Sparing kids the pain of split-ups

Couples planning to split up, especially those with children, will soon find it harder to do so.

On Monday, Parliament passed a law making it compulsory for such couples to attend a parenting programme when they cannot agree on matters such as co-parenting plans.

Another key change: men who cannot support themselves, due to illness or severe disability, can apply for maintenance from their former wives.

It is a significant move which has been called for for more than 20 years. Yet, the change that has a wider impact is the mandatory parenting programme. About 5,000 children (aged below 21) are involved in divorce cases each year.

The two-hour programme - to start in the last quarter of the year - must be taken before couples file for divorce. Initially, it will be for parents with at least one child younger than 14. It will later be extended to those with a child under 21. There will be several other steps to take before filing for divorce, too.

First, spouses who wish to split up will have to go to a website using SingPass, the password for which many people often forget.

Second, they need to go through online self-reflection questions about the impact of divorce on children. Then, if they still want to part and disagree on divorce matters, they must attend the parenting programme with a counsellor.

Currently, parents with children must attend mediation and counselling - but this is done after divorce. Social workers and lawyers say it is better for parents to consider children's interests early, before they battle it out in court. In fact, doing so could get divorcing couples to change their minds.

Already, Muslim couples must go for counselling before filing for divorce. It was reported last year that, since the counselling programme started in 2004, more than 40 per cent of the participants reconciled.

As the Chinese proverb xian ku hou tian - hard work comes before sweet rewards - suggests, having some hurdles before a divorce could save marriages and spare children the pain of a bitter break-up.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2016, with the headline 'Sparing kids the pain of split-ups'. Print Edition | Subscribe