Stories differ inside and outside court

It appears that divorcees tell a different story in and out of court when asked why they broke up.

One in four respondents cited adultery as the main reason for their divorce, going by a survey of about 130 divorcees presented last month by Dr Jessica Leong .

This figure is similar to official data on Muslim divorces, but contradicts that of non-Muslim divorces.

Figures from the Department of Statistics show that for non-Muslim divorces last year, only 1 per cent of the plaintiffs cited adultery as the main reason for divorce.

Instead, over half said they split due to "unreasonable behaviour" during divorce proceedings. And 45 per cent split because the couple "lived apart or were separated for three years or more", while 2 per cent cited "desertion" as the main reason.

Dr Leong's survey figures on the main reasons for divorce could be closer to the truth.

Lawyers told The Straits Times that a person filing for divorce usually finds it too costly to prove that the partner had committed adultery. He must usually hire a private investigator, who will give a report of his surveillance findings, and the investigator may need to appear in court. The person with whom the adultery took place must also be named as a co-defendant, and some people do not know the name of the third party in the marriage.

Lawyer Michelle Woodworth said: "The difficulty in obtaining the evidence and the costs in doing so are key considerations for clients making a decision against citing the fact of adultery. Often, a plaintiff may choose to proceed on the fact of behaviour instead."

Another lawyer, Mr Rajan Chettiar, said people may also not mention adultery because of their ego. "Men may feel that they 'lose face' if they tell the court that their wives had an affair with another man."

The 134 divorcees surveyed were asked to give "one specific personal example or event to illustrate the main indicator leading to the divorce". Six of them did not answer.

The question was an open-ended one, and responses were then classified into several categories such as relation problems, including "loss of love" and conflicts with in-laws (14 per cent), and communication problems (13 per cent).

Respondents were also asked to select, from a list of 18 options, the factors that contributed to their marital instability.

There were gender differences.

Nearly half the men said nagging or complaining contributed to the broken marriage, while only 27 per cent of women said so. About 56 per cent of men said "loss of love" was a factor, while only 38 per cent of women said so.

Mr Joel Chua, who attended Dr Leong's presentation and has had over a year of experience as an intern counsellor, said: "Men are emotional creatures too, just that they may not be as expressive about it."

They could feel a loss of affection with their ex-spouse, and the lack of sexual intimacy may play a part.

"Some men have mentioned, without being asked, that there was less sexual intimacy with their spouses when there was more tension in their marriages," added Mr Chua.

Counsellors said it was also important for couples to communicate well, in away that is mutually respectful. Dr Leong suggested more public education in pre-tertiary and tertiary schools, when people tend to start dating.

"We can teach respect and trust in relationships, and they can bring these values to marriage later on," she said. "They may even identify indicators of troubled marriage and... alert their parents to blind spots they may have in their marriages."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2015, with the headline 'Stories differ inside and outside court'. Print Edition | Subscribe