Getting deadbeat dads to pay up

Getting deadbeat dads to pay up

A faster, simple and more effective system to help former spouses get the maintenance owed to them is being planned, revealed Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

He did not provide details and said it "could take a year" before any changes are seen, as this is a complex issue. But he admitted that the current process for getting alimony defaulters to pay up is "not so easy".

"You need to take out a summons, you need to bring it to court, you got to say he didn't pay," Mr Shanmugam told Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao in an interview published yesterday.

"I'm trying to see whether it can be made even simpler... We are studying how we can make it more effective, faster and, at the end, we got to get the money for the person who's got the maintenance order."

Reviewing how maintenance orders are enforced is part of the "follow-through process" after the new Family Justice Act was passed early this month, said Mr Shanmugam. The landmark Act hopes to make divorce proceedings more streamlined and less expensive while putting the interests of children first.

Family lawyers who spoke to The Straits Times welcomed the news, saying a review of the alimony process is much needed because getting errant former husbands to pay up can be a long-drawn process, which sometimes ends with claimants empty-handed.

Currently, women have to go to court to enforce the maintenance order each time there is a default. This can take a toll, especially on those holding jobs, said family lawyer Rajan Chettiar. In some cases, the wife may even end up losing her job, he added.

Since 2009, the courts have received about 3,000 enforcement applications annually.

From 2008 to 2011, about half of those granted enforcement orders had to apply for at least another one within two years.

These multiple court visits could be done away with if there was an online filing system, said lawyer Malathi Das, who is also president of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations.

Another answer could be to set up a central administrative body for collection of maintenance payments, suggested Ms Jolene Tan, senior manager of programmes and communications at gender equality advocacy group Aware.

Locating defaulters who have moved abroad is another problem that needs tackling, added experts. Several also suggested introducing penalties for those who repeatedly pay late or default.

These could include restricting access to essential services, such as telephone or Internet services, and having to pay interest on maintenance arrears.

This article was first published on August 16, 2014.
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