Whether a divorce is contested or uncontested is solely a decision of the married couple.

An uncontested divorce is usually quicker and less expensive. If a divorce is amicable and the spouses can largely agree, then there is less dispute and negotiation, shortening the process and the cost.

An amendment to the Women’s Charter in Singapore means it’s possible to divorce by mutual agreement from 2023. This change is designed to remove the apportionment of blame and allow divorces to proceed more amicably and without hostility.

However, the detail can still be contested even if a divorce proceeds based on mutual agreement. Mediation plays a part in contested and uncontested divorces and can help couples reach a consensus.

What is an uncontested divorce?

An uncontested divorce is where the parties have reached an amicable and private agreement on ending the marriage and how they divide up mutual assets. It also includes the arrangement for the care and custody of any children.

An uncontested divorce can involve the scenario where the plaintiff, the spouse petitioning for divorce, makes allegations against the other party, the defendant, apportioning blame for the marriage breakdown, i.e., adultery. If the other party agrees, then the divorce is uncontested.

Due to changes in the law, from 2023, married couples will be able to divorce by mutual agreement. However, this doesn’t mean the divorce is uncontested; there may be disputes over ancillary matters, such as the division of property and the care and custody of any children.

If any element of the divorce becomes the subject of a dispute at any stage, this is a contested divorce.

What is the process for an uncontested divorce?

Whether a divorce is contested or uncontested, the process for petitioning for divorce in Singapore comprises two key stages:

  • A court must decide that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
  • A court will determine ancillary matters, such as the arrangements for any children and the split of matrimonial assets.

This process is slimmed down in an uncontested divorce. For example, the defendant does not need to file a defence to the writ from the plaintiff.

Uncontested divorce also removes the need for a pre-trial conference (PTC), a requirement where the couple in dispute to try and resolve some of the contested areas before the hearing.

As the couple agree to the terms, it’s only necessary to hire one lawyer, saving on expense.

To start the petition, the plaintiff confirms that the contents of the Statement of Claim and the Statement of Particulars are accurate. The defendant won’t contest either statement but files a memorandum of appearance consenting to the divorce.

If the couple are parents and have children below the age of 21, they can make and agree on arrangements for childcare. This is called an Agreed Parenting Plan.

Once all the ancillary matters are agreed upon – including the division of property, assets, and care and control of the children – a solicitor files a Draft Consent Order.

The court reviews the divorce documents to ascertain whether the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The court can request more information or evidence to support this, but many uncontested divorce hearings are as short as ten minutes.

When the court is satisfied the marriage has broken down irretrievably and all the ancillary matters are settled, then it grants an interim judgement confirming the marriage has ended. An interim judgement is made final after three months.

What is the new legislation on divorce by mutual agreement?

Divorce by mutual agreement encourages couples whose marriage has failed to find an amicable way forward. This is currently unavailable under Singaporean law, which requires evidence of adultery, separation, or desertion.

The current divorce laws position the parties in a marriage against each other and create a culture of blame. This has a negative impact on the couple and the wider family and tends to encourage hostility in divorce proceedings as well as lengthening the time taken to reach an outcome.

In 2022, the Parliament in Singapore decided to introduce an amendment to the Women’s Charter to take effect in 2023. Divorce by mutual agreement will allow couples to divorce amicably in a culture of cooperation. It should increase the frequency of uncontested divorces.

However, divorce by mutual agreement or amicable divorce, as it is also known, only relates to the basis on which the marriage will end; it doesn’t cover ancillary matters which can still be contested. So, divorce by mutual agreement can still be a contested divorce.

Why do couples contest divorce?

Even with the current options to divorce amicably and the new legislation introducing divorce by mutual agreement, some couples will still pursue a contested divorce.

There are several reasons for this:

  • Apportioning blame and citing the reasons for the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage can be psychologically necessary to a spouse if, for instance, if there is evidence of adultery, or they have been the victim of violence.
  • A divorce may be contested if a defendant believes the legally defined fact used to form the basis for the petition is not true; for instance, there has been no period of separation, or there is a false allegation of adultery. In this situation, a defendant will contest the contents of the Statement of Claim.
  • Some people believe that apportioning blame on the other spouse can be used as a point of leverage when dividing up the marital assets and sorting out custody arrangements for the children. However, certainly, where children are concerned, the court will consider their welfare as the first and foremost priority and only be interested in the reasons for the failure of the marriage if they impinge on this.

Most lawyers will try and diffuse contested and adversarial situations because they tend to cause more problems than they solve. Mediation can be helpful for couples who are entrenched in a particular position and cannot agree. In the absence of an agreement, the court makes the decisions which can end up being something neither spouse welcomes.

How important is mediation in an uncontested divorce?

Couples can opt for private mediation at any point in the divorce or pre-divorce process.

Private mediation and counselling

Private family mediation is away from the court process and entered voluntarily by a married couple. The timeframe is entirely under their control, and the cost of the mediation sessions falls at their door.

Mediation can help explore whether the marriage has failed and, if it has, help resolve difficulties and entrenched positions, which allow the divorce to move forward on a less hostile basis.

Child-focused mediation sessions

Couples who have agreed to the arrangements for children under the age of 21 with an Agreed Parenting Plan are not required to attend mediation sessions.

Couples in the midst of a contested divorce and who have children under the age of 21 must attend mediation sessions at the Child Focused Resolution Centre (CFRC). These free sessions are usually conducted by trained counsellors and judge-mediators specialising in this area.

These mediation sessions are designed to resolve issues and disputes over children; they don’t deal with the division of marital property.

This content was written and reviewed by a lawyer but it does not constitute legal advice. We always recommend engaging a lawyer before taking any legal action.

Frequently asked questions

Can a divorce begin uncontested and become contested later?

An amicable divorce can become contested at any point when the couple fails to agree. This disagreement can be over the basis of the divorce or ancillary matters.

The couple can rely on the lawyers to help negotiate their position or use mediation to try and resolve an impasse. At the end of the day, if they can’t agree, then the court will decide what happens.

Is it better to try and petition for divorce on an uncontested basis?

An uncontested divorce is the most desirable route, but sometimes, it’s impossible. It is in everyone’s best interests to keep things as amicable as possible, although it might not seem like that at the time.

Divorce by mutual agreement is designed to promote a culture of cooperation, so even if there is disagreement over ancillary matters, it can be minimised.

To conclude, an uncontested divorce is the gold standard amongst family lawyers and the judiciary. Uncontested divorce has the least mental and psychological fallout and is usually quicker and less costly.

However, sometimes a contested divorce is unavoidable, which is why professional legal advice is so important. Every good divorce lawyer knows that compromise is the only way forward and will seek to minimise points of contention while protecting their client’s best interests.