If you've passed the point of no return and have accepted the 'D' word, there's a lot you need to know, especially when kids are involved. We share tips from someone who's been there and survived.
Divorce is hard enough, but when you add children (life as a single parent is no easy ride), Singapore expat living, and international law to the mix, things can become a lot harder. Here to help you navigate the first few steps and find support, we speak to successful divorce-survivor turned divorce-expert, Catherine Rose-Yates, for some first-hand advice on getting the divorce ball rolling as smoothly as possible.
Catherine tells us about her divorce circumstances:
“Eight years ago, as a trailing spouse (Dependent Pass holder) and mother to a then three-year-old, I found myself in the middle of a high-conflict divorce here in Singapore. My ex-husband and I were both from – and married in – the UK. I had no training in law, but I chose to represent myself in court and successfully achieved the results I wanted.
I now work part-time with the family law team at Consilium and also run a secret Facebook support group for others going through the divorce process. The group holds seminars with experts and provides support, either emotionally through friendships, or by linking people to the right services for their circumstances.”
What are Catherine’s top tips for expats starting the divorce process in Singapore?
1. Apply for PR before filing for divorce
If your spouse is the EP holder, they can cancel your DP status and send you packing – possibly without your kids (it’s worth noting that this won’t happen if divorce proceedings are ongoing). Catherine recommends applying for PR (permanent residence) status before the ‘D’ word is even uttered (if you can). “It’s easier to gain PR status as a family unit,” she says, “which gives you greater access to employment, housing and local schools.”
2. Complete your mandatory parenting programme
A two-hour parenting programme is mandatory in Singapore for parents of children aged 14 and under, regardless of your nationality or where you married. The programme must be completed before filing for divorce.
3. Try to stay out of the courts
Engage the help of a lawyer who practices family law and is familiar with both local and international law. Private mediation or alternative dispute resolution in the way of lawyers can help you negotiate the terms of your divorce without having to go to court. When decisions can’t be made, you may end up in court, which could drain your funds and ultimately not end well for you.
What else do you need to know?
Filing for divorce – getting the process started
If you are eligible, your lawyers will help you file for divorce. This involves an ‘Originating Summons’ and an ‘affidavit in support of the Originating Summons’ to be lodged with the court. More information can be found on the government site here. Note that if you haven’t yet been married for three years, special consideration is required.
Show me the money – the cost of divorce
For the proceedings alone, Catherine has seen costs range from $1,500 for a reasonably straightforward mediation process to $500,000 and above once things go to court.
How does divorce differ for an expat family?
When children are involved, The Hague Convention Act on International Child Abduction needs to be adhered to. In essence, the Hague Convention considers the best interest of the child regardless of the parents’ decisions.
Ideally you will obtain your spouse’s permission to relocate your children back home, however regardless of their wishes, you may need to file for a relocation application summons before you can remove them from Singapore. This will likely not be addressed until all matters of child maintenance, spousal maintenance, child custody and division of assets have been dealt with if the divorce is going through the Singapore courts
It’s worth noting that if the courts rule that your children stay in Singapore and your DP is cancelled, you may be required to leave the country, faster than you can say Kelly Rutherford, making that PR status a golden ticket worth pursuing!
Can either party leave Singapore while the process is underway?
You can’t leave Singapore with the children until an order is granted, or unless by mutual consent, however the Hague International Convention crosses all borders and can order you to return the children.
How does divorce affect a DPs rights to live and/or work in Singapore?
“Post-divorce,” says Catherine, “an individual can find themselves in a difficult situation if they are no longer financially supported by their ex and are unable to find work or obtain a work permit.” It’s an issue Catherine and her team are trying to raise with the MOM and ICA, especially when The Hague Convention Act may result in a spouse wanting to stay in Singapore to be near the children who are ordered to stay.
How long can the divorce process take?
When kids are involved, it can take from six months to five years – or more, it all depends on the situation. Again, if you can avoid court, you can avoid lengthy battles.
Faced with divorce, where can we go for more support?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the process, unsure of where to get help of any kind – emotional, legal, financial, or if you just want to connect with others in your situation, you can contact Catherine Rose-Yates through Facebook (send her a friend request) and ask to join the secret support group she runs, or send her an email at [email protected]
For emotional support, take a look at our list of wonderful family counselling services. PAVE provides free support and immediate relief to victims of abusive relationships. AWARE is an organisation advocating for gender equality – which may be a very useful cost-free resource to look into.
Where can people get legal aid if they can’t afford a lawyer?
Catherine recommends visiting the Legal Aid Bureau for further information and for affordable legal assistance. She also suggests you get yourself a ‘court friend’ (someone who supports the defendant throughout the process) through the family justice site.
Catherine currently acts as a court friend herself, and Consilium, the law firm she works with, also offers support to litigants. It’s best to contact them directly for more details.
Catherine offers parting words of wisdom
“Get all your ducks in a row the minute the ‘D’ word comes to mind. As hard as it might be, stay amicable for the kids’ sake. After everything, my ex and I have managed to repair our ‘working’ relationship for the better good of our son, and that is the most important thing.”
“As well as working part-time with a law firm,” Catherine says, “I also work as a wellness coach at Body Mind on Niven, and can’t stress how important it is to look after your wellbeing in times of stress.”
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Counselling for children and families in Singapore