Forum: Amicable divorce option does not lead to easier break-ups in practice

The discussion to introduce an option that allows couples to divorce amicably without requiring a spouse to put blame on the other is a clear step in the right direction (Making the divorce process more amicable being considered, May 3).

The Ministry of Social and Family Development's exploratory tone in managing the public consultation on the issue is also an enlightened one, given the potentially divisive emotions that such a discussion can stir.

People need to understand that the proposal does not make getting a divorce easier in practice.

As it is, based on the current law, couples who are determined to obtain a divorce by consent may find creative means of doing so, such as backdating the date of their separation to satisfy the statutory requirements for divorce.

A spouse can plead in the court papers the bare minimum allegations of unreasonable behaviour, which the other spouse would agree not to contest. After all, "unreasonable behaviour" is a subjective threshold that the courts generally do not police in detail.

Alternatively, some couples may seek to have the marriage annulled on the grounds of non-consummation.

An amicable divorce framework would allow parties to move forward with candour and minimal acrimony, with the hope that more thought and less emotion can be allocated to the key matters of matrimonial asset division, maintenance and childcare arrangements.

A "no-fault" divorce, of course, does not mean that no party is at fault. It really means that as a society, we empathise with those who have written an unfortunate chapter of their lives, and do not require them to wash their dirty linen in public.

It is also important to clear the misconception that a "no-fault" divorce framework would allow a spouse to evade his post-divorce financial and childcare responsibilities.

On these issues, there is no proposed change to the law, which already gives the courts broad powers to divide matrimonial assets, order maintenance and make decisions based on the children's best interests.

Any notion of moral decay due to the new framework is probably not well-founded and should be allayed by the realisation that this framework does not lead to easier divorces in practice, and that the same strong safeguards remain in place for financial and childcare matters.

Eugene Phua Weh Kwang

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