Welfare of children in divorce proceedings
In divorce proceedings, the welfare of the children to a marriage is often the paramount consideration. A person is a “child” if he is under 21 years of age.
In general, the court will be slow to grant any judgment of divorce or nullity of marriage unless satisfactory arrangements have been made for the welfare of the child. Several aspects are encompassed in considering a child’s “welfare”. These include financial provision for him/her, his custody and his education.
The court is empowered to order maintenance for the children at its discretion. The court might order either or both parents to pay maintenance for the child. This order may be made at any point during the marriage, before the separation, or after the divorce. The quantum of such maintenance may also depend on several factors including the child’s education needs, food, and lodging expenses. Under section 132 of the Women’s Charter, the court also has the power to set aside any dispositions made by either parent for the purpose of reducing his/her means to pay maintenance for the child. These provisions in the Women’s Charter help to ensure adequate financial provision for the child after the divorce.
The court will also decide on questions of custody taking into consideration the wishes of the parents and the wishes of the child. It will decide whether to put a child in the custody of his father or mother or even, in exceptional circumstances, in the care of other relatives or organisations.
The court may also impose conditions within the order for custody. These conditions may include where the child must reside, how he/she is to be educated, and prohibitions on removing the child from Singapore, etc. Often, provision is also made for the parent deprived of custody to have access for such periods as the court deems reasonable. It might be desirable if both parents can work out a suitable arrangement for convenient and reasonable access to the child. However, the court will make a decision if the parents are unable to come to an agreement. When considering questions related to the custody of the child, the court may also seek the advice of welfare officers trained or experienced in child welfare.
The conditions imposed by the court are binding. Contravention may lead to a contempt of court or even amount to an offence. For instance, section 126(3) of the Women’s Charter provides that:-
“where an order for custody is in force, no person shall take the child who is the subject of the custody order out of Singapore except with the written consent of both parents or the leave of the court”
Contravention of this provision renders a person liable for a fine and/or imprisonment. However the order for custody and conditions imposed within are not cast in stone. Even after a final judgment has been granted, the court retains the power to make such orders as it thinks fit for the child’s welfare. Such orders may include the variation or discharge of previous orders.
Mediation and counselling services are provided at the Family Court for parents who are concerned about the impact of their divorce on the welfare of their children.
The above constitutes general information only. For legal assistance on your specific situation, you should seek the guidance of Singapore divorce lawyers.