Divorce process, steps and timeline in Singapore

Posted under News Updates on 21 February 2020

Getting a Divorce doesn’t always have to be complicated. The process for applying for Divorce in the Family Justice Courts in Singapore can be straightforward if it is an Uncontested Divorce, and it only becomes complex if it is Contested Divorce.

An Uncontested Divorce can take place if you and your spouse both agree on all the key parts of the Divorce, meaning that:

  • You agree that that the marriage should end
  • You agree on what the basis for the Divorce should be e.g. Separation of 3 years
  • You agree on the living and care arrangements for the children i.e. regarding Custody, Care and Control, Access
  • You agree on how to your matrimonial assets and properties will be divided
  • You agree on whether there will be maintenance for the wife and children and the amount of this maintenance

An Uncontested Divorce is a Divorce case that becomes prolonged and complex when you and your spouse can’t agree on the key parts of the Divorce and therefore need to engage lawyers to represent you to negotiate or challenge each other’s requests in Court, meaning that:

  • You can’t agree on what the basis for the Divorce should be, e.g. you may say that the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage was caused by your spouse’s adultery or unreasonable behaviour, but he may disagree
  • You can’t agree on the living and care arrangements for the children, e.g. your spouse disagrees with your view that you should be given Sole Custody of the Children
  • You can’t agree on how to your matrimonial assets and properties will be divided e.g. your spouse says that your matrimonial home should be sold and the proceeds distributed amongst you but you prefer that he transfers his share of the home to you instead
  • You can’t agree on whether there will be maintenance for the wife and children and the amount of this maintenance e.g. you disagree with your spouse’s view that he should not pay so much maintenance for the children because he was recently retrenched from his high-paying job

To qualify for a Divorce in Singapore, you must first prove to the Court that your marriage has “irretrievably broken down” by showing that one of the following events have taken place:

  • Adultery, meaning that your spouse has committed adultery and you feel that you cannot tolerate continuing to live with him.
  • Unreasonable Behaviour, meaning that either your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with him.
  • Desertion, meaning that your spouse has deserted and abandoned you for at least 2 years with no intention of coming back
  • Separation, meaning that you and your spouse have been living apart for 3 years and he agrees or consents to the Divorce. You don’t need your spouse’s consent to rely on Separation as the basis for your Divorce if you have been living apart for 4 years.

Divorce is a 2-stage process in Singapore

Stage 1 of Divorce Proceedings in Singapore

In Stage 1, the Court’s goal is to decide on whether the marriage can be dissolved or terminated. The Court will issue an Interim Judgment if it decides that the marriage can be dissolved or terminated at the end of Stage 1.

Stage 1 involves the following individual steps:

A. If you are starting the Divorce process and submitting the Divorce application to Court, you will be the Plaintiff and your spouse will be the Defendant. If your spouse has committed adultery, the third party will be referred to as the Co-Defendant.

B. If your matrimonial assets include an HDB flat (e.g. matrimonial home), your Divorce lawyers will send a Standard Query Forms to HDB and CPF Board to calculate the amount for the flat and your CPF balance and also give the Court the required information regarding (1) ownership, payments already made by you and your spouse and the outstanding balance relating to the HDB’s property, (2) you and your spouse’s proposals on what will happen to the flat after the Divorce, (3) whether HDB consents or objects to your proposals and (4) if your proposals will be affected or disrupted by any other special HDB policies such as those regulating the minimum occupation period or subsidies for special schemes. The information and responses given by HDB and CPF will form part of the Proposed / Agreed Matrimonial Property Plan which you must also submit as part of your Divorce application. This process will take about 1 month to complete. You won’t be able to start your Divorce if you don’t have the HDB and CPF responses unless you have the Court’s permission to do so.

C. To start the Divorce process, you will need to submit these documents in Court:

  • Writ for Divorce and Statement of Claim – this is a summary of the key facts you are relying on to apply for and explain why you should be granted the Divorce.
  • Statement of Particulars – this gives the full details of the facts you’ve written in the Statement of Claim
  • Proposed Parenting Plan – you must file this if your Children are below 21 years old
  • Agreed Parenting Plan – you must file this if you and your spouse have reached an agreement on living and care arrangements for the children after the Divorce (and if you are applying for an Uncontested Divorce i.e. Consent Divorce)
  • Proposed Matrimonial Property Plan – you must file this if a Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat to be divided between parties).
  • Agreed Matrimonial Property Plan – This is only filed if parties have managed to agree on what to do with the HDB flat after the divorce;
  • Acknowledgement of Service
  • Memorandum of Appearance

D. Once the Writ for Divorce has been filed in the Family Court, the same writ will be served on the Defendant via way personal service, if the address of the Defendant is known to the Plaintiff.

