Divorce cases handled more speedily last year, more improvements afoot: Family Justice Courts

The number of divorce cases settled within the same year they were filed jumped to 74 per cent last year, up from 46 per cent in 2012, according to the Family Justice Courts.
The number of divorce cases settled within the same year they were filed jumped to 74 per cent last year, up from 46 per cent in 2012, according to the Family Justice Courts. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Divorce cases are being handled more speedily, minimising the animosity between couples and the impact on children, while a proposed code of conduct has been launched to help family lawyers tackle difficult ethical issues.

The number of divorce cases settled within the same year they were filed jumped to 74 per cent last year, up from 46 per cent in 2012, said Judicial Commissioner Valerie Thean, Presiding Judge of the Family Justice Courts (FJC).

Speaking at the FJC's Work Plan Seminar on Monday (Feb 20), she added that the average time taken to handle each of these cases has shortened too, from 68.6 days in 2012 to 53.1 days last year.

Also, the average time taken for final judgment to be granted has reduced by a quarter from 155.2 days in 2012 to 114.6 days in 2016.

JC Thean attributed the more efficient process to new initiatives since the FJS's establishment in October 2014, such as the Individual Docketing System.

The system assigns selected categories of cases to designated judges so that they can be more familiar with the issues, manage the case from start to end, and ensure better outcomes for parties who may have multiple applications and proceedings in court.

JC Thean said the system will be extended to all divorce cases in the second half of this year, along with other initiatives such as a new Family Protection Centre, and an electronic case-management system for Personal Protection and Maintenance cases.

She said the improved statistics are the "work of the whole court working as a team" and how these changes also benefit the parties involved directly.

"At the centre of these initiatives is the distressed person before us. Divorce is the second-most stressful event, after the death of a spouse. There is also psychological research to show that typically persons who face an important issue for the first time, in an environment unfamiliar before them, are highly distressed," she added.

"These are our litigants at the Family Justice Courts. If we can give the process greater certainty, greater education, at a pace they find sensible, they will experience justice in a real and practical way."

JC Thean also announced moves to ensure a robust system is in place to help lawyers navigate difficult ethical issues faced based on competing demands in this area.

Changes to professional conduct rules to guide lawyers who deal in family law proceedings and safeguard clients' interest are being planned.

Among other things, the proposed rules require lawyers to advise clients about alternative ways to settle disputes and avoid conflict of interests among other things.

A month-long consultation exercise was launched on Monday to seek the views of the legal profession on the move together with the Law Society.