8 Things you MUST know before filing for Divorce
- What are the grounds of jurisdiction for divorce proceedings? For example, residence, nationality, domicile, etc.?
- What are the grounds for a divorce? For example, is there a required period of separation, can the parties have an uncontested divorce?
- In the case of an uncontested divorce, do the parties need to attend court?
- What is the procedure and timescale for a divorce?
- Can a divorce be finalised without resolving other associated matters? For example, children and finances.
- Are foreign divorces recognised in your jurisdiction?
- Does your jurisdiction allow separation or nullity proceedings?
- Can divorce proceedings be stayed if there are proceedings in another country?
- What happens to the children?
1. What are the grounds of jurisdiction for divorce proceedings? For example, residence, nationality, domicile, etc.?
In respect of non-Islamic marriages, Singapore’s courts have jurisdiction for divorce proceedings, judicial separation or nullity of marriage where one of the parties is either:
(a) domiciled in Singapore at the start of proceedings; or
(b) habitually resident in Singapore for a period of three years immediately before the start of proceedings (s 93(1), Women’s Charter).
In proceedings for nullity of marriage on the ground that a marriage is void or voidable, the court can, even where neither of the two requirements above are fulfilled, grant relief in cases where both parties reside in Singapore at the time that the proceedings commence (s 93(2), Women’s Charter). In addition, the courts only have jurisdiction for divorce proceedings if the writ for divorce is filed at least three years from the date of marriage (s 94(1), Women’s Charter). The exceptions to this rule are where there are grounds of “exceptional hardship” suffered by the plaintiff or “exceptional depravity” on the part of the defendant (s 94(2), Women’s Charter).
2. What are the grounds for a divorce? For example, is there a required period of separation, can the parties have an uncontested divorce?
A party may only file for divorce if there is an “irretrievable breakdown” in the marriage (s 95(1), Women’s Charter). This is proved by one of the following five facts (s 95(3), Women’s Charter):
(a) the defendant has committed adultery and the plaintiff finds it intolerable to live with the defendant;
(b) the defendant has behaved in such a way that the plaintiff cannot reasonably be expected to live with the defendant;
(c) the defendant has deserted the plaintiff for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the filing of the writ;
(d) the parties have lived apart for a continuous period of at least three years immediately preceding the filing of the writ and the defendant consents to a judgment being granted; or
(e) the parties have lived apart for a continuous period of at least four years immediately preceding the filing of the writ.
There is no required period of living apart for grounds (a) and (b) above. Parties may choose not to contest the proceedings regardless of the grounds relied upon above.
3. In the case of an uncontested divorce, do the parties need to attend court?
The court may dispense with the need for the parties to attend court if it is to proceed on an uncontested basis (r 81, Family Justice Rules; paras 18, 116, Family Justice Courts Practice Directions). Further, where the parties have agreed from the outset (a) that the divorce proceedings will proceed on an uncontested basis, and (b) on all ancillary matters, they may apply for the divorce proceedings to be heard by the court within 10 days after the date of setting down (the “uncontested simplified hearing track”) (r 83, Family Justice Rules). The court may, with the consent of all parties, make orders as per the terms agreed without the parties’ attendance (r 670, Family Justice Rules).
4. What is the procedure and timescale for a divorce?
Generally, the plaintiff files a writ for divorce and other accompanying papers to initiate divorce proceedings. As mentioned in question 3, if parties have already agreed on the divorce and the ancillary matters, then the divorce can proceed on the uncontested simplified hearing track, which will be heard within 10 days from the filing of the writ for divorce and the necessary papers. If there is no agreement reached before the plaintiff files a writ for divorce, then the defendant will need to file a memorandum of appearance within eight days, indicating whether he/she wishes to contest the divorce (r 54, Family Justice Rules). If the divorce is contested, parties will have to file various pleadings, followed by Affidavits of Evidence-in-Chief, respond to requests for discovery of documents and/or interrogatories, and proceed to a trial with cross-examination of witnesses for the court to make a determination on whether to grant an Interim Judgment dissolving the marriage. There would also be case conferences (r 23, Family Justice Rules), counselling and/or mediation (r 174, Family Justice Rules) involved in the process. A contested divorce typically takes about nine months to a year to proceed to trial. Of course, the divorce could be settled on an uncontested basis at any point in time if parties agree.
5. Can a divorce be finalised without resolving other associated matters? For example, children and finances.
After the granting of an Interim Judgment, a divorce may not be finalised unless satisfactory arrangements have been made for the welfare of the children (s 123(1), Women’s Charter). The court has discretion to dispense with this rule if it is desirable to finalise the divorce or it has obtained satisfactory undertaking(s) from the party(ies) to bring the issue before the courts within a specified time (s 123(2), Women’s Charter). In effect, a divorce may only be finalised after the hearing of all applications for ancillary relief, such as the division of matrimonial assets, has been concluded at first instance unless leave of court is granted otherwise (r 96(3), Family Justice Rules).
6. Are foreign divorces recognised in your jurisdiction?
The recognition of foreign matrimonial decrees is governed entirely by common law principles. A foreign matrimonial decree will be recognised by the Singapore courts on the grounds of international comity if it originates from a court of competent jurisdiction and is not otherwise impeached for fraud, breach of natural justice or contravention of the fundamental public policy of the forum (Ng Sui Wah Novina v Chandra Michael Setiawan  2 SLR(R) 111; Ho Ah Chye v Hsinchieh Hsu Irene  1 SLR(R) 485; Yap Chai Ling and another v Hou Wa Yi  4 SLR 581).
7. Does your jurisdiction allow separation or nullity proceedings?
Yes, please see question 1 above.
8. Can divorce proceedings be stayed if there are proceedings in another country?
Yes, divorce proceedings in Singapore may be stayed in favour of a foreign court on the ground of forum non conveniens unless substantive justice will be denied by the stay of proceedings (Mala Shukla v Jayant Amiritanand Shukla (Danialle An, co-respondent)  3 SLR 295). This will be assessed by the courts based on the rules in Spiliada Maritime Corporation v Cansulex Ltd  AC 460 (VH v VI  1 SLR(R) 742).
9. What happens to the Children?
For matters pertaining to children, please see this article.