Women's Charter 'to be reviewed'

Feedback on spousal maintenance 'among aspects for consideration'

FEEDBACK on spousal maintenance for men and other aspects of the Women's Charter would be considered, as part of a review to start within the next few months.

Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah revealed this yesterday, at the sidelines of a family justice seminar at the Supreme Court.

She did not give further details, but noted any recommendations on changes to this law that oversees marriage, divorce and maintenance issues "should not just be a name change".

Justice Choo Han Teck had recently suggested that the Women's Charter be renamed, and its scope broadened to reflect a more gender-neutral law. He decided last month to reject a woman's $120,000 lump sum maintenance claim from her former spouse, who earned less than she did.

Some family lawyers and social organisations had agreed with the judge's views.

Referring to the upcoming review, Ms Indranee said: "If you do something, you must do it for a reason and you must also carefully assess what kind of impact it will have."

She and Judge of Appeal V. K. Rajah chair the Committee for Family Justice, made up of members in the legal and social service sectors. It was set up last year to look into the handling of family disputes and recommend reforms to the family justice system.

The group had released recommendations for public consultation two weeks ago, such as the setting up of a new one-stop Family Justice Courts system to make the civil divorce process simpler.

This was the outcome of the first stage of the group's work which focused on the overall structure of the family justice system, said Justice Rajah.

The second stage would look into "specific aspects... such as issues concerning the enforcement of maintenance orders", including how to better make a distinction between those unable, and those unwilling, to pay maintenance.

Ms Indranee said there is no timeline for the recommendations to be implemented, but it would take "a number of years" as time is needed to recruit and train people, for instance.

At the seminar, attended by about 80 people from the legal and social service professions, presentations were made on the first set of recommendations.

A common issue raised, Ms Indranee said, was the need for a more all-round approach in assisting families, who may have a "mix of social, emotional, and legal issues" when they approach a family service centre for help.

She also pointed out that the recommendations to revamp the family justice system "is not about making divorces easier", but about recognising that not all marriages can be saved and helping such families move on.

Referring to the popular song from the animated film Frozen, she added: "There is a lesson for the families because the line in the refrain says 'let it go'. Sometimes, they can't let it go. With the family disputes, you're trying to teach them how to be able to resolve this and then move on."

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg