CUSTODY & MAINTENANCE
Who Can Ask for Custody of Your Child
The Women's Charter defines a 'child' as a child of a marriage who is under 21 years of age.
Any parent can ask for the custody and/or the care and control/access of the child. However, there may be circumstances where the Judge may feel it is more appropriate to give the custody and/or the care and control/access of your child to a relative or a children's welfare organisation or to order that custody be shared between both parents.
Custody refers to who has legal decision-making authority in the life of a child. The decision-making authority is usually in regard to major life issues such as religion, education, health and activities.
Care and control refers to which parent the child lives with on a day-to-day basis.
Access refers to the periods during which the parent who does not have care and control of the child is granted time to spend with the child.
When to Apply for Custody
You can apply for the custody and/or the care and control/access of your child at any time during the marriage, the separation or the court proceedings for a divorce.
How to Apply for Custody
You will have to apply to the Family or the High Court for the custody and/or the care and control/access of your child. Your lawyer would be able to advise you on the procedures.
Considerations for Custody
When deciding who to give the custody and/or the care and control/access of your child to, the Judge may also consider your wishes and those of your spouse/ex-spouse and the wishes of your child, (if old enough to express an opinion), but the Court considers the interest of the child as paramount.
What Can the Judge Decide
The Judge may, after considering the report of a welfare officer, impose some conditions on the person to whom he grants custody and/or the care and control/access of a child to, such as prohibiting a child from being taken out of Singapore.
When custody and/or the care and control/access is given to one parent, it is usual for the other parent to be given permission to spend some time with the child on a regular basis. This arrangement is called 'access'. The Judge may deny access to the other parent if it is shown that such access will not be in the best interest of the child.
It would be best if both parents can work out a suitable, convenient and reasonable time for access to the child. You should both decide on the time to meet, the place to pick up and the time to return your child and the length of the meeting. After coming to a decision, both parents should stick to the agreement.
If both of you cannot come to an agreement, then make your wishes known to the Judge. The Judge will decide after hearing both sides.
Please understand that the process of divorce or separation will affect your child. In the interest of your child, try to compromise as much as the circumstances permit with regard to access. As far as is possible, the innocent child should not be deprived of either parent.
Counselling and mediation processes are provided at the Family Court. Use the services provided.
Taking your child out of Singapore
If anyone threatens to take your child out of Singapore without your consent, you may apply to Court and obtain an order to prevent him from doing so. If he disobeys the Court order, he may be guilty of contempt and may be fined or imprisoned (if he can be found).
Who can apply for maintenance
Under the law, both parents are responsible for maintaining the child. Whoever has custody, care and control of the child can apply for maintenance.
In cases where a maintenance order is required urgently, an application can be made immediately at the Family Court without having to wait for the commencement or outcome of the divorce proceedings.
The Judge can order either or both parents to pay maintenance for the child. This order can be made any time during the marriage or separation or after the divorce. The order may state that the maintenance is to be paid to the parent having custody, care and control of the child.
The decision of the Judge on how much maintenance to give to your child depends on a number of factors. The Judge will consider the basic financial needs of your child such as his education, food and lodging expenses. Any physical or mental disability of your child will also affect the amount of maintenance.
Period for custody or maintenance
Usually an order for custody or maintenance will automatically expire or become ineffective after your child reaches his 21st birthday or in the matter of the child's maintenance, when your child is financially independent. Sometimes the Judge can order maintenance for a specific period, even after your child reaches his 21st birthday, such as until the completion of his tertiary education.
However, if your child suffers from any physical or mental disability, the custody and/or the care and control/access or maintenance order may continue until he recovers from that disability, even after he turns 21.
Varying an Order of custody or maintenance
You may make an application in Court to vary or cancel the Order of custody or maintenance in the interest of your child. You may do so if there is a material or important change in the circumstances since the Order was made. Examples are: there is a substantial increase in the salary of either parent, change in health conditions or the remarriage of one parent.
Agreement for custody or maintenance
You can make an agreement for custody and/or the care and control/access or maintenance. However, the Judge may vary the agreement if it is in the interest for the welfare of your child to do so.
Maintenance for Wife or Ex-wife
When can you apply for maintenance
A wife/ex-wife may apply for maintenance during marriage, separation or the course of divorce proceedings.
You need not have to file for a divorce before you apply for maintenance for yourself. You may do so if your husband neglects or refuses to provide you with reasonable maintenance.
If you are undergoing a divorce and do not apply for maintenance during divorce proceedings or your application for maintenance has been turned down by the Court at the conclusion of divorce proceedings, you may not subsequently apply for maintenance.
This depends on a number of factors. The Judge will consider the financial standing and earning capacity of both you and your husband/ex-husband. He will also consider the standard of living enjoyed by both of you during the marriage. Ages of the parties and the duration of the marriage are also factors considered. The Judge will try to place you in the same standard of living, as you would have enjoyed, if the marriage had not broken down.
Period of maintenance
Usually the period of maintenance will last until the wife or the husband dies or the wife remarries.
Varying the Order of maintenance
Either you or your husband/ex-husband may apply to the Court to vary or cancel the Order for maintenance at any time, if the circumstances under which the original order was given have changed.
Arrears of maintenance
If your husband/ex-husband has refused or neglected to pay you the maintenance as ordered by the Judge, you may proceed to recover the arrears by filing an enforcement application to the Family Court. Please consult a lawyer.
Arrears of maintenance can only be recovered up to a period of 3 years before the filing of the enforcement application. Any arrears in excess of the 3 years therefore cannot be recovered under such application.
The Judge has the power to impose a fine or even sentence your husband/ex-husband to imprisonment for a term of not more than one month for each month that he is in arrears of maintenance.
You can make your complaint at the Family Court at Havelock Road. The complaint is filed in English. If you need an interpreter, you should request for one at the Family Court. You may be required to accompany the Process Server (a Court Officer) to serve the summons on your husband/ ex-husband. You should find out when and where your husband/ex-husband can be found before you file your complaint. This would save you time and effort in serving the summons.
On the day of the hearing, you should prepare yourself by asking the Maintenance Counter in the Family Court to issue an updated record, showing the arrears of your husband/ex-husband, for the Judge if the Order required him to make payment through the Court.
The Judge also has the power to make an order that the maintenance be paid by the employer of the husband/ex-husband out of his salary if he holds a steady job and has been defaulting regularly. You should be prepared to provide the Court with the name and address of his employer.
Legal Aid Bureau
If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may apply to the government run Legal Aid Bureau for assistance. The Legal Aid Bureau is situated at:
45 Maxwell Road, #08-12
The URA Centre, East Wing
Tel: (65) 1800 325 1424 (toll-free)
Fax: (65) 6325 1402
Please note that you have to pass the Means Test to qualify for assistance from the Legal Aid Bureau. The means test is a procedure to ascertain your financial position.