By Christelle Sim
The Women's Charter (Amendment) Bill was introduced in Parliament on 1 November 2021.
Singapore law currently cites one legal ground for divorce – the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage, under which parties have to prove at least one of the five facts listed in section 95(3) of the Charter to show that a marriage has indeed irretrievably broken down. The five facts are as follows:
(a) that the defendant has committed adultery and the plaintiff finds it intolerable to live with the defendant;
(b) that the defendant has behaved in such a way that the plaintiff cannot reasonably be expected to live with the defendant;
(c) that the defendant has deserted the plaintiff for a continuous period of at least 2 years immediately preceding the filing of the writ;
(d) that the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least 3 years immediately preceding the filing of the writ and the defendant consents to a judgment being granted;
(e) that the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least 4 years immediately preceding the filing of the writ.
Moving forward, the Bill proposes to include a sixth fact for divorce – divorce by mutual agreement under a new section 95A(1)(f) of the Charter, subject to the court’s approval. Under the new fact, couples who file for a consensual divorce will have to provide reasons for the marital breakdown, steps they have taken to reconcile, and the considerations they have given to the arrangements of their financial matters and children (if any) in their submissions to the court. Upon consideration of the above-mentioned matters, the court may exercise its powers to give the couple another chance at reconciliation, or to advise them to attend a family support programme. The court can reject the couple’s agreement if there is a possibility of reconciliation. This new provision stipulates that a divorce should only be granted if it is just and reasonable to do so, “having regard to all the relevant circumstances”, including the conduct of both spouses and how a divorce would affect them and their children.
The UK Parliament has recently enacted the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 to abolish the requirement to establish one of the five facts for proving that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This Act will come into force on 6 April 2022 in England and Wales. Similar to the proposal of the new amendment to the Women’s Charter, this new Act reduces hostility between couples, as it removes the need to assign the blame for the breakdown of the marriage. It also allows both spouses to find fresh starts in life earlier, without the need of waiting to meet the prolonged time requirements of separation in order to be granted a divorce.
 Women’s Charter 2021, s95(3)
 Women’s Charter (Amendment) Bill 2021 (Bill 43 of 2021) cl 29