Forum: Changes to family justice system must put child first

The recent recommendations put forth by the Committee to Review and Enhance Reforms in the Family Justice System can be bolstered in some ways.

Since the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Social and Family Development surmised that a maintenance collection agency may not reduce evasion of maintenance (More support for divorcing couples as Govt accepts review proposals, Feb 25), perhaps the Ministry of Manpower could be roped in to dock a non-complying party's income - before he receives it - to proactively secure the funds. For cases involving foreign spouses, agreements with other jurisdictions could be explored to make maintenance orders enforceable across borders.

Furthermore, in seeking maintenance orders, there are often hefty legal costs incurred. Those who irresponsibly shirk their financial obligations in the first place should be held liable for these and other costs. This would serve as a deterrent to others.

The Ministry of Law is being astutely cautious in highlighting the need to consider extenuating circumstances before imprisoning or fining one parent who defaults on providing the other with child access. These circumstances could include families with problems of domestic violence, drug abuse and alcohol abuse, where subjecting a child to unsupervised visitation could present untoward risks.

This is not to say visitation needs must be denied, but treatment to address substance abuse, anger management and other problems could be ordered, along with supervised visitation to ensure an environment safe and comfortable for the child.

In guarding against frivolous personal protection order applications, care must also be taken against mechanically attributing falsity to allegations of abuse that arise during divorce.

Family law touches the most intimate and vulnerable fabric of people's lives.

Lawyers who foment acrimony for commercial profit should be counselled, while those who demonstrably show care towards the child should be recognised. Such recognition is more credible than sponsored rankings. Public guidelines on spotting fake reviews will also benefit those seeking a family lawyer.

With enduring dialogue between the Government and those who have been in the trenches of the process, we can all contribute towards designing a child-centric legislative framework that will both mitigate the suffering and improve the well-being of children.

Lily Ong

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