More support for divorcing couples as Govt accepts review proposals

The committee had come up with suggestions to help strengthen the existing family justice system, reduce acrimonious disputes and achieve more positive family outcomes.
The committee had come up with suggestions to help strengthen the existing family justice system, reduce acrimonious disputes and achieve more positive family outcomes.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Couples going through a divorce will receive more support, and judges will get more power to prevent conflicts from dragging on.

The Government said yesterday it has accepted the wide-ranging recommendations by the Committee to Review and Enhance Reforms in the Family Justice System put forward in September last year.

The committee, formed in 2017, had come up with suggestions to help strengthen the existing family justice system, reduce acrimonious disputes and achieve more positive family outcomes.

These include giving judges more power to prevent conflicts from dragging on and inflicting more hurt on the children involved, such as by weeding out applications that have no merit, as well as beefing up the enforcement regime for child access orders.

The committee has proposed more tools, such as getting one parent to compensate the other in terms of make-up access time or to put up a performance bond. If the parent defaults on providing access, the bond may be forfeited or a fine can be imposed.

The Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Social and Family Development said in a joint statement yesterday that there had been wide support for many of the recommendations during a six-week-long public consultation last year.

Feedback was collected from members of the public and stakeholders in the legal and social service sectors, such as the Law Society, Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura (Singapore Muslim Women's Association) and the Association of Women for Action and Research.

The ministries said they will work with the Family Justice Courts, Divorce Support Specialist Agencies and other legal and social service sector partners to look into implementing the recommendations.

The recommendations and the subsequent acceptance by the ministries come in the face of more marital break-ups.

Statistics showed that by the 10th year of marriage, 17 per cent of those who married in 2005 had had their marriages dissolved, up from 12.2 per cent for those wed in 1995.

One recommendation by the committee was to strengthen support for couples before the divorce by setting up an online portal that gives couples information on housing and finance matters, so they are better prepared for the future when they go their separate ways.

 
 
 
 

A number of respondents in the public consultation said it was important for divorce support professionals to have financial counselling skills to help divorcing couples plan post-divorce finances, said the ministries.

A concern among respondents about the recommendations to promote compliance with child access orders - a common bugbear among couples - was that if a parent did not comply, the courts should order imprisonment or a fine with discretion and caution, and consider extenuating circumstances that delay a parent from handing over a child.

The Law Ministry said in response that it understood the need to consider exceptional circumstances and would consider the concerns in implementing the recommendations.

Outside of the committee's recommendations, some respondents suggested simplifying the maintenance enforcement process and for the Government to be more actively involved by setting up a maintenance collection or monitoring agency.

Both ministries said such an agency would not necessarily reduce non-payment of maintenance, but they would study how to improve the process through other methods.

Those interested in the full summary of the feedback can head to the website of either ministry.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2020, with the headline 'More support for divorcing couples as Govt accepts review proposals'. Print Edition | Subscribe