Sometimes “till death do us part” does not happen and marriage breakdown may happen. Divorce can be a costly affair. Here’s what you need to know about the process and cost of getting a divorce in Singapore.
Note: The following information only applies for civil marriages in Singapore for divorces filed under Family Court. If you are married under Muslim Law, you must file for divorce in the Syariah Court Singapore.
What are the grounds of getting a divorce in Singapore?
To file for a divorce, the marriage needs to be more than 3 years. If the marriage is less than 3 years, consider an annulment instead. An annulment is a legal ruling which means that the marriage is voided and is considered as having never occurred.
Do note that there are specific conditions for an annulment to be granted.
In Singapore, the only legal ground for a divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and there are five ways to demonstrate to the court that this has happened:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Desertion of 2 years
- Separation of 3 years with spouse’s consent
- Separation of 4 years
|Reason for marriage breakdown||What does it mean?||How to prove it?|
|Adultery||If the spouse cheats by having sexual relations outside of marriage, and is intolerable to live with him/her||Evidence of the act (or intention of) including videos, photographs, SMS/ email exchanges, etc.|
|Unreasonable behaviour||If the spouse inflicts physical or mental abuse, or has behaved in a manner that one cannot reasonably be expected to live with him/her.||Evidence of any act, active or passive; or failure to act, of the spouse|
|Desertion of 2 years||If the spouse has left you against your wishes and completely rejected the marital relationship.||Evidence of deserting spouse’s intention, and physical separation.|
|Separation of 3 years with spouse’s consent (uncontested) or 4 years, if otherwise||If you and your spouse have been living separately at different addresses, or at the same address but maintaining different households||Evidence of the intention of both parties to be apart and end the right to companionship and marital association.|
In 2018, unreasonable behaviour of spouse was cited as the top main reason for divorce by 59.5 per cent of wives, while separation was the top main reason for 52.1 per cent of husbands.
While “irreconcilable differences” may be a reason for divorce as seen on the media and is legally valid in the US, it is not a valid legal basis for divorce in Singapore.
Do consult a divorce lawyer for a better understanding of each reason and how it would apply to your personal situation. For example, it may be easier to prove unreasonable behaviour than to prove adultery if you suspect your spouse is having an affair but do not have full evidence of the adultery.
Additionally, it is recommended that you and your spouse seek marriage counselling before making the decision to divorce.
The legal process and cost of a divorce proceeding
There are two main stages of a divorce proceeding: the Interim Judgement and the Final Judgement.
The court will grant the Interim Judgement if it determines that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and the marriage is dissolved. Once that is granted, the second stage is when ancillary matters are decided.
Ancillary matters include all other matters including division of marital assets, child custody and maintenance.
The Final Judgement is granted after ancillary matters are resolved.
The process can take two routes: uncontested or contested.
An uncontested divorce is when both parties mutually agree to all issues in their divorce. It’s much simpler and faster since the court does not need to intervene in the division.
In a contested divorce, the spouse may contest both the reason of divorce and the ancillary matters, and the court will make the final determination.
|Uncontested Divorce||Contested Divorce|
|– File the Writ of Divorce, and the supporting documents – A hearing date will be given within 4 to 6 weeks of filing the documents.||– Spouse contests by filing a Memorandum of Appearance (MOA) within 8 days of receiving your documents, and a Defence (or a Defence and Counterclaim) within 14 days after the deadline to file his/her MOA. – The court may require you and your spouse to attend mediation and counselling to come to an amicable settlement. – During this stage, the divorce may change from contested to uncontested if both parties can come to agreement.|
|Court grants the Interim Judgement.|
|Settle the Ancillary Matters if not yet agreed upon. This would include a plan for mortgages and properties, division of marital assets, custody, care and control and access of children and maintenance if any. – Wait for 3 months after the grant of the – Interim Judgment or the conclusion of the Ancillary Matters to apply for the Final Judgement.||– The court may require you and your spouse to attend further mediation sessions if you and your spouse are unable to agree on Ancillary Matters. – Both parties file an Affidavit of Means (AOM) to disclose all assets/liabilities, income and expenditure. – If the net value of assets is more than $1.5 million, the case will be transferred to the High Court and be heard there. – This process may be lengthy if both parties cannot come to an agreement.|
|Final Judgement and conclusion of divorce proceeding.|
An uncontested divorce will take at least 4 months and typically costs between $1,200 (for no children, no property, no maintenance) to $2,900 in legal fees.
