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Couples in uncontested divorces need not go to court
 09 Nov_ST
Title: Couples in uncontested divorces need not go to courtSource: Straits TimesAuthor: K.C. Vijayan, Law Correspondent
MARRIED couples who agree to go their separate ways will not have to show up in court to attend divorce hearings from today.
Up till now, uncontested divorce proceedings required a couple to attend court to confirm the contents of their sworn statements before the divorce was granted.
A Subordinate Courts spokesman told The Straits Times: 'As this practice does not add much value when all the documents are in order and the evidence is sufficient for the grant of a divorce, it prompted the courts to make further improvements to the system.'
But both sides will still have to be in court if the divorce is contested, if the reason for divorce is cited as adultery, or if the judge is unclear about certain claims.
Last year, the family courts handled more than 6,300 divorce cases, a 'vast majority' of which were uncontested.
Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar said nine out of 10 divorce cases which he handles are not challenged.
The impact on the numbers will be clearer after the pilot project is reviewed by the courts after six months. 'It is not possible to estimate precisely how many cases will benefit from the new procedure as it depends on the parties filing all the relevant documents clearly, adequately and correctly,' said the Subordinate Courts spokesman.
Other countries such as Britain and Australia have similar arrangements for uncontested divorces.
Earlier this year, at the Subordinate Courts workplan seminar, Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong had called for a review of this area of divorce proceedings. 'As the couple may have gone through court mediation or counselling, any further appearance in court just to hear the inevitable seems rather wasteful in time, resources and legal fees,' he explained.
This procedural change is set to speed up the divorce process and spare the pain for the affected couples, lawyers interviewed say.
They welcomed the move but also warned that it should not send the wrong signal that the courts were making it easier to get a divorce.
Family lawyer S. Lalita stressed that the change should not 'detract from the serious, sombre and significant matter that divorce is about'.
To this, the Subordinate Courts spokesman said the move was largely procedural. 'The courts remain committed to helping parties to reconcile their differences in their marriage,' she said.
She added that the considerations the courts take into account in deciding whether to grant a divorce have not changed, which means the plaintiff must prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down based on evidence that falls within any of the five categories of facts that are recognised.
Family lawyer Koh Tien Hua said: 'A divorce can be a very traumatic and emotional experience and the court, in going this way, will spare couples some of this pain.'
Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.