Family law reforms not a quick fix, says judge

Justice Debbie Ong says lawyers would need to develop new attitudes and skills as family law evolves.
Justice Debbie Ong says lawyers would need to develop new attitudes and skills as family law evolves.

Reforms in family law practice are far from being quick fixes, said the Presiding Judge of the Family Justice Courts, Justice Debbie Ong, adding that the entire system and understanding of family need time to develop.

It takes time to assess these needs, learn from social science research, pilot new initiatives and review them in the light of the evolving situations in society, she said.

"Does anybody actually think family law is static? People's attitudes and values can change over time too, especially over generations," Justice Ong said in an interview with the Singapore Academy of Law earlier this month.

Her remarks underline the "hugely important role" family lawyers play as family law evolves amid a "mindset change" and a "non-adversarial" approach.

She believes the norm will be a non-combative, harmonious route to resolution, not litigation.

This is based on "the conviction that parental conflict harms children and the acceptance that litigation should be avoided", she said. "Cases that do require court adjudication will likely be more complex and a more robust judge-led approach in these cases will be taken."

Lawyers will help shape strong and durable agreements on legal issues for the parties and this, Justice Ong added, will require understanding and experience on key aspects of family law.

They would also need to develop new skills and attitudes, including mediation and interpersonal skills to calm and engage emotional clients, as well as know how to protect children's interests, she said.

"If parties agree to poorly thought-out terms, the issues not addressed by the agreed terms can cause difficulties and further conflicts in future."

K.C. Vijayan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2020, with the headline 'Family law reforms not a quick fix, says judge'. Print Edition | Subscribe