Under section 93(1) of the Women’s Charter (Cap. 353), the Singapore Courts have the jurisdiction to hear and order a divorce if you and/or your spouse are a Singapore Citizen or Singapore Permanent Resident at the time of commencing the divorce proceedings. Otherwise, you and/or your spouse must have been “habitually resident” in Singapore for a period of 3 years immediately before the start of the divorce proceedings.
What is considered “habitually resident”?
To be “habitually resident” has been regarded by the Singapore courts to be “habitually and normally resident … apart from temporary or occasional absences of long or short duration”. Your residence must also have been adopted voluntarily and for a settled purpose(s) – for example, you would be regarded as “habitually resident” in Singapore if you and/or your spouse live and work here. This should be fairly straightforward to prove if you have been based in Singapore for a significant period of time (or at the very least, in the three years preceding the commencement of the divorce proceedings).
However, when might a temporary or occasional absence from your place of “habitual residence” be too long? The Singapore courts in Lee Mei-Chih v Chang Kuo-Yuan  4 SLR 1115 indicated that a 12-month period of absence, when viewed against the backdrop of the mandatory 3-year period of “habitual residence” immediately before divorce proceedings are initiated, would lead to finding of no “habitual residence”. In other words, if you have worked in Singapore for three years but spent half that time in your home country, the Singapore courts may not necessarily view you as “habitually resident” in Singapore.
There is only one legal ground 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:
1. Adultery – You may show that your spouse has committed adultery and that you find it intolerable to live with your spouse. If you rely on your spouse’s adultery to file for divorce, you have the option of bringing the person who your spouse committed adultery with as a Co-Defendant to the proceedings.
2. Unreasonable Behavior – You may show that your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with your spouse.
It would not be enough to show that you and your spouse are incompatible with one another. The Court looks first at whether you, with your characteristics, personality, faults and other attributes, can reasonably be expected to live with your spouse, or whether it would be intolerable for you to do so. Next, the Court looks at your spouse’s behaviour and considers his or her acts or inactions that might have affected the marriage. Your spouse’s behaviour need not be malicious in order to be unreasonable.
3. 2 Years of Desertion – You may show that your spouse has deserted you for a continuous period of at least 2 years immediately before you commence your divorce proceedings in Court.
4. 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.
5. 4 Years of Separation(without the need of 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.
Do note that time will be of the essence if you intend to file for divorce by relying on your spouse’s adultery or unreasonable behaviour. If you continue to stay with your spouse for more than 6 months after your last claimed instance of your spouse’s adultery or unreasonable behavior, this may cause the Court to doubt your claim that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with your spouse.
There is no ‘standard’ set of facts to show, and the particulars of every factual situation is unique. Therefore, you should consult a Singapore divorce lawyer to discuss your case in greater detail and determine what facts you should proceed on to show that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
There are very limited and exceptional circumstances should you be seeking a divorce if your marriage has lasted less than 3 years. Under section 94 of the Women’s Charter, if you have been married for less than 3 years, you would first have to make an application for the Court’s permission to file for divorce. After obtaining such permission, the Court will only allow you to get a divorce if you can prove that you are suffering exceptional hardship, or if there is exceptional depravity on your spouse’s part (section 94(2) of the Women’s Charter).
The Court has interpreted ‘exceptional hardship’ and ‘exceptional depravity’ as follows:
In the case of Ng Kee Shee v Fu Gaofei  4 SLR(R) 762, the Court held that for a finding of exceptional hardship, the party suffering must show that the problems he or she has suffered during the marriage are out of the ordinary and more than what an ordinary person should reasonably have to bear. In this case, the wife not only constantly denied the husband his conjugal rights, she also left him to return to China, and refused to go back to Singapore. All this took place within 5 months of the marriage. The Court found that the wife had behaved unreasonably and it had amounted to exceptional hardship suffered by the husband.
On the other hand, exceptional depravity was found in the case of Foo Teck Kuan v Chan Yoke Han  SGDC 235. In that case, the Court found that the wife’s behaviour in being intimate with another man in the matrimonial home, even when the husband was in the flat, constituted exceptional depravity on the wife’s part. The Court accepted the husband’s assertion that the wife had done what she did to provoke him, and granted the husband permission to file a writ of divorce.
As an alternative to divorce, you may seek to have your marriage annulled if you are able to show that certain events have taken place (or not).