Divorce: Busting Common Myths About Fathers' Parental Rights

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Fathers and divorce are not often given much thought, as it seems like children should always stay with the mother. Learn the truth here.

Your child’s welfare is not measured in monetary terms. Instead, it includes your child’s moral and religious welfare, physical well-being, ties of affection, happiness, comfort and security. Parents are expected to put their children's needs before their own.

For fathers, it may at times appear that the mother has the upper hand in child custody battles, and that the Women’s Charter favours the mother. However, this is a notion and not a fact. What you must always keep in mind is that the court’s first and foremost consideration will be your child’s interests and welfare.

There are several myths regarding a father's parental rights in a divorce that need to be explained away. Fathers also need to learn about the different types of orders that they can ask for in terms of child custody.

Busting common myths about fathers' parental rights

Myth #1: The Mothers will usually “get the kids” in a divorce.

In terms of Custody, the court’s starting position is to give both parents the right to make major decisions jointly, unless it can be shown that such an arrangement has proven to be completely unworkable, there has been serious child abuse or one parent has been absent in the child’s life.

In terms of Care and Control, if your child is of a very tender age, and is still unable to express clearly which parent he wishes to live with, the court is more likely to award sole care and control to the mother. You can, however, consider asking for shared care and control if your child has not yet started a formal schooling routine, and can be shuttled easily from one parent to another. For many Fathers, this is the next best alternative to sole care and control unless you can show that you have been the primary caregiver.

Before requesting for shared care and control of a young child, you as a father need to show the court that you are serious about playing an active role in your child’s upbringing. For example, cut down on your working hours, or work from home (flexible work hours) if possible. The court will also consider your other lifestyle choices such as how often you smoke or gamble, how much time you spend bonding with your child, how you have participated in your child’s health and studies, and your residence's distance from the child.

Where your child is old enough to voice his or her opinions, the court will take them into account.

Generally, courts will be reluctant to separate siblings, and would prefer not to change the status quo of the child’s living arrangements if that would cause them unnecessary emotional stress. Even where the mother has always been the primary caregiver, the Court may not grant her care and control if she is not emotionally or psychologically stable.

Myth #2: Singapore Courts automatically regard a cheating wife as the “lousier” parent.

Adultery only goes towards showing how your spouse has fallen short in her marital duties as a wife, but not how she has failed in her parenting duties as a mother.

However, if your wife’s adultery involves multiple partners, and she has led a promiscuous lifestyle that could put her in a bad light and might prevent her from being a good parent, such will be factors which may have a bearing on who gets care and control of your child.

Divorce: Busting Common Myths About Fathers' Parental Rights

Myth #3: Practically-speaking, fathers are powerless to ensure that mothers permit access to their kids.

To prevent such situations from occurring, the court can grant a specific order for assisted access or appoint a parenting coordinator lawyer to assist in a parenting plan.

For assisted access, this involves facilitating your child’s transfer from one parent to the other at Family Service Centres or Neighbourhood Police Posts. The exchange will be supervised by professionally trained staff. Such an arrangement helps to minimise contact and the potential for conflict between you and your wife.

If the court appoints a parenting coordinator, the appointed lawyer will work with parties to draw up a parenting plan, and monitor the progress over a period of six to 24 months.

The court also has the power to subsequently review how these access arrangements have been working out for both parents and the child.

Now that you know the truth behind the myths. it's time to learn about the child orders you can ask for as a father. Read on the next page!

Types of Child Orders You Can Ask For As A Father

1. Custody Order (Joint or Sole)

Custody is the right to make the more important, longer-term decisions concerning the upbringing and welfare of your child. Some major examples are decisions involving religion, education and medical treatment.

2. Care and Control Order (i.e. Primary Residence of the child)

The party given care and control is the parent whom the child will live with on a day-to-day basis. That parent is given the right to make the everyday decisions relating to the child, such as what the child will eat and wear on a daily basis. Care and control can also be shared when the child lives with each parent on a rotational or alternating basis.

Divorce: Busting Common Myths About Fathers' Parental Rights

3. Access Order

Access is given to the parent who does not have care and control of the child. Such orders can be governed by a court order or sorted out between parents privately. Types of access orders can be liberal, reasonable or supervised (accompanied). Common access periods can be during weekdays, weekends, public and school holidays, as well as access on special occasions such as the child’s birthday, Father’s and Mother’s Day.

Where necessary, the above orders can also be modified over time, as the court is always attentive to the ongoing and evolving interests of your child. You can read more about the types of custody orders here.

There is never a cut-and-dried outcome when it comes to fathers and divorce. As fathers, you need to know your rights, learn about child orders, always think of your children's wellbeing first in every action that you take.

The article has been authored by Tan Yi Xian, Legal Associate, Gloria James-Civetta & Co.

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