What are the legal grounds for obtaining a divorce in Singapore

What are the legal grounds for obtaining a divorce in Singapore
09 Mar 2021

What are the legal grounds for obtaining a divorce in Singapore

Getting a divorce may be a tedious process, especially if it is contested. Speaking to a divorce attorney before filing your application is advised so you always remain compliant to the legal requirements throughout the process and avoid any hiccups along the way. However, it is also important to equip yourself with useful knowledge about divorce proceedings in Singapore if you intend to file a case here instead of overseas, which operate in a different jurisdiction. It will help you understand where you stand, whether a divorce is possible and if yes, what you can expect during the process. Thereafter, your divorce lawyer can guide you through the steps in detail.

Preconditions of divorce in Singapore

In Singapore, divorces and the legal issues around proceedings are governed by the Women’s Charter. To file for a divorce, the couple must meet the eligibility requirements in pursuant to sections 93 and 94 of the Women’s Charter:

Condition #1: Married for at least 3 years

You must be married for 3 years to be eligible for a divorce in Singapore. In the event the length of marriage is below 3 years, the couple can consider an annulment. Otherwise, either party must prove exceptional depravity or cruel behaviour to qualify for a divorce.

Condition #2: Domiciled in Singapore, or a habitual resident for 3 years

Next, either party must have treated Singapore as their permanent home OR have been a habitual resident for 3 years. The latter will be more relevant foreign couples or spouses with foreign partners.

After fulfilling these preconditions, the party filing for the divorce must show that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This can be proven through either one of the following 4 grounds for divorce:

  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable behaviour
  3. Desertion
  4. Separation

1. Adultery

Adultery is defined as having had voluntary extramarital sex. When proving that the act has occurred, the innocent party can reveal video evidence. A private investigator may also be hired to provide the material required to confirm the cause of divorce. According to section 95(5)(b) of the Women’s Charter, the divorce must be filed after no more than 6 months of living with the adultering spouse.

If the spouse and third party were too intimate that extramarital sex could have been assumed, it is referred to as case of improper association and not adultery. The innocent party can consider unreasonable behaviour as a possible ground for divorce instead.

2. Unreasonable behaviour

As specified by section 95(3)(b) of the Women’s Charter, unreasonable behaviour refers to the event where the innocent party cannot reasonably expect to live with the spouse due to his/her behaviour. It no longer allows the couple to live as husband and wife, therefore indicating a breakdown in marriage.

There are 3 tests to prove unreasonable behaviour:

  1. Subjective: Does the innocent party find it intolerable to live with the spouse?
  2. Objective: Do the personalities and characteristics of both parties make it reasonable for them to live with each other?
  3. Behavioural: Have the passive and active behaviours of the alleged spouse (and a cumulation of such acts) affected the innocent party, family members and other relevant people in the couple’s life?

Unlike adultery, unreasonable behaviour does not have to be proven with material evidence, and the alleged spouse is not required to admit to the behaviour he/she has displayed.

3. Desertion

As per section 95(3)(c) of the Women’s Charter, desertion occurs when one spouse deserts the other for a continuous period of 2 years. To prove, two conditions must be met:

  1. The couple must be physically separated. They must prove that they live in separate households, not merely separate bedrooms or houses.
  2. The alleged spouse must show an intention to desert. This means the party does not intend to return at all. Such a decision must be non-consensual.

It is important to note that desertion implies a breakdown of a common household on the part of one spouse which cannot be reconciled, therefore necessitating a divorce. As such, if circumstances require the couple to live apart, such as a job posting outside of Singapore, it does not amount to a case for desertion.

4. Separation

There are 2 ways to file for a divorce in Singapore on the grounds of separation.

In pursuant to section 95(3)(d) of the Women’s Charter, a couple separated for a continuous period of 3 years can file for a divorce, in which the other party is required to give consent. If the couple has been separated continuously for 4 years, according to section 95(3)(e), either party can seek divorce without consent of the other.

To prove separation, these preconditions must be met:

  1. Both parties show an intention to live apart, one that is not out of necessity.
  2. Both parties must show that they are physically living apart. This means they are running separate households, even if they may be living under the same roof.
  3. There must be a loss of consortium, in that the companionship with each other no longer persists, and that these acts are directed to put an end to the marriage.

A deed of separation is then required to stipulate all the terms and conditions of the separation that are legally binding on both parties. It includes detailed descriptions on the living and financial arrangements that must be carried out following the divorce on the grounds of separation.

If you need more guidance on the above, get in touch with our divorce attorney in Singapore to book a consultation.

For more information, please contact our Business Development Manager, Ricky Soetikno, at rickysoetikno@harryelias.com.