SINGAPORE - The number of divorces in Singapore is not expected to increase significantly with the introduction of divorce by mutual agreement (DMA) as a sixth fact of divorce.
Even with the introduction of DMA, a divorce process is not made "easier or faster" as it still requires parties to be married for at least three years and wait three months for their divorce to be finalised, said Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling.
She said this in response to queries from Workers' Party MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) and other MPs during a debate on a Bill to introduce amendments to the Women's Charter in Parliament on Monday (Jan 10).
Ms Lim had asked if there was a risk that divorces would become too easy with the introduction of DMA as the "requirements for divorce have been arguably relaxed".
She noted that DMA did not have time requirements like those stipulated for other facts such as adultery and unreasonable behaviour, where the offended spouse must not have continued to live with the offending spouse for more than six months after the last incident.
In her response, Ms Sun said the divorce process remains largely the same no matter which fact is cited, and that citing DMA requires individuals to make further submissions to the court, such as their efforts at reconciliation and their considerations on arrangements concerning their children or financial affairs.
"A balance must be struck between making it too difficult for couples to divorce and making it too easy to give up their commitment," Ms Sun said.
Sixteen MPs spoke during the debate on the Bill on Monday, raising concerns on whether DMA would effectively reduce acrimony between divorcing spouses and if the minimum three-year period for a couple to remain married was necessary.
Ms Carrie Tan (Nee Soon GRC) asked if couples in some cases should be allowed to divorce before the three-year mark.
She cited cases where "individuals may find out intolerable issues about their spouse only after marriage, such as chronic infidelity, a tendency towards violence that surfaces after the honeymoon period, or history of debilitating financial debt that renders a marriage unreasonably difficult".
While there is currently a clause allowing for divorce before the three-year mark in cases of "exceptional hardship", Ms Tan noted that is was a subjective interpretation.
In her response, Ms Sun said the three-year minimum period was important to ensure that couples do not enter or exit a marriage lightly, and the time would allow couples to adjust, seek help and overcome difficulties in their marriage.
Responding to questions by Mr Lim Biow Chuan, Mr Ang Wei Neng, Mr Melvin Yong and Mr Yip Hon Weng on how DMA differs from "no-fault" divorce in other jurisdictions, Ms Sun noted that DMA requires parties to give a reason for the breakdown of their marriage, prove reconciliation efforts, and lay down considerations about children and financial matters.
Ms Hany Soh (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) asked what type of reasons are accepted to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down under DMA.
In response, Ms Sun cited reasons such as a deep-seated difference in values, where the intention was to avoid blaming only one party.
Regarding acrimony between divorcing spouses, Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) noted that DMA still requires parties to state in writing why they believe their marriage has irretrievably broken down.
"When parties have to cite the reasons for concluding that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, it is inevitable that there would be some accusations against the other... Parties could still fight tooth and nail regarding custody, care and control over the children, they fight over the division of assets and they also fight over maintenance," he said.
While acknowledging that some couples would face acrimony in their divorce proceedings even with DMA, Ms Sun said "providing the option for parties to jointly take responsibility rather than pinning the blame solely on one party would more likely set the frame and mindset for a less acrimonious and conflictual process".
This in turn could lead them to be more amicable when deciding ancillary matters like custody of children and financial assets, she added.
Noting the impact of family law on families and individuals, Ms Mariam Jaafar (Sembawang GRC) asked if the Government would consider putting in place accreditation, standards and monitoring processes for professionals working in family law such as judges and counsellors.
Ms Sun replied that the amendments to the Women's Charter seek to strengthen therapeutic justice in the family justice system, and the Government is working with the Family Justice Courts to include monitoring standards, processes and complaints. She added that professionals are subject to their respective codes of practice.
Under therapeutic justice, the law is seen as a social force that can produce helpful or harmful consequences, and encourages practitioners to consider emotional, social and psychological aspects of the law.