SINGAPORE - Muslim couples will now be able to solemnise their marriages online and go virtual for a host of other marriage-related matters under changes to the law.
Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said the new administrative processes will better equip Muslim institutions such as the Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM), Syariah Court and Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, or Muis, to deliver services effectively without disruption.
The changes, which include a move to digital options, will not replace the traditional solemnisation ceremony but will allow Muslims to get married online when the circumstances call for it, such as during the Covid-19 pandemic.
During a debate on changes to the Administration of Muslim Law Act, or Amla, in Parliament on Monday (Feb 14), Mr Masagos, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslims Affairs, said: "Digitalisation is necessary if our institutions are to provide relevant and effective support to the community. This became all the more salient with Covid-19.
"The pandemic necessitated new norms and habits we did not consider prior to 2020. We have learnt the importance of leveraging technology for contingencies, so that we can minimise disruptions to service delivery."
ROMM adopted video-link technology to allow marriage solemnisations to continue amid the pandemic. Similarly, the Syariah Court also adapted court processes to allow people to give evidence online.
Other changes to Amla will help improve the divorce process and better support children affected by divorce.
For instance, when the husband refuses to recognise the authority of the first appointed hakam, or arbitrator, a second one is appointed by the Syariah Court and the process has to restart.
With the new rules, the first hakam who was appointed can grant divorce even if the husband disputes his authority.
In divorce proceedings conducted by a hakam, Muslim couples are guided towards reconciliation or in cases where that is not possible, towards an amicable parting.
The changes also seek to remove the payment of fees as a condition for the registration of a divorce.
"This is so that no party can delay registration of a divorce already recognised by the court under Muslim law through the non-payment of fees," Mr Masagos said.
Similar to the recent amendments in the Women's Charter, the changes to Amla allow the Syariah Court to advise parents to give their child support through at the Programme for Children during the divorce process, just like the Family Justice Court.
Mr Masagos said: "The aim of these provisions, is to make sure that the best interests of the child are prioritised during the divorce process. This must be our objective for children of all marriages, whether civil or Muslim."
The amendments do not change the way Muslim law will continue to apply to Muslim marriages and divorces, he added.
Mr Masagos also addressed MPs' concerns on whether digital divorce proceedings could ensure a fair trial for vulnerable individuals and the enforcement measures to ensure children attend support programs.
Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) welcomed measures to support children affected by divorce and asked what would happen to parents whose children do not complete the course.
Ms Nadia Samdin (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said there was a need to put in place safeguards that would ensure the integrity and orderliness of divorce proceedings conducted online and cited the example of domestic abuse victims who could be facing intimidation.
"It is important to ensure that each party can express their case independently, fairly and completely with all relevant details," she said.
In cases where children do not complete the support programme, Mr Masagos said the court would take parents' non-compliance into consideration when deciding custody and child access matters.
In cases where virtual hearings may impact the fairness of proceedings, Mr Masagos said the Syariah Court might arrange for a physical hearing and would adopt alternative options only if needed.