Are you an Australian expat in Singapore considering getting divorced? Your settlement can be drastically different – or completely unenforceable – if you file your paperwork in the wrong jurisdiction.
Solicitor Fiona Hoad of Somerville Legal looks at key implications and answers our questions on getting a divorce for Australians living in Singapore.
#1 When Australian expats separate, is there a choice as to where the property can be settled?
Yes, expats can choose to settle their property in either Singapore or Australia. The Singapore Courts can hear expat cases, provided that one of the spouses has been habitually resident in Singapore for at least three continuous years before the divorce, or has Singapore domicile. The couple must also have been married for at least three years.
But take note: any settlement they reach in relation to property can only be enforced in the jurisdiction where the property settlement is formalised. So, a settlement reached in Singapore according to Singapore law cannot be enforced if there is property in Australia in the absence of Australian court orders.
#2 What if I own property in both countries? Or across the globe?
According to Australian law, all assets are included in the relationship or matrimonial asset pool, regardless of where they are located. The Australian family law jurisdiction can make orders in relation to property outside of Australia. The orders made under this law need to be carefully drafted to compel an Australian citizen or resident to do certain things in relation to the property outside Australia. The catch is whether or not the orders can be enforced in a foreign country, or even registered – that depends on each specific country.
#3 What are the basic rules of Australian divorce?
Australia has a “no fault” system that makes obtaining a divorce relatively quick and easy. Obtaining a divorce doesn’t mean that parties automatically get a property settlement. After a divorce order takes effect, parties have 12 months to bring an application before the court regarding a property division. Any property settlement must be “just and equitable” or “fair” given the circumstances of each particular marriage. The determination of what is “fair” is based on an assessment of how the parties have contributed to the property of the marriage and to the welfare of the family. It’s best to get legal advice so that settlement discussions are based on realistic expectations.
#4 Can a woman get a better settlement in one country than the other?
Every situation is different and a lot depends on the circumstances of the divorce. However, Singapore is more favourable to women with respect to spouse maintenance claims. A man cannot make a claim for maintenance in Singapore. However, a man can make a claim for spouse maintenance in Australia.
#5 What if I’m the trailing spouse? Can I stay in Singapore after the divorce?
Unfortunately, if you don’t have an employment pass, you will have to leave Singapore within 14 days after the divorce is granted. And it might be difficult to take your child with you if the subject of custody hasn’t been settled. Under the laws of Singapore, 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”. If children are involved, it’s more important than ever to have a good lawyer.
Fiona is a Director at Somerville Legal, based in Sydney, Australia, and is available for face-to-face initial meetings in Singapore.
Call +61 9923 2321 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For more helpful tips, head to our Living in Singapore section.