Parents who face problems seeing their children after a divorce are getting to spend time with them under the supervision of counsellors.
Last year, the Family Justice Courts (FJC) sent 112 families for supervised visitations and related services such as counselling, up from 81 families in 2015 and 79 families in 2014.
During a supervised visitation, the parent who lives with the child will drop him off at a social service centre specialising in handling divorce issues. These are called divorce support specialist agencies (DSSA). The other parent spends time with the child at the DSSA, under counsellors' supervision.
Such an arrangement minimises the potential for conflict between parents.
An FJC spokesman said more parents are opting for supervised visits as a result of greater awareness of the programme.
112 Number of families sent for supervised visitations and related services last year by the Family Justice Courts (FJC).
24 Number of sessions that are free for couples who are ordered by the FJC to use this service, and where at least one party is a Singaporean or a permanent resident.
The FJC and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) have been educating family lawyers and parents about it, while more lawyers are also recommending to the courts to place their clients on it.
Couples who are ordered by the FJC to use this service now do not have to pay, making it a more feasible option for more families.
It is free for up to 24 sessions for couples where at least one party is a Singaporean or a permanent resident.
In April last year, the MSF started funding two DSSAs - the Thye Hua Kwan Centre for Family Harmony @ Commonwealth and the Care Corner Centre for Co-Parenting - to handle court-ordered cases involving Singaporeans or PRs.
Before the MSF funding started, couples sent by the courts for the service had to pay. The THK Centre for Family Harmony @ Circuit currently charges $180 an hour on weekdays and $220 on Saturdays.
Family lawyers say parents who face persistent difficulties in seeing their children after the divorce could be sent for supervised visits. Their former spouses may have denied access or made it hard for them to spend time with their children, to get back at them for infidelity, money woes or other resentments.
Lawyer Rajan Chettiar said: "After the divorce, they don't see the children as 'our children' but as 'my children'. Access problems are the toughest to tackle."
So some parents have not seen their children for a few years, even though they have a legal right to see the children once a week.
Then, there are children who are "so influenced" by one parent that they refuse to have any contact with the other parent, the FJC spokesman said.
Lawyer Lim Chong Boon says visits supervised by a neutral third party work as they ease fears, for example, that the other parent may snatch the child away or abuse the child during the visits.
A businessman, who wanted to be known only as Andy, 43, did not see his children for six months. He said his former wife had cheated on him, left home with their two children and wanted a divorce. They fought over how often he could visit and she refused to open the door when he tried to visit.
He managed to spend time with his six-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl only when the court sent them for supervised visits at the THK Centre for Family Harmony @ Circuit.
He said: "My daughter was cold towards me at first but she gradually warmed up. I'm very thankful to have an avenue to meet, talk, play and bond with them."