Can I get a divorce in Singapore?

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 the filing of divorce papers in Singapore.

You must also be married for at least 3 years before you commence divorce proceedings.

What if I do not satisfy the 3 years’ habitual residence? Can I still divorce?

You may, only if you can show the intention to be domiciled in Singapore, i.e. to make Singapore your home and to live here.

2 elements have to be shown:

  • Fact of residence
  • Fact of intention of permanent or indefinite residence

The onus will be on you to prove that you have acquired Singapore domicile. Evidence has to be shown that there is no contingency plan to return to your home country. You can also show that you have cut links with your home country, taken up a job in Singapore, shifted assets to Singapore, set up bank accounts here and taken up Singapore Permanent Residency and/or applying for Singapore Citizenship.

What if I have not been married for more than 3 years and wish to seek a divorce?

You must then file an application in Court to seek the Court’s permission to file for divorce.

You will need to show the Court that you have suffered exceptional hardship during your marriage, or that your spouse has behaved with exceptional depravity.

The Court will then look at the facts at hand and decide whether it should grant leave for you to file your divorce prior to the expiration of 3 years.

I have lived in Singapore for 2 years; can I file for divorce here?

Yes you may, if you have the intention to make Singapore the permanent home and are able to show that you have severed ties in your home country. The issue of domicile requires close attention, you should seek advise from an international divorce lawyer.

What are the grounds of divorce in Singapore?

There is only one ground of divorce in Singapore – the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

However, there are 5 facts that you can rely on to show the irretrievable breakdown of your marriage. They are:

  • Adultery of your spouse
  • Unreasonable behaviour of your spouse
  • Desertion by your spouse for a continuous period of at least 2 years immediately before the filing of the divorce papers in Singapore
  • Separation for a period of 3 years (where both parties consent to the separation)
  • Separation for a period of 4 years (where one party does not consent to the separation)

Is serving my spouse divorce papers the only way to divorce in Singapore?

No. Serving your spouse divorce papers is not the only way out. There are alternative means to obtain a divorce in Singapore.

One such avenue is the Collaborative Divorce. This is a new dispute resolution process whereby couples who have decided to separate or end their marriage, can avoid the lengthy and costly process of contested divorce through negotiation.

Each party will engage their own Singapore Dispute Resolution Centre-accredited lawyers who will work together towards achieving an amicable result for both parties.

Our Ms Gloria James is among the first batch of lawyers in Singapore to receive such accreditation.

What if my spouse is not in Singapore? How do I serve the papers on him/her?

Divorce papers must be served personally on the Defendant for service to be effected.

To serve the papers personally on the Defendant means that the papers must be received by the Defendant himself/herself personally.

If attempts at personal service fail, an application for substituted service will be taken out instead. The Court will give directions for the divorce papers to be served via another avenue instead, e.g. via email.

When attempts at substituted service also fails, an application for dispensation of service will be taken out. The Court will then give directions for the matter to proceed.

What if I am served divorce papers and I do not wish to divorce?

You will have to contest the divorce proceedings.

You may indicate your intention to contest divorce proceedings on the Memorandum of Appearance, which will be among the divorce papers served on you. You must then file a Defence to the Plaintiff’s Statement of Particulars. The Statement of Particulars is a Court document that contains particulars of the Plaintiff’s reasons for the divorce.

The Plaintiff can then choose to file a reply to your Defence.

All these will eventually lead up to a trial, where the Judge will hear all evidence before him and decide whether the marriage has indeed broken down irretrievably.

If I am not a working parent, can I divorce and remain in Singapore?

Unfortunately, if you are not a working parent, you will have to leave Singapore within 14 days after the divorce has been granted as you are on a Dependent’s Pass in Singapore.

This is because you and your spouse had come to Singapore as a couple and the Dependent’s Pass was granted based on your relationship with your spouse. If you and your spouse are divorced, the Dependent’s Pass will therefore be revoked.

However, if you wish to continue living in Singapore, you can do so by finding a job locally and obtaining an Employment Pass in your own name. And if your child is under a student pass, you can apply for a long term social visit pass in order to remain in Singapore.

Does your ability to stay in a country depend on your status as a spouse?

This depends on whether you are a holder of an Employer’s pass or a Dependent’s pass.

If it is the former, your ability to stay in Singapore is independent on your status as a spouse. Conversely, if you are a holder of a Dependent’s pass, your ability to stay in Singapore is dependent on your status as a spouse.

However, if you are a holder of a Dependent’s pass and you wish to continue living in Singapore, you can do so by finding a job locally and obtaining an Employment Pass in your own name.

Must I pay maintenance to my spouse?

Under the laws of Singapore, there is an obligation for the ex-husband to pay maintenance for his ex-wife if she is not working. Unfortunately, there is no corresponding obligation for the ex-wife.

The Court may or may not make an order for maintenance for the ex-wife, depending on the facts of the situation. These are the orders that the Court may make:

  • An order for monthly maintenance
  • An order for lump sum maintenance, i.e. a one-off payment
  • No order for maintenance

The payment of maintenance shall cease when:

  • The ex-wife remarries
  • The ex-wife passes away
  • The ex-husband passes away

You may choose to vary an order for maintenance in the future upon proof of a material change of circumstances.

What if your spouse raises divorce proceedings first but under the laws of the country that are less favourable to you?

If obtaining a divorce is less favourable to you in Singapore, you can apply for a stay of proceedings in Singapore. Simply put, a stay of proceedings is the suspension or halting of the case in the Singapore Courts.

If obtaining a divorce in the country where your spouse had filed the divorce proceedings, you will have to apply for a stay of proceedings in the said country. You can proceed to file for a divorce in Singapore, but note that your spouse may likewise apply for a stay of proceedings in Singapore and you would have to defend his application.

The Court, in deciding whether a stay should be granted, has to determine whether Singapore is the more appropriate forum to hear the divorce. This is determined based on connecting factors such as residency and domicile of the parties, convenience of hearing the matter in Singapore, etc.

My marriage is over; I’m going back home with the children. Surely this is alright?

Unfortunately, if you are unable to obtain your spouse’s consent to the relocation, it may not be easy for you to simply go home with the children. Matters will be doubly difficult when your spouse has taken out an application for interim custody, care and control.

Under the laws of Singapore, no person “shall take the child who is the subject of the custody order out of Singapore except with the written consent of both parents or the leave of the Court”.

Therefore, you would have to obtain leave from the Singapore Court before relocating back to your home country.

The Court would make a determination whether the relocation is in the child’s welfare. The following are some of the factors which will be considered in its determination:

  • Your reasons for relocation and whether they are genuine or reasonable
  • The adequacy of your relocation plans
  • Whether there is a risk of parental alienation (i.e. whether there is a risk that the non-relocating parent will have difficulties communicating with your child after relocation)
  • Your child’s present interests and long-term interests
  • Your child’s possible loss of relationship with the non-relocating parent

What happens if my spouse has left Singapore with my children?

Singapore is a signatory of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

If your child has been taken away from you, you can seek redress under this Convention. You will work hand in hand with the Central Authority of Singapore to seek the return of the abducted child if there is an existing order to prevent the child from leaving jurisdiction.

If I live overseas and my husband resides in Singapore, can I initiate maintenance orders in Singapore?

Yes you can make an application for maintenance.

However, do note that you would have to come to Singapore personally to apply for maintenance at the Family Registry, Level 1, Family Justice Courts Building.