Aware recommends reducing time bar for couples to seek divorce, supporting migrant spouses

Aware highlighted migrant spouses as a disadvantaged group when it comes to divorce. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) has advised 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.

These two were among recommendations the advocacy group made in a submission to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) on Thursday (June 3).

MSF began seeking public feedback on the concept of "amicable divorce" last month.

This comes as the Government considers introducing an option that would allow couples to divorce without citing a fault such as unreasonable behaviour or adultery and pinning blame on the other party for the marital breakdown.

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

Aware executive director Corinna Lim said: "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. We know women and men are marrying later in life and thus getting divorced later, too.

"Decreasing the time bar to a year, as we recommend, would give these individuals a chance to form another family unit sooner rather than later."

In another recommendation, Aware highlighted migrant spouses as a disadvantaged group when it comes to divorce.

Migrant spouses, Aware said, struggled to navigate the local legal system, obtain affordable legal aid and retain their right to reside in Singapore during divorce proceedings.

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

Aware suggested the Government could also automatically grant long-term visit passes to all migrant spouses of citizens and allow abused persons to renew their passes independently of their citizen spouses.

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

The women's rights group said that the courts should empower a separate body to enforce maintenance orders with more robust measures, and handle other related matters.

It also recommended that maintenance claims be made gender-neutral and strictly based on need, so that male spouses have equal rights to claim maintenance.

The advocacy group drew upon the experiences of clients at its Women's Care Centre and Sexual Assault Care Centre, as well as the professional insights of family lawyers for its submission.

Under the Women's Charter, which covers non-Muslim divorces, there are three fault based facts: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, and desertion.

In addition, there are two facts of separation: separation of three years with the spouse's consent and four years' separation without consent.

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

In April, The Straits Times reported that the new "amicable divorce" option comes at a time when a larger proportion of couples, especially among those who wed more recently, are splitting up.

For example, among couples who wed in 2006, 16 per cent ended their marriages before their 10th wedding anniversary - almost double the 8.7 per cent who wed in 1987.

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