Living in Singapore and need legal advice or help? Hopefully, there aren’t too many times in our lives when we need a lawyer – a bit like a doctor, really! But like doctors, when you need a lawyer, you need a good one. Whether it’s a legal dispute, a divorce or an immigration issue, it’s a huge help to get someone who’s recommended.
American MICHAEL LITTLE works as a senior manager for a global defence prime contractor in the design and manufacture of ships. We spoke to him about a work-related legal matter and who he’s been using to help manage the situation.
What issue did you need legal help with?
It’s a fairly complicated one related to government contracts. We have unique requirements in that only US personnel are allowed to work on our maritime projects – projects that include vessels like warships. So, we’re working through the constraints and the different codes of employment – and they’re complicated. We have to organise the immigration and employment issues related to our incoming personnel.
Which lawyers did you choose and why?
I met Franca Ciambella, the managing director of Consilium Law Corporation, at an AmCham event, and I was talking about the challenges we were facing. She came across as someone who was very knowledgeable and calm, with the ability to handle pressure. I wanted to work with someone with these qualities, and Franca seemed ideal.
Were the process and outcome as you’d hoped for? What’s been difficult and what has worked well?
We’ve been working together with Consilium now for about five months and continue to do so. Franca’s strength is not just the administrative side but also her relationships with people and organisations. The processes are still ongoing, so there is little that I’m able to comment on at this point in time. However, Franca understands our situations and has been able to carry out our instructions swiftly and in a timely manner, when there has been little margin for error.
Would you use Consilium again?
Absolutely, and we’re still using them. There’s no “hard sell” in their approach. I also like Franca’s demeanour and poise, and she’s very experienced. It has been challenging, but that doesn’t spill over into the Consilium approach.
What would you recommend others do when they find themselves in your situation?
Our case is a unique one, so I doubt whether others would find themselves in the same situation. But, if you do, try to find the chance to talk to Franca, no matter how complex the situation is; she’s the kind of person you can rely on to give sound legal counsel.
Legal advice 101
Australian FIONA HOAD is an accredited specialist in family law with over 20 years of experience in the field. She runs us through some of the basics of seeking advice on legal matters.
What kind of advice do people come to you for? What do you specialise in?
Clients seek my advice prior to separation or after separation. In both instances, they want to know what impact the separation will have on their financial future and on the future parenting of their children. Property matters deal with the fair distribution of the relationship asset pool between parties after separation – from dividing up a very simple asset pool to untangling assets located overseas, in trusts or through corporate structures. Parenting matters deal with how long a child or children will live with or spend time with each parent after separation; this can include international relocation and issues of child support.
My experience in wills and estate planning goes hand in hand with my family law practice.
What’s the first step to take in getting advice?
Make contact with our office by phone or email and arrange an appointment. It’s important we meet clients to obtain a comprehensive understanding of their personal circumstances so we can identify and advise on the relevant family law issues. It’s not uncommon for a first appointment to be conducted by Skype if a face-to-face appointment can’t easily be arranged, particularly for those in Singapore. However, I’m in Singapore every few months to meet with new and existing clients.
What kind of info should I prepare by way of background to a meeting?
It’s always helpful at an initial consultation for clients to bring information about theirs and their partner’s financial circumstances including details of assets, liabilities and superannuation. If you don’t have access to this, we can discuss the mechanisms available for you to get access. For parenting matters, we need information about the children such as their health, education and current living arrangements.
What typically happens at a meeting with a legal advisor?
After taking a comprehensive history of your financial and parenting relationship, we listen to concerns and discuss expectations, and, where appropriate, discuss a strategy. A client will leave the meeting with a clear understanding of the process they’re embarking upon and the next steps to be taken towards a resolution of their matter.
Who should come to the meeting?
Many clients like to attend a meeting with a relative or friend; some attend with their accountant or financial adviser. We welcome any support person you wish to bring as we understand that family law clients are usually feeling very anxious and vulnerable post-separation and can feel overwhelmed by their personal circumstances and the legal system. However, in order to maintain confidentiality and client privilege, you shouldn’t attend with an ex-partner, even if you’re still on amicable terms. It’s also never recommended that minor children of a relationship attend a meeting with a parent.
How long will my matter take to get resolved, and what will it cost?
It’s difficult to estimate, as each family law matter has its own unique set of facts and circumstances that gives rise to different advice, a different strategy and a different outcome. Resolution of a matter also depends on the motivation of the parties to reach an agreement on the issues in dispute. It’s always our intention to finalise each matter in an expeditious way to limit the emotional and financial stress involved.
Costs can also vary from case to case and will largely be influenced by the issues in dispute and the length of time it takes to resolve them. Once we’ve met with a client and gained an understanding of their matter, we’re in a better position to give an estimate of costs.
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Most of us know couples who have been through or are going through a divorce. But do you know the legal ramifications involved? Singapore- and Australia-qualified lawyer SARAH-MAE THOMAS answers some commonly asked questions.
If I got married overseas, how do I know if I’m eligible to get divorced in Singapore?
If neither you nor your spouse are Singaporean citizens or permanent residents, at least one party to a divorce needs to have a strong connection to Singapore. You can show this if you are habitually resident for at least three years immediately prior to filing. If you’ve had long absences from Singapore, you must be able to show continuity of residence. Alternatively, one of the parties will need to be domiciled in Singapore, which generally means they will need to consider this their permanent home. Expats living here on a temporary basis are not considered to be domiciled and will need to be habitually resident for three years first before considering divorce in Singapore.
What are the first steps to filing for divorce?
It’s best to see a lawyer as soon as possible after trying marriage counselling and making your decision. If there are children involved, the parties will need to work out child maintenance, wife maintenance and division of assets, as well as custody, care and control of minor children. After parties have agreed on matters, the divorce papers can be drafted. This entails some paperwork and providing a brief outline of what you want in your divorce claim.
How long will my divorce process take?
If you’ve agreed on all matters with your spouse, the process would fall under what is termed ‘fast-track simplified divorce’. Once you’ve filed your papers, you should get your interim judgment within a month; you’ll then have to wait another three months for it to be final. This is the fastest and cheapest way to obtain a divorce certificate.
If your divorce is a contested divorce – husband and wife can’t agree on the grounds of divorce, the assets and the children’s issues – the judge will need to hear the case and make the decision. This might also entail mediations, and it could take anywhere between a few months to several years. Even so, the courts in Singapore are among the most efficient in the world and the turnaround for cases is also one of the fastest.
What if I have young children?
How can I ensure they are protected? If you have minor children, you must ensure that their welfare, finances and education are taken care of. Singaporean courts prefer parents to adopt a joint custody approach where both are involved in making the major decisions for the child, unless there is a compelling reason otherwise. You also need to consider the everyday needs of the child and who they’ll reside with. Generally, it’s best for them to have one main home base and visit the other parent regularly. This should all be specified in the divorce order.
Is the law on this different in Singapore from other countries?
In Singapore, you need to show a ground for divorce – namely that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. This can be based on one party’s unreasonable behaviour, adultery, desertion or separation. In many other countries, including Australia and the UK, parties need to have been separated for at least one year and a day to proceed with a divorce. A second difference between Singapore and some other countries is that there is an absolute bar on getting a divorce in the first three years of marriage. This can only be lifted if one can prove extreme hardship suffered by the victim or extreme depravity on the part of the perpetrator.
For more helpful tips head to our living in Singapore section.