Steps (c) and (d) will take two (2) to four (4) weeks

E. If service of the papers on the Defendant fails after two attempts, the Plaintiff can make an application in the Family Court for Substituted Service. This allows the Plaintiff to obtain a Court Order to post the divorce papers to the last known address of the Defendant, and also to post on the Notice Board of the Family Court. Alternatively, the papers can be sent by Registered Post to the last known address of the Defendant or alternatively by email.

Step (e) will require one (1) month or thereabouts

F. If the Defendant’s address is unknown to the Plaintiff but the Plaintiff believes that the Defendant is still residing in Singapore, an application to the Family Court for Substituted Service by posting the Notice of Proceedings at the last known address, on the Notice Board of the Family Court or advertising the same in the local newspaper.

G. The Defendant will have to enter an appearance to state within 8 days of the date of service of the Divorce Papers if they intend to contest the writ or ancillary matters. If no appearance is entered by the Defendant, either by himself or via his solicitors, in this time frame, the Plaintiff can proceed to file an Affidavit of Service and to set down the matter for trial.

H. Where appearance is entered by the Defendant

If the Defendant is not contesting the Divorce Writ, the Plaintiff can then proceed to set down the Writ for trial on an uncontested basis. A hearing date will be received within a month’s time, and the earliest trial date can be 10 days after setting down.

If the Defendant is contesting the Writ, they will have 22 days from the date of service of the Writ, or 14 days from the date of entry of appearance either –

  • to file a Defence in the Family Court and serve the defence papers on the Plaintiff. If no Defence is filed in Court by the Defendant within the stipulated time limit, the Plaintiff can proceed to set down the Writ for trial as an uncontested action, or
  • If the Defendant files a Defence & Counter claim, the Plaintiff will have 14 days from the date of service of Defence to file their Reply to Defence & to Counter claim.

I. If the Divorce is uncontested, a hearing date will be given by the Court, but the requirement of parties to attend the court hearing is usually dispensed with, unless the Court requires the compulsory attendance of parties. The hearing will usually last 5-10 minutes. The Judge, if satisfied with the case, will grant an Interim Judgment, to be made Final after 3 months.

If the Divorce is contested, PTCs (Pre-Trial Conferences) will be conducted. The main objective of a PTC is to look into whether there are common areas where parties can agree, thus narrowing the issues to be heard by the Court. Sometimes a date for Mediation is also fixed to resolve certain issues.

If the PTC or Mediation is not successful, a hearing date will be given depending on the Family Court’s calendar. The duration of the trial is usually one day. In contested cases, both the Plaintiff and the Defendant and the respective witnesses give evidence in Court by way of affidavit evidence and are cross-examined on their affidavits. In most cases, after a PTC (and sometimes after several conferences) the Divorce Writ proceeds as uncontested leaving the ancillary matters to be contested.

In Stage 2, the Court’s goal is to decide on how to handle the Ancillary Matters regarding the Division of Matrimonial Assets and property (e.g. matrimonial home), Custody, Care and Control and Access to the Children, and Maintenance of the Wife and Children. The Court will issue a Final Judgment if it decides that the marriage can be dissolved or terminated at the end of Stage 2.

Stage 2 of Divorce Proceedings in Singapore – Ancillary Matters

A. Hearing of Ancillary Matters.

Questions of spousal maintenance, custody of children, division of assets and costs, etc. may be adjourned to be heard in Chambers at a date to be fixed by the Registrar. The Registrar may also fix a Mediation session to assist parties in resolving the issues amicably.

The Court will require parties to file their respective Affidavit of Assets and Means in which they must disclose all assets, liabilities, income and expenditure. There are two (2) rounds of exchange of Affidavits. Parties are entitled to also undertake Discovery, Injunctions and Interrogatories proceedings at this stage if they suspect assets, liabilities, income and expenditure have not been truthfully disclosed.

Once parties have filed the prerequisite affidavits, they will also be required to file a Check List and an Ancillary Matters Facts and Position Sheet. Upon filing these documents, the Court will then decide if the matter should be heard in the Family Court or transferred to the High Court. The case can be transferred if the Court agrees that the case has an important question of law, is a test case, or for any other sufficient reason. Usually, the case will be heard in the High Court if the net value of the asset exceeds $ 5 million.

Thereafter, an Ancillary Hearing date will be fixed to hear the respective counsels’ written and oral submissions in Court.

B. 3 months from the date of making Interim Judgment, provided that the ancillary matters have been heard and the requisite orders made, the Plaintiff can proceed to file the necessary papers to extract the Final Judgment Order.

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If you would like to speak to a Singapore family lawyer about your case, please contact Jonathan Wong at [email protected] or +65 9424 6208 today.
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