October 29th, 2014

Shorten time bar to divorce

By Jolene Tan, Programmes and Communications Senior Manager, AWARE

Under the current law, divorce is not permitted in the first three years of marriage unless a court finds that there has been “exceptional depravity or hardship”. This is an unnecessarily burdensome requirement.

gavelThe time bar is intended to preserve marriages. However, in practice, many people realise early on that their marital differences cannot be resolved.

Rather than seek reconciliation, those set on divorce simply wait the moratorium out while building separate lives. The time bar delays them from moving on – including from remarrying.

We recommend that the time bar be shortened from three years to one, or at most two.

This will reduce the unnecessary barriers to people seeking to move on to more fulfilling family lives.

It will also reduce acrimony in divorce cases by not forcing one spouse to document accusations to prove “exceptional depravity or hardship” in court.

We are also very disturbed by statements in a recent case indicating that even “extreme cases of abuse” do not meet the threshold for the time bar to be lifted, so that victims of domestic violence must remain married to their abusers (“Court denies woman permission to divorce”; Oct 8).

There should be no time bar to divorce in cases of domestic violence. Victims should be allowed to seek a divorce instead of being kept vulnerable to further physical and psychological suffering.

Freedom from violence is a fundamental right. Everyone is entitled to make personal safety their first priority.

Treating a court-imposed “hope of reconciliation” as more important than safety places an ideological view of marriage above the welfare of real people.

This sends the message that the legal system – and therefore society at large – does not take domestic violence seriously, and tells abusers that their actions are an acceptable part of a marriage.

Under the Women’s Charter, spouses have a mutual duty to “safeguard the interests of the union”.

By committing violence, an abuser destroys the mutual care and respect that should be at the heart of a marital relationship.

The law should not require victims to maintain formal ties or the appearance of togetherness with their abusers.

This reform will help Singapore to better meet its international obligations to protect women from family violence under the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

This letter was first published in the Straits Times Forum on 27 October 2014.

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