Aware, Focus on the Family respond on 'amicable divorce'

One calls for reducing time bar to one year, the other fears changes would see divorces go up

Advocacy group Aware has recommended reducing the minimum period stipulated before couples can seek divorce to one year as well as giving more support to divorcing migrant spouses navigating the legal system.

Another group, Focus on the Family, is asking the Government to consider extending the existing Mandatory Parenting Programme for divorcing couples to those who are still contemplating divorce.

They made the recommendations last week following the Ministry of Social and Family Development's call for public feedback on plans for a "amicable divorce" last month. The Government is studying the option of allowing couples to divorce without citing faults such as unreasonable behaviour or adultery, and pinning blame for the breakdown of the marriage.

Aware said reducing the time before couples can seek divorce from three years to two or one year would be in line with what is done in countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

"We understand the Government's desire to protect the institution of marriage and not make divorce easy but we urge a reconsideration of the three-year time bar," said Aware executive director Corinna Lim. "Women and men are marrying later in life and thus getting divorced later, too. Decreasing the time bar to a year... would give these individuals a chance to form another family unit sooner rather than later."

Aware also noted that migrant spouses are a disadvantaged group when it comes to divorce. It said they struggle to navigate the legal system, get affordable legal aid, and retain their right to reside here during divorce proceedings.

Measures to help divorcing migrant spouses include providing low or pro bono legal aid and helplines, an online information portal, and information sessions.

Aware suggested that long-term visit passes be automatically granted to all migrant spouses of citizens, and abused individuals be allowed to renew their passes independently of their citizen spouses.

On maintenance, Aware said nearly three in four family lawyers it surveyed reported that their clients had dealt with former partners who did not comply even when court orders were enforced.

It suggested the courts empower a separate body to enforce maintenance orders more robustly, and recommended that maintenance claims be made gender-neutral and strictly based on need, so that male spouses have equal rights to claim maintenance.

Under the proposed "amicable divorce" model, the couple could jointly file for divorce without the need for one to be the plaintiff and the other the defendant.

Meanwhile, Focus on the Family raised concerns about "amicable divorce", saying the current system already allows for such a divorce except that the couple must live apart for three or four years.

One reason for the stipulated period of separation is to allow more time to work out relationship issues instead of prematurely or carelessly calling it quits. Such families could lose a chance for restoration under the "amicable divorce" option, it said. "The number of individuals such a system could potentially benefit is unclear. Its ability to reduce acrimony is also unclear. Just because no fault is stated in court documents does not mean no fault is committed, perceived or remembered."

Even when a quick divorce is the best option, a targeted solution for such cases is needed instead of a blanket amendment of the current law, which may lead to unintended consequences of increasing and speeding up divorces, it added. It said research shows children from divorced families continue to fare badly as long as their parents remain locked in conflict.

Focus on the Family said what is key is making sure parents are equipped with constructive conflict resolution skills - whether or not they get divorced in the end.

It added that it supported the ministry's recommendation of having all parents of children under the age of 21, including parents on the simplified uncontested divorce track, attend the Mandatory Parenting Programme before filing a divorce application.

And it proposed extending the programme to those contemplating but have yet to file a divorce.

"Parents need to be made aware of both the impact of a high-conflict home and of divorce on their children, reminded of their responsibilities as adults, and given practical handles on how to effectively resolve conflict and help their child grieve the change in family relationships while continuing to provide stable and loving relationships for them," it said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 06, 2021, with the headline 'Aware, Focus on the Family respond on 'amicable divorce''. Subscribe