Divorces will be resolved more effectively and less painfully as the authorities accepted recommendations for a new family justice system. The interests of children at the centre of a divorce will also be further protected, based on the proposals of a committee to help families going though a troubled marriage.
A key aim is to move proceedings away from an adversarial approach, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah yesterday.
The two main thrusts of the recommendations were to save marriages where possible and, for those who end up getting a divorce, to make the court process less painful for them.
"I don't think you're going to have a situation where it's painless or you're going to avoid emotional trauma, but the idea is that the court process should not make things worse, especially emotionally," said Ms Indranee, co-chair of the inter-agency Committee for Family Justice, at a press conference.
In its report, the committee found that distressed families may not know where to turn to for help.
Frontline personnel at hospitals and family service centres should thus be trained to identify and refer them to the appropriate agencies, it suggested.
The committee also recommended setting up divorce support specialist agencies, adding to the three existing family violence specialist agencies.
More importantly, the interests of the children must be utmost in a marital break up.
Before parties with minor children can file for divorce, they have to go through a pre- filing consultation, suggested the committee.This session - mandatory unless the couple can agree on issues such as custody - aims to help parents understand how a divorce will impact their children.
The committee also recommended that a new body of courts, known as the Family Justice Courts, be established.
This will comprise the existing family division of the High Court, and the Family Court and Juvenile Court, which are part of the State Courts. It will be headed by the Presiding Judge of the Family Justice Courts. The Juvenile Court should also be renamed to the more neutral Youth Court. A Family Justice Bill to establish this new structure will be tabled in Parliament next week.
Also, in high-conflict cases involving custody and access, the court should be empowered to appoint a child representative to be the child's independent voice in court.