Divorce rates in Singapore has increased last year, compared to 2018. Recent statistics released by Singapore Department of Statistics on July 28 showed that there were 7,623 cases of annulment of divorce last year, and 65% of the civil divorces were initiated by wives.
One of the top reasons that women give while for filing for divorce is “unreasonable behaviour”. If you’ve just gotten married but are looking to divorce for various reasons, you might be wondering, are you allowed to divorce within three years of marriage in Singapore?
Usually, to obtain a divorce in Singapore, parties need to have been married for at least 3 years. This is due to the policy consideration of promoting the sanctity of marriage, and to ensure that parties do not rush into and out of marriage capriciously.
However, in certain exceptional situations, the court may allow a couple to file for divorce even if their marriage has lasted less than three years. Here are examples of such situations.
The court may make an exception to the requirement of being married for 3 years if it can be shown that the plaintiff (i.e. the party filing the divorce) is suffering from exceptional hardship, or if the defendant (i.e. the other party to the divorce) has engaged in exceptional depravity.
What amounts to exceptional hardship or exceptional depravity depends on the facts of each case, but past cases suggest that the courts will not readily rule that there was exceptional hardship or exceptional depravity in order to grant an early divorce.
- Mere disruption to the plaintiff’s career due to a rocky marriage;
- Mere adultery, because every case where one party commits adultery will likely bring about some hardship on the innocent spouse.
- Where there is a reasonable probability of reconciliation, or where the interests of any child of the marriage is in question, the court will not readily grant a divorce before the 3-year period.
- Stress from a controlling spouse and parents-in-law does not amount to exceptional hardship.
- Physical abuse, if only occurring in isolated incidents and not frequently, does not amount to exceptional hardship.
- In Ng Kee Shee v Fu Gaofei, the court ruled that the plaintiff, being the husband, had suffered from exceptional hardship and therefore allowed him to file for divorce within 3 years of marriage. The court found that the wife had entered into the arranged marriage “capriciously”, and ran away from the husband back to China within months of the marriage, threatening to commit suicide if she was made to return. While the marriage was consummated, the wife did not allow the husband to touch her, and restricted sex to only once a week, and the court found this to be contrary to the intimacy expected in a marriage. The court also took into account the plaintiff’s desire to start a family which was clearly not forthcoming in this current marriage.
- In Foo Teck Guan v Chan Yoke Han, the defendant being the wife was found to have behaved with exceptional depravity when she committed adultery in the marital home, and while the husband was in the same house. The husband suffered from depression as a result.
Where the plaintiff misrepresents the nature of the case in order to obtain permission to file for divorce within 3 years of marriage, the court may grant interim judgment (granted before the settlement of ancillary issues like maintenance and custody of children) on the condition that final judgment is made only after 3 years from the date of marriage.
This would nullify the filing of a divorce before the 3-year bar is cleared. The court may also dismiss the proceedings.
Apart from proving exceptional hardship or depravity, the plaintiff will also need to fulfil other requirements before the Singapore court will grant a divorce.
For example, the plaintiff must prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This is different from showing that the plaintiff has suffered exceptional hardship, or that the defendant has engaged in exceptional depravity.
Read our other article for more information on the requirements and process for obtaining a Singapore divorce.
Apply to annul the marriage
An annulment of marriage is a declaration by the court that a marriage is void or invalid, (i.e the marriage is treated by law as if it never existed). This is unlike a divorce, that leads to the dissolution of a legally valid marriage.
Either spouse may apply for an annulment of the marriage if it can be shown that the marriage was void or voidable.
Some instances where a marriage can be declared void from the date of judgment, before the 3-year time period include where:
- The marriage has not been consummated;
- Either party did not validly consent to entering the marriage due to duress, mistake, mental disorder or otherwise;
- The defendant was suffering from a communicable sexually-transmitted disease at the time of marriage; or
- The defendant was pregnant by some person other than the plaintiff at the time of marriage.
To rely on the grounds of sexually-transmitted disease or pregnancy by another man, the plaintiff must not have been aware of the facts alleged at the time of the marriage.
It should also be noted that the court will not grant a judgment of nullity if the plaintiff knew of facts that allowed him to apply for such a judgment, but behaved in a manner that led the defendant to believe he would not do so, and where it would be unjust to the defendant to grant the judgment.
Wait out the 3-year period before filing for divorce
If parties have no choice but to wait out the 3-year period before filing for divorce, there are certain interim steps the aggrieved party can take, if relevant, such as:
- Personal Protection Order (PPO) – if one spouse has been placed in fear of hurt, has in fact been hurt, wrongfully confined or restrained, or is suffering from continued harassment, she can apply for a PPO, if she can prove that such an order is necessary.
- Maintenance (for the wife) – While the marriage is still subsisting, the wife can apply for an order of maintenance on proof that her husband has neglected or refused to provide reasonable maintenance for her.
- Judicial separation – Either party to the marriage may apply for a judgment of judicial separation, to formalise the couple’s separation and make it no longer obligatory for the parties to cohabit. However, the couple is still legally married and will remain so until they obtain a judgment of divorce. Find out more in our other article about judicial separation.
It is possible to file for divorce in Singapore yourself without hiring a lawyer. However, if you wish to file for divorce, whether this is within the 3-year time-bar or otherwise, you are encouraged to engage a lawyer to protect your rights as the process of getting a divorce might be a difficult and emotionally-trying period.
An experienced lawyer will be able to advise you on your likelihood of obtaining a divorce within 3 years of marriage, and guide you through the various legal and procedural requirements involved in filing for divorce. For instance, this could include the making of the necessary applications and the drafting and filing of required documents.
Where the divorce is contested, a lawyer will also be better placed to advocate for your rights in court.
An experienced divorce lawyer will also be able to assist you in the proceedings after an interim judgment for divorce is granted, for important ancillary matters such as maintenance and division of matrimonial assets.
This article was first published in Singapore Legal Advice.