Countries should work together on family justice: CJ

Family disputes with cross-border elements raise "complex issues... which countries will have to resolve", Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said yesterday.

He also announced a pilot scheme launching towards the end of the year that will see trained parenting coordinators help divorcing parents and aim to reduce conflict between them and their children.

From next week, parties with contested property disputes over $3 million in value will attend private rather than court mediation, he added.

The Chief Justice was speaking at the Supreme Court for the opening of the two-day International Family Law Conference, which brings together experts from the legal, psychological and social science sectors.

Highlighting that Singapore's "significant rise in transnational marriages" has been accompanied by a corresponding rise in family disputes, he stressed that the guiding principle in child-related proceedings is the child's welfare.

Divorce cases involving at least one party of a different nationality rose from 31 per cent of cases filed in 2011 to 40 per cent last year.

A Family Justice Courts spokesman said, on average, only 7 per cent of divorce cases involve two foreigners. More than 6,100 divorce writs have been filed a year, on average, between 2011 and last year.

While the Child Abduction Convention resolves an aspect of cross-border disputes, with signatory states obliged to ensure a child is returned promptly to where he usually lives, there are many other issues which countries have to resolve, said the Chief Justice.

This may be done either through other conventions, or agreed communities of practice. "This is why sustained international conversation on family justice is crucial," he said.

Noting that a working group of the council of Asean Chief Justices met this week, he said that their work will "facilitate greater interaction and dialogue on family matters among judiciaries in the region".

Citing the success of the 1980 Hague Convention, he added that "international cooperation can ensure that parents are able to obtain real relief".

Most Asean countries have not entered the Hague Convention, meant to offer protection from cross-border child abductions.

An International Advisory Council met for the first time on Wednesday as well to share perspectives on developments in family law. Its members are from countries including Australia and the United States.

The Chief Justice added: "We will continue to draw on the expertise of the council to build on, and implement, some of these ideas."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2016, with the headline 'Countries should work together on family justice: CJ'. Print Edition | Subscribe