Legal issues relating to cross-border divorce

Fortis Law’s lawyers’ article on “Legal issues relating to cross-border divorce” has been published and featured in the Asian Legal Business.

Author: Patrick Tan

There is an increasing number of marriages involving couples of different nationalities (i.e. cross-border marriages). In Singapore, the diverse profiles of persons residing here have contributed to a rising number of cross-border marriages. However, there are instances where a cross-border marriage breaks down and couples decide to divorce.

Cross-border divorces can involve complex legal elements and could therefore be more complicated than one would expect. The divorce process is also a difficult one for both parties. It is therefore advisable that couples intending to carry out a cross-border divorce have a clear understanding of all the legal issues involved. This article aims to provide a quick overview of the common legal issues involved in a cross-border divorce.

  1. Child Custody

One of the biggest issues that come with cross-border divorce in Singapore is making a decision on child custody (if applicable). In most occasions, when couples divorce, relocating to a new place is the first decision that they make. However, this is far from straightforward given the need to decide on the issue of custody. Moving a child to another country without prior notice to the ex-spouse or the Singapore courts, or even flouting a court order as to the child’s custody would be unlawful and can amount to child abduction. In deciding the child’s custody, the Singapore courts consider the child’s welfare to be of utmost importance.

  1. Spousal Maintenance

If a divorce order is granted, there will be a need to make decisions on spousal maintenance. Previously, the husband would be required to provide maintenance for his ex-wife, but this has changed with recent amendments in law. Currently, either spouse may be ordered to maintain the other depending on the condition of either spouse.

  1. Eligibility for divorce

Eligibility for divorce is another uncommon legal issue related to cross-border divorce. In Singapore, the court only has jurisdiction for divorce proceedings if one of the parties to a marriage is habitually resident in Singapore for 3 years immediately prior to the application for divorce, or if either party is ‘domiciled’ in Singapore. Consequentially, if the above-mentioned requirements are not met, parties are not able to apply to the Singapore courts for a divorce.

  1. Division of Property

The couple’s properties would generally be divided after the divorce. The Singapore Courts will determine whether the property in question is a matrimonial asset. In determining the share of matrimonial property awarded to each side, the Singapore courts typically consider the financial and non-financial contributions of each party to the marriage. 

Written by: Patrick Tan