SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is seeking views from the public on measures to better support divorcing couples and their children.
These include having all parents with children under the age of 21 attend a compulsory consultation session and having all minor children attend programmes to help them cope better with the divorce.
In a public consultation paper launched on Sunday (May 2), MSF is also seeking views on an “amicable divorce” option for couples that does not require them to prove a fault-based fact such as adultery, or show that they have separated for at least three years.
These were among the suggestions raised at several engagement sessions with divorcees and social service practitioners from the Divorce Support Specialist Agencies (DSSAs).
Some “pain points” emerged during the discussions, said Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling, such as the need to cite faults in filing for the divorce and having to file for divorce as a plaintiff and defendant.
Currently, couples may only divorce through what’s known as fault-based facts - such as adultery, abuse and desertion - or through a fact of separation where they would have to separate for at least three years before filing for divorce.
REDUCE ACRIMONY IN DIVORCE
Participants at the discussion sessions suggested an amicable divorce option where couples need not cite any fact of separation or fault-based facts – if both parties had agreed to the split.
Having to cite a fault causes some couples to “revisit the pain and the acrimony”, which can lead to further rifts, said Ms Sun.
In addition, participants proposed allowing couples to jointly file for divorce. The current requirement for them to file as a plaintiff and a defendant sets them up for an “adversarial kind of relationship”, said Ms Sun.
MSF noted, however, that the intention is not to make divorce easy or to undermine marriage.
As such, it will provide more marital counselling services for those who wish to save their marriage. It will also keep the requirement for a marriage to last for at least three years before divorce can be filed, and the three-month wait period before the divorce is finalised.
The fault-based facts and fact of separation will also remain, should couples want to cite them.
“At the end of the day, we hope to make the divorce process less painful for couples who have decided to embark on divorce despite their best intentions to save the marriage,” said Ms Sun.
MORE SUPPORT FOR FAMILIES GOING THROUGH DIVORCE
Participants also suggested that more support could be made available to divorcing parents and their children.
Proposals include having all divorcing parents of children under the age of 21 attend the Mandatory Parenting Programme, which is designed to help such couples make decisions that prioritise the child’s well-being.
This is so all parents understand the impact of divorce on them and their children, said MSF in its consultation paper.
The Mandatory Parenting Programme was introduced in 2016 for couples who do not agree to the divorce and issues relating to their children, property and maintenance.
Currently, couples who agree on such matters – or those filing for divorce under the simpler track - do not need to attend the programme.
In addition, MSF proposed having all minor children whose parents are undergoing divorce to attend support programmes.
In 2019, only 3 per cent, or fewer than 200 out of 6,700 children with parents undergoing divorce accessed child support programmes at DSSAs.
Although there is the Children in Between programme, Ms Sun said the ministry is looking into additional counselling services that can be provided.
During the discussion, participants also asked for more counselling support for couples before, during and after the divorce.
MSF proposed providing online and face-to-face counselling for those who are unsure and want to save their marriages; counselling support before, during and after the divorce for those who need it; and pre-filing mediation to help couples reach an agreement on their children or difficult aspects of their divorce.
“We will try our very best to save marriages as best as we can,” said Ms Sun. “But at the same time, where couples have decided that divorce is the only way out for them, we hope to make the process less acrimonious for them.”
Those who are interested in giving their views may send an email to PublicFeedback@msf.gov.sg by Jun 3. MSF will publish a summary of the key feedback received, with contributors anonymised.