Lessons in parenting for separating couples

Programme will be mandatory from Dec for couples who cannot agree on divorce matters

A new mandatory parenting programme for parents who cannot agree on divorce matters will start in December, said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

The move is meant to protect the children of couples who want a divorce by giving parents a better idea of what divorce truly entails.

"We want them to go through this programme to realise what (divorce) will involve and how the children will be impacted, so that they will think about these issues," Mr Tan said. "I hope it will also trigger them to stop and reflect, and (say) perhaps: 'Let's recover our marriage and not take that step'."

The new requirement was one of the changes made to the Women's Charter in Parliament in March and comes as divorce rates have been on a generally upward trend.

A 2015 study by the Ministry of Social and Family Development found that 16.1 per cent of those who married in 2003 had their marriages dissolved by the 10th year, double the 8.7 per cent of the 1987 cohort.

Apart from their children's welfare, the programme will get parents to think through topics such as living arrangements and finances.

For now, it is required for non-Muslim parents who have not filed for divorce and have children below the age of 14. Muslims considering divorce have a similar programme in the Syariah Court.

The new programme requires parties in conflict to attend a two-hour session conducted by one of four divorce support specialist agencies.

They are the Care Corner Centre for Co-Parenting, Thye Hua Kwan Centre for Family Harmony, Help Family Service Centre, and PPIS As-Salaam Family Support Centre.

Mr Tan met representatives of the agencies yesterday for an update on their work in the past year.

These centres offer programmes that teach divorced parents co-parenting strategies, as well as equip children to manage their feelings about their parents' divorce.

Two have also started a programme that provides a safe space for children of divorcees to meet parents on either side. These deal with acrimonious divorce cases, and try to foster healthy relationships between parent and child.

Speaking on the positive impact of counselling, senior counsellor Cindy Loh, the centre manager at Care Corner, recalled a seven- year-old who came to them half a year after his parents' separation. "He had a lot of anger and insecurity and didn't know how to express his feelings," she said. Two years on, the boy is better adjusted. "We help by telling them that the divorce is not their fault, and that they will always be their parents' children."

Mr Tan told reporters that while strong families are important, marriages do break up and help is needed - especially for children - when they do.

"Invariably, divorces happen as well," he said. "I think the whole effort here isn't about making divorces easier, but it's really about supporting families at every stage."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2016, with the headline 'Lessons in parenting for separating couples'. Print Edition | Subscribe