“Can I divorce in Singapore if I got married abroad?” is a common query received by our International Divorce Lawyers in the globalised world we live in today.
As a starting point, the essential questions our Singapore Divorce Lawyers will ask are as follows:
- How long have the parties been married?
- Is either party to the marriage a Singapore Citizen?
- If neither party is a Singapore Citizen, how long have parties been residing in Singapore?
- Am I eligible to file for divorce in Singapore?
- What is the ground for divorce in Singapore?
- Habitually resident – what does it mean?
The length of time parties have been residing in Singapore is important because it determines whether the Court has jurisdiction to hear parties’ divorce proceedings based on domicile or habitual residence for at least three years before the commencement of proceedings under Section 93(1) of the Women’s Charter (Chapter 353).
To sum up, in the event parties have married overseas and wish to divorce in Singapore, they must fulfil the following:
- Married for at least three years;
- One party must be a Singapore Citizen;
- If no party to the marriage is a Singapore Citizen, either party must show intention to be domiciled in Singapore or be habitually resident in Singapore for at least three years
If you do not meet the above criteria
Less than three years before the commencement of the proceedings
If parties have been residing in Singapore for less than 3 years, the party who wishes to commence divorce proceedings may consider showing his/her intention to be domiciled in Singapore.
Intent to be domiciled means that he/she has to demonstrate the following:
- Voluntary residence as an inhabitant rather than a casual visitor;
- His/her intention to remain in Singapore indefinitely.
An example to show the same would be shifting a party’s substantial assets to Singapore.
At least 3 years before the commencement of proceedings
If parties have been habitually residing in Singapore for at least three years before the commencement of proceedings, the Singapore Courts will have jurisdiction to hear the parties’ divorce proceedings. To show habitual residence in Singapore, one must show a degree of continuity in his/her residence in Singapore, which is a question of fact.
Under the laws of Singapore, unless you are a citizen of Singapore, you will have to show habitual residence in Singapore before you can commence divorce proceedings here. You are habitually resident in Singapore if you have resided here for at least 3 years immediately before filing divorce papers in Singapore.
Ground for Divorce
There is only one ground for divorce recognised in Singapore: an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
What is required is the impossibility of reconciliation and finality in intention.
- If you decide to apply for divorce, the onus is on you to prove ONE of the five possible situations as laid down in s 95(3) of the Women’s Charter.
There are 5 facts to prove “irretrievable breakdown” grounds for a foreigner to divorce in Singapore, which are as follows:
- Adultery: When the defendant commits adultery, and the plaintiff (i.e. the person seeking divorce) finds living with the defendant intolerable.
- Unreasonable Behaviour: When the defendant has behaved in such a way that the plaintiff cannot reasonably expect to live with him.
- Deserted: When the defendant has deserted the plaintiff for at least 2 years preceding the divorce proceedings.
- Separation of at least 3 years: Preceding the file for divorce and the defendant consents to the divorce (e.g. for simplified uncontested divorce).
- Separation of at least 4 years: Preceding the divorce proceedings and the defendant does not consent to the divorce (e.g. for contested divorce).
FAQs about Divorce in Singapore for Expats
How Do I Divorce if My Spouse is Overseas?
As mentioned above, should you meet the requirements of divorce in Singapore, you can file for the same here, even if the other party is overseas. However, if the other party commences divorce proceedings overseas simultaneously, You may apply for a stay application to suspend the overseas proceedings if you insist they be heard here.
The Singapore court will decide whether the case should be heard in Singapore or abroad. The Singapore court considers various factors, including the location of both parties’ assets and the location of your children (if any). If the application is successfully stayed, you can continue the divorce proceedings in Singapore accordingly.
Nevertheless, if you obtain a foreign divorce order, you can have it recognised in Singapore to dissolve your marriage.
Is a Marital Agreement from Overseas Valid in Singapore?
If the Marital Agreement contains a jurisdiction clause providing that it is subject to a foreign jurisdiction, the Agreement is generally not binding in Singapore. Be that as it may, the Singapore Court may consider parties’ intentions as reflected in the Agreement. In particular, regarding the division of assets, the Court has the discretion to decide on a just and equitable division.
Are there advantages if I choose to divorce in Singapore?
- Generally, within a month of filing for divorce, you will receive a hearing date.
- Able to immediately file for divorce (i.e., you do not need to separate for a fixed period before filing for divorce).
- Singapore is a fused system, and you avoid barrister costs.
- A favourable exchange rate means your dollar will go further.
- Adulterous defendants are not automatically punished or penalised by the Court.
Overall, foreigner divorce in Singapore can be emotionally and legally challenging. The legal implications of a cross-border divorce tend to be complex, so clearly understanding the potential issues and how to address the legal concerns will help you deal with them effectively.
Divorce cases involving expats are unique and require a customised approach. At Gloria James-Civetta & Co, our international divorce lawyers offer sound legal advice to Expats living in Singapore and clients from other jurisdictions.
GJC Law credits our Vice-Head of Family & Matrimonial Law Practice, Sara Aziz, for her guidance.