Saving marriages, shielding children

Saving marriages, shielding children

The new Family Justice Act which cleared Parliament last week brings a raft of moves to save marriages, if possible, and ease the pain, acrimony and cost a divorce entails.

But underpinning the landmark Act, which kicks in in the later part of the year, is a focus on shielding those who are often the most vulnerable - the children.

Said National University of Singapore law don Debbie Ong: "What comes up very clearly in the new family justice system is the renewed focus on the child's welfare.

"Often, parents in divorce proceedings find it difficult to fully appreciate the needs of the child. This includes the child's need to continue to have both parents in his life.

"We see so many custody contests where one parent tries to exclude the other in parenting the children."

Since 2011, when the Child Focused Resolution Centre was set up, it has been compulsory for divorcing parents to not litigate but mediate first. But that applied only to families with children aged below eight under the amended Women's Charter.

This was extended to children below 14 last year.

Later this year, this is expected to include children below 21 - a recognition that even young people can be affected when their parents split.

"An 18-year-old can be a junior college or polytechnic student, or in the army or whatever - but we should not assume he is fine," said family lawyer and mediator Helen Chia.

Lawyers believe some 80 per cent of divorce cases involve families with children.

They also point to the good success rates at the resolution centre which is run by the State Courts. By including more families, the hope is that more divorces will end amicably. At the centre, about eight out of every 10 cases involving child care and access issues are settled, according to lawyer Amolat Singh.

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