We do not choose who we fall in love with, or decide to marry. It is a matter of the heart, and sometimes, it transcends race, religion, even nationality. In a world that is increasingly global, cross-nationality unions are becoming the norm, especially in a cosmopolitan state like Singapore.
What happens then when such unions break down?
A marriage that has broken down is a difficult cross to bear for both parties, regardless of the circumstances. Heading towards a divorce bears the same consequences for all parties, but can be especially trying if both are of different nationalities, as certain questions need to be addressed then. Can the divorce proceedings then take place in Singapore, or must the matter be moved to the either spouse’s home country?
Criteria to proceed with divorce for an expat
However, it is not such a simple matter as to decide where you want to proceed with your divorce. First of all, certain criteria have to be met before divorce proceedings can ensue. According to the Singapore Family Law Court, the following terms must first be satisfied:
- either one of the spouses are domiciled in Singapore
- either of the spouses is a habitual resident of Singapore for 3 years or more
- marriage is at least 3 years
- party seeking divorce can prove that marriage has broken down irrevocably, based on the following criteria:
- spouse has committed adultery
- spouse was abusive
- desertion for a continuous period of at least 2 years
- mutual agreement after 3 years of living apart
- non-mutual but couple has lived apart for 4 years or more
Satisfying the Residency criteria
If either party has not satisfied the 3 year residency criteria, they are unable to proceed with a divorce in Singapore. Exceptions, however, are given to those who can show proof that they intend to be domiciled in Singapore, either by 1. Fact of Residence, or 2. Fact of Intention or permanent or indefinite residence.
Singapore Family Courts will recognise pre-nuptial agreement made outside of Singapore.
Beginning the divorce process
Once the above criteria have been met, the party seeking divorce can then have their lawyer send a writ to the other party to begin the procedure. In such cases, it may be possible that a spouse has returned to their home country. Should this be the case, the writ can still be sent to whatever location they are at, and lawyers can also engage investigators to search out spouse if their location is unknown.
The divorce process
Once the process has begun, it typically takes 5 to 6 months to reach an Interim Judgement. Once the Interim Judgement has been granted, there is a mandatory period of 3 months before Final Judgement can be attained. However, should there be pressing reasons for a Final Judgement to be granted earlier, the party requesting this has to be present at the divorce hearing and apply for it during the hearing.
Agreement to divorce but ancillary matters not resolved
Should parties not be able to resolve ancillary matters, a mediation can be arranged to abet the matter and attempt a global settlement. If that avenue fails, then parties have to follow on with a contested Ancillary Hearing, with final orders made by a judge.
Spouse leaves country midway through divorce hearings
- If divorce papers have not been served, an application to serve divorce papers via a personalised service has to be made
- If divorce papers had been served, and Interim Judgement is to be granted or have been granted, an application can be made to proceed only with the divorce and obtain Final Judgement. Ancillary matters can then be resolved at the country where the spouse and/or children are currently residing.
Status of divorced parties
If an ex-spouse is holding a Dependant Pass, the document will be invalidated as both parties are now considered divorced. The spouse must thus return to their home country where they have to now apply for an employment pass to continue to remain in Singapore.
Cost of obtaining divorce in Singapore
Parties may opt for a divorce in Singapore as they stand to benefit from the exchange rate.
Furthermore Singapore practices a fused legal system where only 1 set of legal fees need to be paid, in contrast to other countries, e.g. England, where 2 sets of legal fees need to be paid.
Should both parties be agreeable to the divorce and are able to solve ancillary matters amicably, then a fixed divorce fee applies.
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