More winning financial support from children through mediation

SINGAPORE - More parents are resorting to mediation to get financial assistance from their children.

Last year, 303 cases were handled by the Office of the Commissioner for the Maintenance of Parents, which arranges for the mediation, up 13 per cent from 269 in 2010.

The bulk of these cases were resolved, but some were difficult enough to be put before a legal platform, the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents.

Counsellors and Members of Parliament said parents are more aware of such avenues now, and are more willing to seek help in this way.

The mediation option became compulsory in March 2011, with an amendment to the Maintenance of Parents Act. Previously, parents could go straight to the tribunal. The change was to provide an informal way to resolve disputes.

An average of 87 per cent of referred cases have been resolved through conciliation, a spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development said.

Out of the 303 cases, only 31 went up to the tribunal last year, while in 2010, 56 out of the 269 were escalated.

The spokesman said that generally, each case requires one to three sessions of conciliation, with each lasting one to two hours, before an agreement can be reached.

Mr Seah Kian Peng, an MP for Marine Parade GRC, spearheaded the effort to introduce conciliation before legal action. He said he is happy with the outcome so far, and hopes it will continue.

"Once parents go to the tribunal, family ties are that much harder to repair," he said.

According to statistics from 2010 to January this year, the bulk of applicants were fathers aged between 60 and 79. Many were also living with family members in one- or two-room flats.

Principal counsellor Sheena Jebal, who has come across several parents seeking help at NuLife Care and Counselling Services, said parents turn to such avenues out of desperation.

"They think, 'This is the end of the road, there is no more help for me,'" said the social worker of 19 years.

Mediation sometimes even improves relationships, forcing parent and child to put aside their ego and air their emotions and thoughts, she said, although children sometimes start paying for fear of being taken to task legally.

Going to the tribunal, however, more or less damages relationships, she said.

She recounted a case 11/2 years ago where a son kicked his 69-year-old widowed mother out of the flat.

Their case was put before the tribunal, and the mother won. But beyond giving her money as stipulated, the son never visits his mother, who now lives alone in a rental flat, she said.

On the rare occasion, she said there are also parents who want to use such channels as revenge against their children.

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