A divorce or a separation is just as emotionally burdensome to a couple as it is for the children. In Singapore, divorce remains a highly contested issue.
Divorcing couples rarely agree on the terms of the divorce. Instead, they further take other matters such as matrimonial assets, child custody, and spousal maintenance to Court.
Child custody in Singapore is almost always present in divorce cases. Recent statistics from the Ministry of Social and Family Development show that child custody orders were made in 100% of divorce cases in 2016.
Out of the 100%, only 74.3% were in joint custody, meaning the husband and wife both had custody of the children.
Less than 20% of the custody orders favoured the mother, while the father was granted custody only 4.8% of the time.
There’s no doubt that child custody remains a complex issue. It’s ultimately within the Court’s discretion to grant custody to either the parents.
To help you understand better, below are some things you should know about how parents’ rights to their children are determined in Singapore.
1. Who Is Considered A “Child”?
The Women’s Charter defines a “child of the marriage” as either a biological or adopted child who was a member of the family and lived with the husband and wife. The child or children of the marriage is someone below 21 years of age.
In Singapore, child custody matters are covered under the Guardianship of Infant Acts. This statute is further supplemented by the Women’s Charter and the Administration of Muslim Law Act. Singapore custody law applies to every Singaporean, even Muslims.
2. What Is Child Custody, And How Is It Different From Care And Control And Access?
The layman may confuse child custody and care and control. However there are several key differences. We’ll distinguish each of them below.
Child custody is defined as the parent/s’ right to decide on major decisions concerning the child’s upbringing and welfare. These decisions can impact the following:
- Religion – Whether the child should receive religious instruction, attend a place of worship or participate in religious activities/ceremonies.
- Education – Whether the child should attend a particular school or enrichment class or participate in a specific co-curricular or extracurricular activity.
- Medical – Whether the child should receive or undergo a particular type of medical treatment.
Care And Control
If child custody deals with a child’s major life decisions, care and control have a broader definition. It refers to a parent/s’ right to have authority and responsibility over the child’s day-to-day matters.
For instance, a parent may have care and control over their child in deciding what to eat, wear, or buy.
In this arrangement, the Court will order the care and control of the child to only one parent whom the child will reside with. The other parent does not have care and control but may see or visit the child periodically (access).
Access to the children means the parent has the right to spend time or visit them. However, they cannot make decisions for the child. They don’t have care and control, and their interactions are limited to online or physical contact.
Access is granted to a parent to ensure they have sufficient opportunities to develop and maintain a healthy parent-child relationship.
The Court has to make decisions based on the child’s best interests. As such, the child may grow resentful in the absence of either a father or mother figure.
For example, a parent may be granted daytime access to the child for a certain number of days in a week and overnight access during the weekends.
3. Types Of Child Custody Orders In Singapore
Child custody issues in Singapore are resolved based on the “welfare principle”. It states that the Court considers the child’s welfare paramount in their decision.
There are four types of child custody orders in Singapore that the Court may grant you and your former spouse:
As the name suggests, a joint custody order sees both parents having custody over a child/children. They can make major decisions for the children.
The parents must be able to discuss and agree on these decisions mutually. This way, each parent equally contributes to the child’s upbringing.
Often, the Family Justice Courts in Singapore grant joint child custody. The Courts recognise the importance of having both parents involved and committed in the children’s life, education, and overall development.
Even after a divorce, the children still have the chance to be co-parented by their mother and father.
If the Courts grant you sole custody of your children, you’ll be the only one making major decisions on their upbringing.
Courts usually grant sole child custody if the parents have a rocky and unstable relationship.
The constant arguing and bickering have created a hostile environment non-conducive for the children’s welfare.
For example, the spouse has a known track record of acting against the child’s welfare and best interest. If the Court determines the spouse may be physically abusive, irresponsible, or harmful to the child, they will grant custody to the other parent.
The Court may also feel that sole custody may be more appropriate if the spouses have exhausted all other avenues of resolving their differences (i.e. counselling and meditation).
Their marriage has irretrievably broken down and can no longer be mended. However, the children still need an adult to care for them and contribute to their growth.
In some cases, one of the spouses will voluntarily give up custody of the child. They do this to get better terms out of the divorce proceedings and other ancillary matters.
If the Court grants hybrid custody, one parent will have custody of the children. But, they must actively consult with the other parent on crucial matters regarding their welfare.
For example, while helping their child decide which university to attend, the father may need to consult with the mother, even if they are separated.
