Divorce cases are being handled more speedily, minimising the animosity between couples and the impact on children even as the family courts retool their processes and schemes to create a more robust future-ready system.
The number of divorce cases settled within the year they were filed jumped to 74 per cent last year, up from 46 per cent in 2012, said Judicial Commissioner Valerie Thean, Presiding Judge of the Family Justice Courts (FJC).
Speaking at the FJC's Work Plan 2017 seminar yesterday, she noted that the average time taken to handle each case has shortened too, from 68.6 days in 2012 to 53.1 last year. The average time taken for final judgment to be granted has also been reduced by a quarter from 155.2 days in 2012 to 114.6 last year.
The process was speedier even though there were a total of 6,301 cases filed last year, 380 more than in 2015. They involved custody over 4,834 children.
The FJC is also looking at possible new laws together with other agencies that would stop one parent breaching court orders and taking the children out of the country without the consent of the other.
Judicial Commissioner Thean attributed the better efficiency to new initiatives from the FJC, which was set up in October 2014, such as the Individual Docketing System.
Number of divorce cases filed last year - 380 more than in 2015.
Number of kids involved in custody cases linked to divorce last year.
Family Justice Courts on the case
Initiatives by the Family Justice Courts include:
•More to be trained as parenting coordinators to help parties focus on children post-divorce or in a post-separation conflict resolution process.
•Extending court docket system to manage all divorce cases where parties at the outset say they want to contest the divorce.
•Amend Legal Profession ( Professional Conduct) Rules to guide lawyers in family proceedings to navigate ethical issues.
•Looking into establishing a rule-based child maintenance table to help judges decide quantums and ensure parity in awards.
•New IT system called Fams to file applications electronically in relation to personal protection orders.
•Upgraded one-stop Family Protection Centre.
•Studying new stop-order laws to prevent parent leaving country with child in breach of court orders.
•Joint research with the National Institute of Education on the outcomes of 300 families who underwent counselling and mediation at the Family Dispute Resolution Division.
The system assigns selected categories of cases to designated judges so that they can be more familiar with the issues, manage the case from start to end, and ensure better outcomes for parties who may have multiple applications and proceedings in court. She said the system will be extended to all divorce cases in the second half of the year.
Other FJC measures include a new Family Protection Centre where family violence applicants can be handled in a more private and calming environment and an electronic case-management system for personal protection and maintenance cases.
Teamwork boosts family courts' efficiency
The new docketing system will allow applications to be filed electronically and integrated with the divorce and Youth Court's electronic systems so cases are handled in a more holistic way.
Her speech, presented to an audience that included Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Justice See Kee Oon, stressed FJC's role in meeting the various needs of families embroiled in legal disputes.
There can be complex issues in joint parenting. In one case, a child was caught between his father, who had a hoarding illness, and his mother, who felt it threatened the son's living environment. Counselling, taken through FJC's Child Inclusive Dispute Resolution (CIDR) scheme, helped the child understand the divorce was not his fault, and his parents to understand their conflict caused him great distress.
Last year, in 80 per cent of 62 cases when CIDR was applied, "some or all children's issues were settled". Judicial Commissioner Thean credited the improved statistics to the whole court working as a team to enact changes that benefit the parties involved directly.
Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar lauded court-mandated counselling and mediation by court judges for divorcing couples with children as instrumental to a speedier resolution. "The presence of a judge-mediator lends authority," he said.
•Additional reporting by Tay Hong Yi