Reconciliation process needs to be included in family justice system

Divorce has long-term adverse consequences on the individual and family, particularly when children are involved.
Divorce has long-term adverse consequences on the individual and family, particularly when children are involved. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

There has been much discussion about divorce in recent months, including whether an adversarial legal system is appropriate to resolve family conflict and post-divorce arrangements, such as care and control of and access to children.

While these are serious issues which demand an honest response from the courts, another area which requires attention is the lack of avenues for marital counselling and therapy, which couples facing marital problems can pursue.

Divorce in Singapore seems to have become a one-way street.

Once a divorce application has been filed, the adversarial nature of the family justice system literally "forces" a couple to slug it out in court.

Instead of minimising issues of contention, parties are encouraged to amplify these issues to gain an "upper hand".

In recent years, mandatory mediation has been introduced to the system, but the focus is on reaching a settlement on post-divorce issues, like care and control and maintenance, and not on healing or reconciliation.

Furthermore, with the involvement of lawyers, the process can often become unnecessarily protracted or even futile.

Divorce has long-term adverse consequences on the individual and family, particularly when children are involved.

Sometimes, a spouse may have been triggered by certain events and was too quick to file for divorce, or the couple may be acting under pressure from family and friends.

Without the contemplative buffer for parties to attempt marriage recovery, we run the huge risk of dissolving and breaking up families too quickly.

A strong and robust family justice framework must include mechanisms to allow couples to take a step back, attempt to resolve their differences and properly evaluate the consequences of their actions.

Rushing through a divorce without sufficient buffer for reconciliation or contemplation will only make our society poorer for it.

Patricia Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2019, with the headline 'Reconciliation process needs to be included in family justice system'. Print Edition | Subscribe