What are the legal issues related to cross-border divorce?

In today’s world, it is common for people to marry across borders. In Singapore, cross-border marriages are more common given the ever growing number of expatriates. Just like any other marriage, cross-border marriages can get sour at times.

Cross-border divorces are very complicated given that they involve complex legal elements. The divorce process can be a painful and emotional one for both parties. In some situations, you could be alone in a foreign country with no close friends or relatives. It is, therefore, advisable that couples intending to carry out a cross-border divorce have a clear understanding of all the legal issues involved.

Below are some of these issues.

#1: Child Custody

One of the biggest issues that come with cross-border divorce in Singapore is making a decision on child custody. The main deciding factors are the child’s gender and the parent’s income. 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 that you will have to first decide on the issue of custody. Moving a child to another country without prior notice to your ex-spouse or the Singapore Courts may unlawful and amount to child abduction.

#2: Spousal Maintenance

If divorce is granted, there will be a need to make decisions on spousal maintenance. Previously, in Singapore, it was the husband who was required to provide maintenance for his ex-wife. The laws have recently been changed and depending on the condition of either spouse, either of them may be ordered maintain the other. For example, if the husband was severely incapacitated during the marriage, the wife will be responsible for the maintenance of the husband.

#3: Eligibility for divorce

Eligibility for divorce is another legal issue related to cross-border divorce. In Singapore, the courts can only allow a divorce if one of the spouses has a strong connection to Singapore. For example, one of the parties to a marriage must have lived for at least 3 years in Singapore prior to the application for divorce. One can also file for a divorce if he or she is ‘domiciled’ in Singapore. Being domiciled means that you have a permanent home in Singapore. So, if you are in Singapore for a certain purpose, such to study or to work for a period of time, then you may not be domiciled and will therefore not be eligible for file for divorce.

#5: Division of Property

There is a need to divide the properties after the divorce. If the Singapore Courts determine that the property in question is a matrimonial asset, then the (value of the) property will have to be divided. This may lead to a loss especially when the property has to be sold to facilitate a division. If the property in question is a home, the home may be sold.

#6: Immigration issues

Another legal issue related to cross-border divorce is the issue of immigration. If you are on a Dependent Pass, and you are granted a divorce, it would mean that you have to leave Singapore as you would have lost the right to stay here.