Solicitor Gloria Civetta has UK and US training in family law mediation. She explains new changes to Singapore’s divorce laws, what to expect in the mediation process and why that process is so important.
Tell us about the collaborative divorce approach in Singapore.
Collaborative family practice (CFP) is an approach to negotiations in matrimonial disputes that start before court proceedings. The aim is to assist couples reach an agreement and avoid the acrimony of the litigation process. If settlement is not reached, CFP lawyers cannot represent their clients in future litigation.
What are the steps involved?
The divorcing couple must each engage one of 19 qualified CFP lawyers from a panel provided by the Singapore Mediation Centre. Both parties and their respective lawyers undertake and sign an agreement not to go to court and a collaborative family practice contract. Most of the CFP negotiations are face-to-face meetings between the couples and their respective lawyers. There is no appointed mediator, which is unique. Meetings alternate between the two CFP lawyers’ offices.
Once settlement has been reached, the CFP lawyers each draw up the divorce papers and terms of settlement (consent order). These are filed to court for approval. The consent order becomes the interim judgment in the divorce proceedings, with final judgment obtained after three months.
What changes to divorce procedures are in the wings?
From 1 October 2014, all divorcing couples with children under 21 years old are required to attend mandatory counselling before the start of any divorce proceedings. This change to the Family Justice Act was instituted to highlight the importance of co-parenting, the practical issues involved, and the effects of divorce proceedings on a child. It allows couples to reconsider the path of divorce. In the current system, multiple judges oversee a divorce, but this will roll back to just one judge under the new system.
Should evidence of an extramarital affair be kept?
Yes. The standard of proof of divorce based on adultery is high, and mere suspicion is not enough. Direct and circumstantial evidence is required, such as a private investigator’s report or a confession. Indirect evidence such as emails, text messages between the suspected adulterer and the third party, or the existence of a child who is not that of the spouse may also be relied on to prove adultery.
Does proof of adultery have any bearing on the divorce process and outcome?
Yes. The adulterer and the third party will be penalised by having to pay the legal costs of the divorce proceedings and the private investigator’s costs (if any). The adulterer may also have comprised his or her position in parental care. A child’s welfare is the court’s first and paramount consideration.
Singapore courts favour joint custody, and adultery does not affect the adulterer’s custodial rights. However, maintenance, and the division of the matrimonial assets, is based on the principle of what is “just and equitable” under the Women’s Charter.
Family mediation practitioners are endorsed by the court system; what is their role in the mediation process?
A lawyer with accreditation and certification in both mediation and CFP can be engaged by disputing parties to sit as a family mediator to help them resolve their disputes. They focus on helping negotiate in a respectful and cooperative manner to achieve an outcome that is in the best interests of all. The lawyer can also be engaged to act as a CFP lawyer on one party’s behalf.