On 29 February, Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin addressed the imperative changes to better protect children that are caught up in divorce.
In a key amendment to the Women’s Charter, couples who want to split up, and who cannot agree on matters such as co-parenting plans, will have to attend a mandatory parenting programme – even before filing for a divorce.
Currently, parents of under-21s must attend compulsory mediation and counselling only after filing for divorce, under the 2011 amendments to the Women’s Charter.
As reported by The Straits Times, the new programme involves a two-hour session with a counsellor. To start later this year, it is initially for parents with at least one child under 14, but will later be extended to those with a child under 21.
However, there may be some leeway for couples in an abused marriage. Mr Tan said: “Where it is beneficial to the family and child for divorce proceedings to be expedited, (the clause) empowers the courts to allow divorce proceedings to continue even when the parent has not completed the programme.”
Divorce numbers are still rising
Latest figures show that in 2014, marriages hit a five-decade high of 28, 407, while there were 7,307 divorces and annulments.
Divorces are becoming more common among recent cohorts, said Mr Tan, and that was one of the social trends that led his ministry to make the latest review of the Women’s Charter.
By the 10th year of marriage, 16.1 per cent of those who married in 2003 had their marriages dissolved, double that of 1987.
Court figures also show that there were 6,017 divorce cases in 2014, a 45 per cent rise from 2000.
Among the cases in 2014, half of the couples wanting to split had at least one child younger than 21 at the time of divorce.
Changes to the Women’s Charter
Research shows children can get depressed when their parents split. There are also repercussions on society. A local study in 2000 found 54 per cent of male juvenile offenders had divorced parents.
The Women’s Charter, enacted in 1961, has been changed a few times to improve the well-being of children of divorcing parents.
Since 1997, such couples have had to file a parenting plan which includes arrangements on custody, access to the child, and provisions for the child’s education needs.
But most couples seemed unable to agree on the parenting plan at the point of filing for divorce.
Then, from 2011, parents were required to go for mediation and counselling after filing for divorce.
Among the 2,000-plus couples who went for this from 2012 to 2014, four in five couples could agree on parenting plans.
Focusing more on the affected child
Jurong GRC MP and family lawyer Rahayu Mahzam emphasised the importance of being rational and in the right state of mind before starting the divorce proceedings.
Principal counsellor Larry Lai of Focus on the Family Singapore agreed. He said: “Some feuding couples assume that by breaking up, they will spare their children the pain of their frequent disputes. But the children’s opinions are seldom sought; the couples have neither know-how nor ability to ascertain their children’s reality.”
“Having the parenting session pre- rather than post-divorce helps the children’s needs come to the surface as early as possible,” he said.
Where to seek help:
#1 Care Corner Centre For Co-Parenting
#2 Thye Hua Kwan Centre For Family Harmony
#3 Help Family Service Centre
#4 PPIS As-Salaam Family Support Centre (For Muslim couples)
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