Making the divorce process more amicable being considered

Aim is to make it less acrimonious, not easier, and it may lessen pain of children


The Government is considering introducing an option that allows couples to divorce without citing a fault such as unreasonable behaviour or adultery and pinning blame on the other party for the marital breakdown.

If such an option, termed "amicable divorce" by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), becomes law, it would mark a significant move to make the divorce process less acrimonious, and would have other benefits, family lawyers said.

Starting from yesterday, the MSF is seeking public feedback on the concept of "amicable divorce". In this proposed model, couples mutually consent to the divorce and do not have to cite any of the five facts that currently prove the grounds for an "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage".

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

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

The grounds for divorce and the five facts were introduced in 1980 when the Women's Charter was amended, an MSF spokesman said.

Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling said that 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, which sets them up in an adversarial relationship.

She added that the MSF has been engaging divorced parents and social service professionals working with divorcees in the past six months to understand how to better support those going through a divorce.

She said some of the feedback was that needing to cite fault in the divorce papers can cause couples to revisit the pain and acrimony, which can lead to further rifts.

"At the end of the day, we hope to make the divorce process less painful for couples who have decided to embark on divorce, despite their best intentions to save the marriage," said Ms Sun.

"At the same time, the MSF is also looking at pre-divorce support where we can best strengthen families and provide counselling services. We will try our very best to save marriages, as best we can."

With the proposed option, current safeguards will remain. For instance, couples have to be married for at least three years before they can file for divorce.

The aim is to reduce the acrimony in the divorce process and not to make divorce "easier", said the public consultation paper on the matter.

The five current facts for divorce will also remain for couples who prefer to cite them. And couples can still file as plaintiff or defendant.

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.

Lawyer Ivan Cheong said of the "amicable divorce" option: "It is very significant as this marks a transition to a truly 'no fault' basis divorce.

"This reduces the animosity and tension that would arise as it no longer assigns fault to the other party or results in a 'loss of face' that would be keenly felt from an Asian perspective, if a party is required to admit that he or she was the cause of the (marital) breakdown."

Fei Yue Community Services deputy executive director Arthur Ling said a more amicable split is important to help parents cooperate in their parenting roles post-divorce.

Mr Ling said: "Some people think that if we make it so easy (for couples to divorce), will it mean that we are minimising the value of marriage? My response to this is: Nobody gets married to be divorced.

"It's not about minimising the value of marriage. Rather, in a divorce where the children are in pain, how can we make the process (more) amicable?"

The MSF is also seeking views on whether to make programmes and services that help the child cope with the divorce compulsory, as parents asked for more support in this area.

The MSF spokesman said the current proposals are "exploratory", and the ministry will consider the feedback given from the public consultation exercise and "conduct further engagements with stakeholders before making legislative amendments".

• The public consultation exercise is published on MSF's website at You can e-mail your views to until June 3.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2021, with the headline Making the divorce process more amicable being considered. Subscribe