Measures proposed to strengthen child access orders for divorced couples

Currently, less than 2 per cent of children affected by their parents' divorce attend the Children-in-Between programme. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A raft of new measures proposed in the Women's Charter will allow the authorities to better enforce orders when people deny their former spouses access to their children after divorce.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) on Monday (Nov 1) proposed measures to enforce child access orders, including counselling, educating couples on parenting and co-mediation, where two or more mediators work together to help parties resolve their dispute.

Harsher measures include compensation for time and expenses, for instance, if a parent paid for holiday accommodation or travel fare for their children but was deprived of child access by their former spouse.

The measures also include performance bonds and security pledges, and in certain cases, fines or imprisonment.

The issue has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, when movement between households posed a risk of infection transmission.

A report by The Straits Times in April last year found that former spouses were facing more difficulties in meeting their children and fulfilling their maintenance order commitments during this period.

Divorcing couples and their children may also get more help with parenting and emotional needs as the Government considers expanding divorce support programmes.

Another proposed amendment will make it mandatory for parents with minor children to attend the Mandatory Parenting Programme before they can file for divorce.

Currently, only couples who are divorcing under the Standard Track, where they are contesting their divorce, have to attend the programme.

The changes will also empower the courts to advise relevant individuals, such as grandparents who are primary caregivers to the children of divorcing parties, to participate in parenting programmes and to advise that minors participate in programmes for children.

Currently, less than 2 per cent of children affected by their parents' divorce attend the Children-in-Between programme, which helps both parent and child cope better with the impact of the divorce.

Some attend this programme voluntarily, while others are sent by the courts.

Fewer than 200 children attend this programme each year - a fraction of the number who are affected by divorce.

In 2019, there were about 6,700 children under the age of 21 whose parents divorced.

The Government will also suggest changes to strengthen the enforcement of maintenance orders in Singapore under proposed amendments to the Family Justice Act next year.

These include enabling the courts to adopt a more "inquisitorial approach" - an active, investigative role - when hearing enforcement applications. This could include asking parties to submit documents such as salary slips.

Beyond legal and procedural reforms, MSF said it would also look at cases involving former spouses who find it difficult to pay the stipulated maintenance amount and offer them support.

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