In the presence of two or more children during a divorce, a split custody order gives one parent custody of one child. The other parent will have custody of the other.
The Court rarely grants split custody orders because it can be a complicated arrangement for the family. For example, the siblings usually prefer to live under the same roof and offer emotional support to one another.
If you or your spouse has requested a split child custody order for the children, you’ll need to provide an affidavit or sworn statement explaining the reason. It must ultimately be for the children’s interests.
Remember that only the parent granted custody can take the child outside of Singapore if a child custody or care and control order is active.
There are exceptions if the custodial parent or the Court grants express permission and consent. Whatever the arrangement, the child cannot be out of the country for more than 30 days.
4. How Does The Court Determine Custody?
The Court’s “welfare principle” states the children’s welfare is the most critical consideration when determining child custody. So, the Court may also consider the children’s preferences and wishes.
“Welfare” should not only refer to monetary or physical aspects. The Court also recognises the importance of the child’s moral, religious, and familial upbringing.
The Courts may assess the children’s well-being through the Social Welfare Report. The Courts order this for child custody disputes.
Officers from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth prepare the report by assessing the child’s relationship with either parent. Results are only shown to the judge, not the parents, to avoid skewing the findings.
5. How Does The Court Determine Care And Control?
Like child custody matters, welfare is critical in determining care and control. It is common in Singapore Courts for the judge to award one parent with care and control while the other has access.
Although the Court has occasionally supported shared care and control, this type of arrangement is rare/unusual because it tends to disrupt the child’s day-to-day routine.
Here are some general observations on how the Court determines which parent should be awarded care and control:
- If the child is young (provided all other factors are equal), the Court will prefer to award care and control to the mother.
- The maternal bond between the mother and an infant/young child is a crucial consideration.
- The Court prefers to preserve the status quo (i.e. maintain the current/existing continuity of living arrangements)
- Siblings should not be separated.
The Court will consider other relevant factors which may justify one parent being preferred over the other parent:
- Bad habits e.g. gambling
- Illness e.g. depression
- Time already spent bonding with child
- Availability/ working hours of the parent
- Focus or preoccupation with a parent’s career
- Whether a parent has shown interest in the child’s welfare and well-being (e.g. education, health)
6. How Does The Court Determine Access?
The Courts grant access to the parent who does not have legal care and control of the child. Access orders are usually granted to the father.
The Court aims to provide the parent without Care and Control of the child with regular contact and opportunities. This is so the child is not deprived of contact with either parent.
Likewise, the Court may restrict a parent’s access if they determine it is not in the child’s best interests.
Here are some general observations on how the Court determines which parent should be awarded care and control:
- The terms of access should be fair to all parties as much as possible (e.g. considering that the parent without care and control of the child will already be deprived of a substantial amount of contact with the child because the child does not reside with that parent),
- Parents should discuss and agree (and compromise, if necessary) on an arrangement for access (e.g. weekday access, weekend access, overnight access, overseas access, public/school holiday access) based on what is fair, reasonable and logistically feasible.
- If the parents cannot agree on the terms of access, the Court will decide after considering the parents’ respective reasons.
Conclusion About Child Custody In Singapore
Child custody is a complicated matter. Separating couples often disagree about the children’s living arrangements after a divorce.
On the other hand, the children also have preferences. Regardless of whether or not the parent has committed adultery, they may still want to live with them.
No two child custody cases are the same. The Court will ultimately decide on what they believe will benefit the children’s well-being.
If you need help with child custody, divorce, or other family law issues, contact us at The Singapore Lawyer now.
Our free 30-minute consultation is designed to help our clients develop initial strategies, helping them deal with complicated legal matters.
Frequently Asked Questions About Child Custody In Singapore
Will A Parent Get Custody Of The Child After Divorcing?
No. The Court does not assume that one parent will receive custody of the children after a divorce. The Court may listen to the child’s wishes and preferences when choosing which parent to live with.
Does Adultery Affect Child Custody In Singapore?
No, adultery doesn’t directly affect child custody in Singapore. If a spouse wants to cite adultery as the reason for child custody, they’ll need to present sufficient concrete evidence to the Courts.
You may refer to our article on adultery in Singapore for more information.
When Can A Child Decide Custody?
In Singapore, the children’s wishes can be taken into account if they have reached sufficient maturity. They may decide which parent to live with once they reach 10 years of age.
Who Has Custody Of The Child If The Parents Aren’t Married In Singapore?
The Court will apply the same principle when dealing with custody, care and control, and access matters for unmarried couples.