The stress, anxiety and confusion that comes with contemplating divorce may be magnified by the fact that you are an expatriate, a foreigner or that you are not usually resident in Singapore. If you are considering getting a divorce in Singapore and wish to find out if it will be suitable for you, this article will provide you with some key points for consideration.
It is understandable to feel stressed, frustrated, worried and trapped if you are in an unhappy marriage. The confusion and strain that you are feeling is probably compounded, because you are not usually resident in Singapore, because you are an expatriate or a foreigner, or simply because you are unsure of the process for getting divorced in Singapore. Here are some useful points to give you more clarity and certainty if you are considering to apply for a divorce in Singapore as an expatriate or foreigner.
If you are currently staying in Singapore, it makes practical sense to get a divorce in Singapore.
“It would be more convenient in instructing your lawyers, and in attending Court and mediation. Additionally, if your spouse is in Singapore, it would be easier to fulfil Court requirements, such as to deliver the divorce documents to your spouse.”
– Lie Chin Chin “ Instant Legal Protection for Your Family ”, page 96
Also, if you have matrimonial property/properties in Singapore, it would be easier for you to enforce any Court order that you may obtain with respect to those property/properties if you get a divorce in Singapore.
Our client, Ms X, is from Australia. She was deciding between getting a divorce in Australia and getting a divorce in Singapore. Her husband, Mr Y, owned some properties in Singapore, so we advised her to get a divorce in Singapore. During the course of the divorce proceedings, we discovered that Mr Y had been actively trying to sell all his properties before the completion of the divorce proceedings so that he would not have to split these properties with Ms X. Since the divorce application was in Singapore, the Court was able to quickly prevent Mr Y from dissipating his properties, and Ms X was able to receive a fair share of the properties, as ordered by the Court.
When can you get a divorce in Singapore?
You can get a divorce in Singapore when:
1. The Singapore Courts have the power to order your divorce, AND
2(a) You have been married for at least 3 years and you can prove an irretrievable breakdown of your marriage, or
2(b) Your marriage is shorter than 3 years and falls within certain exceptions.
The Singapore Courts have the authority and power to order a divorce if you and/or your spouse are a Singapore Citizen(s) or Permanent Resident(s). Otherwise, you and/or your spouse must have been habitually resident in Singapore for 3 years immediately before the start of divorce proceedings.
Being habitually resident in Singapore means that you and/or your spouse must voluntarily be staying in Singapore. Even if you travel out of Singapore, you have a habit or pattern of returning to Singapore. In past cases, the Court has decided that long absences may break the period of habitual residence.
Case Study 1:
The Family Court has stated in a past case that short absences do not necessarily break the continuance required in three years of habitual residence. However, the parties in this case study, who are both citizens of the United Kingdom, both spent long periods in various other countries including the United Kingdom and Indonesia.
The wife claimed that the husband made it impossible for her to stay in Singapore as he did not provide her with reasonable maintenance. However, the Court stated that her reason for residing overseas was irrelevant, and since the parties were unable to prove that either of them stayed in Singapore for three years preceding the application for divorce, the Court did not have jurisdiction.
My marriage has lasted for 3 years or more, how can I prove irretrievable breakdown of marriage?
The Court will only accept one reason for divorce in a marriage lasting for 3 years or more: that there has been an “irretrievable breakdown” of your marriage. You may prove irretrievable breakdown of marriage in several fact situations:
You may show that your spouse has committed adultery and that you find it intolerable to live with your spouse. Read more here.
2. Unreasonable Behaviour
You may show that your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with your spouse. Read more here.
a. 3 Years of Separation (with spousal consent to the divorce)
You may show that you and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of at least 3 years immediately before you commence your divorce proceedings in Court and your spouse consents to the application for divorce.
b. 4 Years of Separation (without the need for spousal consent to the divorce)
You may show that you and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of at least 4 years immediately before you commence your divorce proceedings in Court.
My marriage is shorter than 3 years, in what situations can I still get a divorce now?
Case Study 2:
This case before the Singapore Courts provides an example of what the Court would accept as exceptional hardship. Mr Ng got married to Ms Fu through a marriage agency. Just 5 months after the marriage, Mr Ng tried to get a divorce.
During their honeymoon, Ms Fu ran away from Mr Ng when he tried to hold her hand and warned him against putting his arm around her shoulder. She also refused to have sexual intimacy with him until three days after their marriage, and even then, she was unresponsive and refused to allow him to touch her face. She always slept as far as possible from Mr Ng while placing a bolster between them.
Further, Ms Fu was constantly on the phone with her friend, Ms Q, even during her honeymoon, and took every opportunity to stay over at Ms Q’s house and had to be begged to return to the matrimonial home. Ms Fu once ran towards a highway as if to commit suicide. She only calmed down once Mr Ng allowed her to stay overnight with Ms Q. Ms Fu and Ms Q eventually returned to their hometown in China. Ms Fu then cut off contact with Mr Ng and refused to return to Singapore.
Mr Ng stated that he felt cheated, humiliated and depressed as he was already past 40 years of age and wanted desperately to settle down and start a family. He felt that this marriage was hopeless, and he wanted to be free again to look for a life partner. The Court felt that Mr Ng experienced exceptional hardship as Ms Fu had absolutely no regard for the union, and that she entered into the marriage capriciously. The Court also felt that it would be extremely unfair to Mr Ng to make him wait three years before seeking a divorce.