The Family Justice Court (FJC)'s move to introduce new rules to prevent international child abduction by a divorcing parent is a positive step in considering the psychological well-being of children in the divorce process.
However, it is pertinent to note that this is an issue which concerns a small percentage of children affected by divorce in Singapore every year (Move to stop child abduction by a parent; Jan 20).
While implementing this new rule, the authorities should also be mindful of negative complications which may arise, and ensure that it does not unduly create more areas of conflict for the thousands of other divorce cases which currently present no such risk.
They should take the following steps to prevent its misuse:
First, divorce cases can stretch over several years, and in our current adversarial court system, problems associated with it often persist for many years after.
This new rule introduced must not be indiscriminately used by a vindictive and unreasonable parent, or their lawyers, to prevent the other parent from taking the child overseas on vacation or to visit friends and relatives.
Its application should be restricted to only instances where there is a real risk of permanent international abduction.
Second, the process to seek and enforce such a court order should be navigable by the layman and should not have to be applied through lawyers.
Given the outcry over lawyers' fees, and to ensure equal access, the FJC has an obligation to ensure that its services and rules when implemented do not add layers of bureaucracy, but rather simplify procedures to efficiently achieve intended outcomes.
Also, divorce and other family-related disputes are often sensitive personal matters, and parties naturally want and have a right to keep them private.
With the sharing of private and personal information across agencies, that is, with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, and via unsecured e-mail and paper forms, what measures are in place to protect the privacy and security of said information?
Ian Chan Eng Kiat