There is only one basis on which to obtain a divorce in Singapore: the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage.
Couples may talk about grounds for divorce, like adultery or unreasonable behaviour, but these are all different ways of demonstrating the same thing, that being, the marriage has irretrievably broken down. They are not separate grounds for divorce.
The process is straightforward, providing specific eligibility criteria are met. There is a procedure for contested and uncontested divorces, with simple uncontested divorces usually taking less than a year and contested divorces a little longer.
Find out how to divorce in Singapore here:
Eligibility for divorce in Singapore
There are defined requirements for a couple to be eligible to divorce in Singapore. The main one is that the marriage is at least three years old. In exceptional circumstances, a divorce petition is possible for marriages less than three years.
To succeed, one of the parties to the marriage usually must show exceptional hardship or that they have experienced cruel and unreasonable behaviour.
There is no set legal definition for these exceptions. Each case is arguable based on the unique circumstances of the marriage. Legal advice from an experienced divorce professional is essential to evaluate the likelihood of satisfying these criteria.
The other important factor to consider is domiciliary status. One party to the marriage must be domiciled in Singapore when the divorce proceedings commence or have lived in Singapore for three years before the proceedings start.
To be domiciled in a place is to treat it as your permanent abode.
Sections 93 and 94 of the Women’s Charter set out the requirements for residency and a period of marriage of at least three years.
The grounds for divorce in Singapore
There is one sole ground for divorce in Singapore, and that is the ‘irretrievable breakdown’ of the marriage. To prove this, one of the parties to the marriage must be able to demonstrate one of four legally defined facts.
It is necessary to prove adultery and not simply allege it, so the spouse filing for divorce on this basis will need to gather evidence. A spouse cannot rely on the other party admitting to adultery.
Hiring a private investigator is one way for a spouse to gain tangible evidence of adultery. Many legal professionals can recommend a trustworthy firm or individual.
(2) Unreasonable behaviour
Unreasonable behaviour is where one party to the marriage behaves in such a way that the other spouse cannot reasonably be expected to live with them.
Each marriage is unique, and there are no hard and fast definitions of unreasonable behaviour. However, some commonplace examples could include violence from one spouse to the other, anti-social behaviour, drink or drug addiction, or denial of sex.
If the other spouse contests the divorce, it’s always harder to prove unreasonable behaviour as the other party must admit it. Contrast this with adultery which can be proven – the facts speak for themselves.
To evidence desertion, one party must have left the other for a continuous period of at least two years immediately before the divorce petition is filed.
Living apart for this time can demonstrate desertion if that spouse has no intention of returning to the marital home.
Separation for a period of three years is only permissible as evidence of the marriage breaking down irretrievably if the other spouse agrees to the divorce.
The separation must be based on choice, not necessity, so a period when a spouse is away due to work commitments is unlikely to count towards the three years.
A brief period of reconciliation doesn’t have to cancel the three-year period providing it is no longer than six months. However, any period under six months when the couple chooses to cohabit again will not count towards a three-year total.
A period of separation of four years is another option, and this length of time does not require the consent of the other party for the divorce to proceed.
Application process for divorce in Singapore
Divorce in Singapore is usually a two-stage process involving the dissolution of the marriage and ancillary matters.
Filing for divorce
The spouse petitioning for divorce must file certain documents in the Family Justice Courts, including the writ and a statement of claim which details why the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
Also required is a statement of facts which gives more information, for instance, if the couple has been separated for three years, and if relevant, the documents should also contain a Proposed Parenting Plan.
Fees attached to this process are payable when the documents are filed.
Serving documents on the other party
The other party to the marriage, usually called the defendant, must receive all these documents. The defendant has eight days to decide whether they want to contest the divorce.
Dissolution of the marriage
A spouse who wishes to contest a divorce application must file a Memorandum of Appearance and a defence. Divorce mediation or a counselling session with a designated individual at the court are still options at this stage.
Divorces which remain contested are decided in court by a judge. The defendant has 22 days to file a defence and a counterclaim if they wish to put forward their own reasons for the divorce.
A defendant does not need to file a Memorandum of Appearance if they accept the divorce unless they wish to be heard on other issues, such as ancillary matters.
If the court is satisfied with the evidence of irretrievable breakdown, it grants an Interim Judgement, which orders that the marriage is dissolved.
Ancillary matters deal with the division of property and assets and the arrangements for any children.
Both parties to the marriage must file affidavits disclosing their means and income, following which the court sets a date for an ancillary hearing.
Once ancillary matters are agreed upon, the couple can conclude the divorce by applying for the Final Judgement. When the Final Judgement is granted, the divorce process is considered complete.
The High Court hears cases in which the estate amounts to more than $1.5 million.
A new way forward – divorce by mutual agreement
In January 2022, under the Women’s Charter Amendment Bill, a new divorce law in Singapore was proposed to come into effect during 2023. This allows for divorce by mutual agreement.
This additional ground aims to reduce animosity and acrimony during the divorce process and facilitate the mental health and well-being of both the couple and any children from the marriage.
Divorcing on the grounds of mutual agreement will require a written statement to the effect that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and the proposed arrangements for the division of financial assets and the care and support of any children.
Whatever the grounds you choose for divorce, it is always wise to take professional advice. A legal professional will advise on the most effective way to expedite the divorce, protect your position, and offer matters such as counselling and mediation.
In the case of a contested divorce, an objective lawyer can help smooth the path to divorce and make the process shorter and less unpleasant.
Frequently asked questions
Is the process the same for Muslim divorce?
Divorce under Muslim law is different to the process under civil law. The Family Court in Singapore hears applications to end a civil marriage.
Couples married under Muslim law have their divorce applications heard by the Syariah Court. Both parties must be Muslims or have been married under the provisions of Muslim law.
What is the Mandatory Parenting Programme (MPP)?
If the marriage has children under 21 and the divorce is contested, both parties must attend a Mandatory Parenting Programme. Even if the divorce is not contested, if the couple cannot agree on the arrangements for the children, then the same applies.
Specialist counsellors help parents make sensible decisions prioritising their children’s health and well-being.
How long does it take to obtain a divorce in Singapore?
How long a divorce takes depends upon whether it is contested and how complicated the arrangements are. Simple uncontested divorces usually take under a year, whereas contested or more complicated divorces take longer.
There must be a minimum period of three months between the Interim and Final Judgements.