Break-ups soon after marriage at 20-year high

Sharp jump in annulments between inter-ethnic couples last year; lawyers say many are Viet brides

The number of marriages that ended barely before they began hit a 20-year high last year. PHOTO: ST FILE

The number of marriages that ended barely before they began hit a 20-year high last year.

The 2014 statistics on marriages and divorces released by the Department of Statistics last month showed a rise in annulments between inter-ethnic couples but it did not state nationality.

But lawyers who noted the increase told The Sunday Times they have been seeing swift break-ups between Singaporean Chinese men and their foreign wives, especially Vietnamese women.

There were 446 annulments under the Women's Charter last year - up 14 per cent from 392 in 2013.

Of the annulments last year, 131 were between inter-ethnic couples, or 29 per cent. That was a sharp jump from just 20 inter-ethnic annulments in 2004, or 6 per cent.

  • 446

    Number of annulments under the Women's Charter last year, up 14 per cent from 392 in 2013


    Number of annulments between inter-ethnic couples last year, a sharp jump from just 20 in 2004

Lawyers who have dealt with Singaporean men annulling their marriages to Vietnamese women say many of the women left their husbands from within a few days to a few months of getting married.

The men claimed their brides had denied them sex and applied to declare their marriage null and void on the grounds of non-consummation.

Lawyer Raymond Lim said many of these marriages soured because of money.

"The Vietnamese women say they feel cheated because they were led to believe that their husbands would give them a good life, but the men turned out to be poor," he said. "So they start quarrelling a few days after registering their marriage and refuse to have sex with their husbands."

The men tend to be middle-aged to elderly blue-collared workers, and the Vietnamese brides just in their 20s.

Lawyer Lim Chong Boon said some of the women walked out on their husbands without any warning. "The men are bewildered about why their wives ran off so quickly, without giving their marriage a chance," he said.

Lawyer Lee Terk Yang suspects some of the Vietnamese women married Singaporeans only to stay here longer. Those in the know say the women involved in such sham marriages are often working in the vice trade.

As for Singaporean couples whose marriages end swiftly, lawyers said some choose annulment over divorce as a quicker way out.

A couple can apply to annul their marriage, which means to have it declared invalid, any time after registering it. But for divorce, they must have been married for at least three years. Lawyers said that only in exceptional cases where there is grave hardship - for example when there is spousal abuse - can a party seek the court's permission to divorce without waiting three years.

Lawyer Gloria James-Civetta said many couples seeking annulment already had problems before getting hitched but went ahead because their wedding had been planned, they had had applied for a flat or felt too invested in the relationship to call it off. "But shortly after the wedding, they realised they were not compatible," she said. "Or they have someone else and want out."

The most common reason couples give for seeking annulment is non-consummation.

Ms James-Civetta had one unusual case where a professional in her 20s only found out after getting married that her husband was homosexual. He kept putting off having sex and she later discovered he had a male partner.

Though not common, there have been couples who broke up because one spouse was incapable of having sex, or the woman was pregnant with another man's child.

Lawyer Shone Aye Cheng had a client, a professional in his 30s, who suspected newborn baby was not his. When a paternity test confirmed his suspicion, he annulled his marriage.

A 35-year-old businessman who declined to be named told The Sunday Times his marriage to a Chinese national unravelled in just a year.

He met the 32-year-old finance professional from Shanghai on one of his business trips to China and they dated for more than a year before they got married in 2013.

Then when she backed out of her promise to move to Singapore, they began quarrelling and she wanted to end the marriage.

"She became cold towards me and refused to have sex," he said. "I was so depressed as I didn't know what went wrong. This marriage has been a nightmare."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 16, 2015, with the headline Break-ups soon after marriage at 20-year high. Subscribe