SINGAPORE - While allowing couples to divorce amicably would help them avoid conflict, more can be done to strengthen marriages and settle marital disputes at the outset, said religious leaders here.
Leaders from the Christian, Taoist, Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu communities said the proposed changes to the Women's Charter to introduce divorce by mutual agreement could help parties move on in life with fewer adverse consequences and reduce the detrimental effect divorce has on children.
Reverend Dominic Yeo, general superintendent at the Assemblies of God Singapore, said the church would make efforts to provide counselling and guidance to couples so they could work through their differences and be better parents.
"Marital breakdown brings devastating consequences for the couple and their children. While the Women's Charter amendments to divorce aim to lessen the acrimony between (parties), we, the church, must make every effort to help struggling couples work through their differences and towards restoration," he said.
Reverend Yeo also noted that in cases of divorce by mutual agreement, the court can also reject the couple's agreement if there is possibility of reconciliation.
"It is reassuring that the court will not grant the divorce if it believes that there is a reasonable chance for the couple to reconcile," he said.
First vice-chairman of the Taoist Federation (Singapore) Ling Kin Huat said marriage preparation courses and seeking help to resolve disputes were important to strengthen marriages.
"We are unable to predict how the proposed change will affect the possibility of divorce, but if we are looking from the perspective of the social cost incurred from the divorce disputes and the emotional cost on the parties involved, it would likely be beneficial," he said.
The federation is organising its first "Marital First Responder" training for the Taoist community next month, helping participants identify and resolve marital disputes.
Sikh Advisory Board chairman Malminderjit Singh noted that citing fault on the part of one spouse such as adultery and unreasonable behaviour, instead of taking joint responsibility for the divorce, could cause the parties to be stigmatised by society and affect the children as well.
He said: "It is important to note and distinguish that these amendments do not make it easier for couples in Singapore to seek divorce and therefore weaken the institution of marriage. That would be a misconception. Rather, they are designed to reduce the acrimony and pain often found in the divorce process.
"I am sure community organisations will step forward to assist in these counselling and mediation processes, drawing on faith-based teachings to achieve the best mutual outcomes."