What are the requirements for divorce?
In order to get a divorce, the applicant must satisfy 3 requirements.
The first requirement to be fulfilled is to have been married for at least 3 years, unless it can be proven that the applicant has suffered exceptional hardship, or the applicant’s spouse has been exceptionally unreasonable and cruel. In this regard, while there is no clear legal definition for these extreme circumstances, examples may include:
1. Extreme cases of mental or physical abuse;
2. Exceptionally severe mental distress;
4. Extremely cruel adultery; and
5. Pregnancy caused by adultery.
.The second requirement is for either party to (1) be a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident (PR), (2) have been domiciled in Singapore at the beginning of the divorce process, or (3) have lived in Singapore for the 3 years immediately preceding the divorce application.
The third requirement is to have an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. This will be covered in the section below.
What are the grounds for divorce?
There is only 1 ground for divorce, which is to prove “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. However, establishing “irretrievable breakdown” requires the applicant to prove one of the following 5 scenarios:
2. Unreasonable behaviour;
3. Desertion for 2 years;
4. Separation for 3 years (with consent to live apart); and
5. Separation for 4 years (without consent to live apart).
These shall now be covered in turn.
Adultery will require proven consensual sexual intercourse between the applicant’s spouse and the third party, who must be named in the proceedings. Behaviour falling short of sexual intercourse will not suffice, no matter how intimate. In addition, the applicant must find it intolerable to live with his or her spouse. If the applicant continues to live with his or her spouse for more than 6 months after finding out about the adultery, he/she will not be able to rely on the adultery.
B. Unreasonable behaviour
This is the reason most commonly cited for causing “irretrievable breakdown” of a marriage. In this case, the applicant must find it intolerable to live with his or her spouse due to the cumulative effect of the spouse’s behaviour. From the reasons provided, the Court will then decide whether the applicant can be reasonably expected to live with his or her spouse, considering factors such as both parties’ personalities.
C. Desertion for 2 years
To prove desertion, the deserting spouse must have decided to walk away from the marriage without providing reasonable justifications. Under desertion, no consent would have been given by the deserted spouse.
D. Separation for 3 years (with consent to live apart)
If the parties have continuously lived apart for 3 years prior to the commencement of the divorce process with consent, they will be allowed to divorce. In this regard, separation does not require parties to live in different places or to not be in close physical proximity with each other. As long as the parties live separate lives without interacting with each other as husband and wife, that is enough to show separation.
E. Separation for 4 years (without consent to live apart)
Alternatively, if parties have continuously lived apart for 4 years prior to the commencement of the divorce process, no consent is required.
What is a “simplified” or “uncontested divorce”?
A “simplified” or “uncontested divorce” is one where both parties agree to a divorce and all ancillary issues. Main areas for agreement to be reached include the reason for divorce, the party who will obtain care and control of the children, how the assets are to be divided, and what would be a reasonable amount of maintenance.
Under a “simplified” or “uncontested” divorce, interim judgment will be issued after 4 weeks, before final judgment is given 3 months from the date of obtaining the interim judgment.
Can I get a divorce if my spouse cannot be found?
A divorce can still occur when a spouse cannot be found, although it must then be shown that the applicant has used all reasonable means to contact or locate his/her missing spouse.
The applicant may submit documents for a dispensation of service, which must include proof of the applicant’s attempts to locate his/her missing spouse. Examples of such attempts include contacting his/her spouse’s known family members and friends, as well as searching for his/her spouse at alternate addresses or known locations.
If a dispensation of service is granted, procedural requirements will be waived.
Alternatively, if it can be proven that the applicant was deserted by his/her spouse with the intention to do so and this was against the applicant’s will, the divorce may proceed based on desertion.
Can I get a divorce if my spouse refuses a divorce?
Even if one’s spouse is not agreeable to the divorce, one may still proceed to file for divorce, although this will be considered a contested divorce. Regardless of your spouse’s decision, the Court still possesses the authority to decide.
However, the downside to having a contested divorce is that it is often more time-consuming and expensive for both parties. As such, parties should strive to come to an agreement with each other on the outstanding issues.
What is adultery?
Within a legal context, adultery has a very narrow meaning. In essence, it refers to having consensual sexual intercourse with someone outside of your marriage.
As mentioned above, adultery will require proven consensual sexual intercourse between the applicant’s spouse and the third party, who must be named in the proceedings. Behaviour falling short of sexual intercourse will not suffice, no matter how intimate.
In addition, the applicant must find it intolerable to live with his/her spouse. If the applicant continues to live with his/her spouse for more than 6 months after finding out about the adultery, he/she will not be able to rely on the adultery.
Does adultery or unreasonable behaviour affect the court’s decision in deciding division of assets or children custody?
No, adultery and/or unreasonable behaviour do not affect the division of assets or custody of children. Adultery and/or unreasonable behaviour are merely factors that the Court will consider when deciding whether to grant the divorce, and is separate from the later decision pertaining to these ancillary matters.
When deciding on issues such as division of assets, the Court will look at the respective parties’ contributions to the marriage. For short marriages, direct financial contributions will be more important in deciding how the assets will be split, while in long single-income marriages, the trend is towards an equal share for both parties.
As for custody of the children, the Court will treat the welfare of the child as paramount. In Singapore, it is common for joint custody to be granted so as to include both parents in the decision-making process for the child, while care and control will be given to the parent that the Court deems most fit to carry out the duty.
How long is the divorce process?
The length of divorce proceedings will depend on whether parties are going for an uncontested or contested divorce.
For an uncontested divorce where parties agree about the reasons behind the divorce as well as how to settle the outstanding ancillary matters, interim judgment will take about 1 month to obtain, before final judgment will be received 3 months from the date of the interim judgment.
For a contested divorce, the length of proceedings will largely depend on the complexity of the case. Most cases will take between 6 months to 1 year to complete, while certain contentious cases may last more than a year.
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