June 16th, 2014

Recognise all parties’ needs in divorce

By Vivienne Wee (Ms), Research and Advocacy Director, Association of Women for Action and Research

As the Committee for Family Justice reviews the family justice system in Singapore, the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) hopes that family law evolves to better recognise the vulnerabilities and needs of all parties in situations of divorce (“Women’s Charter ‘to be reviewed’ “; May 20).

For example, spouses undergoing divorce may find the procedures confusing or intimidating, and may face housing, financial and other difficulties for which they are not sufficiently prepared.

divorceWe welcome the committee’s proposal to introduce mandatory pre-writ consultation sessions for couples considering divorce to help them understand the issues that may arise. These consultations should be made available during and after the final judgment too, to ensure that parties have continued access to necessary support.

We also suggest that a “first information session” be offered to those who have been served a writ of divorce.

Aware has worked with many women who are confused by the divorce process and are ill-prepared to respond within the deadline of eight days set by the court.

Many find the process intimidating, especially if there are language barriers.

A “first information session” would help them respond in a more informed manner. This session should be conducted by a social worker or counsellor, who can also determine if there is abuse, violence or intimidation in the marriage or if either spouse needs financial, legal or psychological assistance.

Joint consultation and mediation sessions should not be required of victims of violence.

A helpline can be set up to provide information and assistance on divorce proceedings, including referrals to other resources such as legal clinics.

The Committee for Family Justice also recommended differentiated case management, providing different tracks for each type of case in court.

We recommend the extension of this principle. In cases of family violence, for example, the restriction on filing for divorce within the first three years of marriage should be removed and the divorce process expedited, in the best interests of the victim and children in the family.

Moreover, we suggest that no-fault divorce be made truly available. Though it exists in principle, in practice, spouses have to try to prove irretrievable breakdown as factual grounds for divorce, leading to unnecessary acrimony.

We have formally submitted these and further recommendations to the Committee for Family Justice for its consideration.

In the meantime, in response to the needs voiced by women undergoing divorce, Aware will be setting up a support group for women going through divorce.

This letter was first published in the Straits Times Forum on 12 July.

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