Engelin Teh at the Engelin Teh Practice LLC at 1 Coleman Street, #05-10 The Adelphi, Singapore 179803, Telephone +65 6224 9933, Email: legal@etplaw.com.

If you are a British expatriate considering divorce, and wish to weigh up the pros and cons of divorcing in Singapore and England, please contact one of our team at info@expatriatelaw.com.

Divorce in Singapore

Contact our experienced lawyers for confidential and clear advice on the issues detailed in the article.

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