Call to ease housing rule for divorcees sharing care of kids

Divorced parents who share care and control of their children should each be allowed to list them as essential occupiers - a necessary step for them to be considered an eligible family unit for a subsidised Housing Board flat.

This suggestion was made by three MPs who, in a spirited discussion, sought help for a small group of divorcees caught in a bind.

Currently, divorcees granted shared care and control - a court ruling that divides day-to-day decision-making concerning a child between both parents - have to agree who gets to list the child as an essential occupier.

This requirement is "consistent and fair to all HDB flat owners where each person can only be listed in one HDB flat", Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Sun Xueling said.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who has been championing greater access to subsidised housing by divorcees, said the Housing Board's policy penalises divorced parents for a court ruling that is out of their hands.

He added that the rule does not gel with a change made earlier this year, when the Ministry of National Development removed a time bar that made divorcees wait three years before they can apply for a second subsidised flat.

"Aren't we back to square one?" he asked. Ms Sun replied that the HDB will "exercise flexibility" towards divorced couples who cannot reach an agreement.

Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) and Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) also lent their support. Ms Rahayu, a lawyer who handles divorces, said HDB's policy "does not gel with the principle of a shared care and control arrangement because parties have actually been ordered to allow the children to live with them".

Noting a rise in the number of his residents given shared care and control, Mr Yam suggested the ministry work closely with the Family Court to come up with housing policies that minimise disruption to parents and children.

Ms Sun disclosed that shared care and control comprised 4 per cent of all divorce care and control orders in 2016, and added: "The numbers speak for themselves."

She also said the ministry has to work independently as it cannot influence the court's decisions.

Rachel Au-Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2018, with the headline 'Call to ease housing rule for divorcees sharing care of kids'. Print Edition | Subscribe