This is just the legal fees for the divorce proceeding and does not include the legal fees for the settlement of ancillary matters, such as HDB or property settlement which is a separate process.
Estimated cost for uncontested divorce: $1,200 to $2,900.
A contested divorce will take at least 18 months to conclude. Depending on the amount of contention, the process can drag out even longer. The legal fees are charged by the hours and will vary greatly, depending on your lawyer and the duration of the process.
Estimated cost for contested divorce: $10,000 and onwards.
If you are unable to afford to hire a lawyer, you may wish to apply for help at the Legal Aid Bureau. The Legal Aid Bureau will be able to ascertain if you qualify for legal aid based on means test and merits test.
What are counted as marital assets?
A major consideration of divorce is the division of marital assets. Marital assets include the following:
- All assets bought during the course of the marriage;
- Assets bought before the marriage by one or both parties and used by both parties and their children while the parties are living together; or
- Assets bought before the marriage by one or both parties which has been substantially improved during the marriage by either or by both parties.
Examples of marital assets include the marital home, family car, insurance policies, shares, cash savings, Central Provident Funds (CPF) and jewellery – all of which can potentially be divided between the parties in the event of a divorce.
Assets that are considered as exempted matrimonial assets are gifts or inheritance to one of the parties, unless the gift is the matrimonial home, or it has been substantially improved by one or both parties.
How will the assets be divided?
While it may be common perception that marital assets are divided 50/50, this is not necessarily true. The court’s decision on the division depends on various factors:
- The extent of contributions each party has made in terms of money, property or work towards acquiring, improving or maintaining the matrimonial assets
- Any debt owing or obligation incurred or undertaken by either party for their joint benefit of any child of the marriage
- The extent of contributions each party has made towards the family’s welfare, such as looking after the home or caring for the family or any aged relative dependent on either party
- Any agreement between the parties with respect to the ownership and division of matrimonial assets made in contemplation of divorce, such as the deed of separation
- The assistance given by one party to the other (this can be material or immaterial), including assistance that helps the other party to carry out his job or business
- Any period of rent-free occupation or other benefit enjoyed by one party in the matrimonial home to the exclusion of the other party;
- The children’s needs
- The marriage’s length
- Each party’s financial needs
A general rule of thumb is the longer the length of marriage, the more weight non-financial contributions have in the division of marital assets. The presence of children and the custody, care and control of them is another major factor.
Do consult a divorce lawyer for a clearer assessment of your contribution and right in the division of assets.
Piecing together your finances after divorce
Now that the divorce is concluded, you also need to separate your finances. Here is a checklist of financial tasks after divorce:
- Settle the necessary assets division in accordance to the Final Judgement. This can include cash savings, stock counters, investments, property sale or transfer.
- Close any joint accounts or convert them to single accounts if needed.
- Terminate or transfer any GIRO links or recurring credit card payments that are not yours.
- Terminate or transfer any recurring subscriptions or set up new ones to replace them.
- Update your insurance and CPF nominations as they are not automatically included in your will or updated in accordance with intestate laws.
- Review your insurance needs.
- Review your retirement plans.
Regardless of whether the divorce was contested or uncontested, the division of marital assets is likely to disrupt your finances. Post-divorce is the time to take charge of your finances, especially if you had relied on your spouse in the past.
While it may be daunting, especially if you have never done this before, having a clear plan of your finances will set you up for life after divorce.
This article was first published in Dollars and Sense.