Expat divorce law in Singapore
To commence a divorce in Singapore, an expat must be:
- a) habitually resident in Singapore for more than 3 years before the start of the divorce; or
- 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 have 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 needs, their financial resources and conduct of the parties. There is no automatic rule that assets are to be divided equally between the parties. Much would depending on parties’ respective contributions, length of the marriage and the volume of assets.
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 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).
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: [email protected]
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 [email protected]