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Getting Divorced: Child Maintenance in Singapore

Ip Wai Sze

If you are undergoing a divorce or are contemplating getting a divorce, you may wish to obtain child maintenance (also known as child support) from your spouse.

This article will explain:

Who is Obliged to Pay Child Maintenance?

In Singapore, as long as you are a parent of a child under 21, you are required to support your child in the form of providing child maintenance. This is because every parent is under a legal duty to maintain their child until he or she turns 21 years old.

This duty exists regardless of whether you and your spouse are still married to each other, or whether the child is legitimate.

You can therefore make an application for child maintenance against your spouse while the two of you are still married, or only after divorce proceedings have commenced.

The court can order payment of child maintenance in the form of a monthly allowance, or a lump sum.

What Does the Court Consider when Deciding Whether to Grant Child Maintenance?

The court will consider the factors stated in section 69(4) of the Women’s Charter when deciding whether to grant child maintenance:

  • Your child’s financial needs
  • The income, earning capacity (if any), property and other financial resources of yourself, your spouse and your child
  • Your child’s physical or mental disability (if any)
  • Both the ages of yourself and your spouse
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The contributions made by yourself and your spouse to the family’s welfare
  • The standard of living enjoyed by your child before your spouse neglected or refused to provide reasonable maintenance for him or her
  • The manner in which your child was being, and which both yourself and your spouse expected your child to be, educated or trained
  • Any conduct of yourself and your spouse that would be inequitable for the court to disregard

If a husband is able to prove that a child is not his (e.g. through the taking of a paternity test), he may be able to argue against providing maintenance for that child during the divorce.

Until What Age is a Child Entitled to Maintenance?

Children below 21 years old are entitled to maintenance.

Child maintenance orders will cease once the child turns 21. This is unless the child (see section 69(5) of the Women’s Charter for more information):

  • Has a physical or mental disability;
  • Is or will be serving full-time national service;
  • Is still schooling or undergoing training for a trade, profession or vocation; or
  • There are special circumstances such that the court is satisfied that the provision of maintenance is necessary.

Who Can Apply for Child Maintenance?

If your child is below 21, you may make the application for child maintenance so long as you are your child’s guardian, or have actual custody of your child. Your child’s siblings may also make the application if they are 21 and above.

If your child is 21 and above, he or she must apply for child maintenance by himself or herself.

The person applying for child maintenance from your spouse will have to prove that the child is unable to maintain himself or herself, and that your spouse has neglected or refused to provide reasonable maintenance for him or her.

How is the Application for Child Maintenance Made?

If you are applying for child maintenance as part of the process of divorcing from your spouse, your application for child maintenance will be heard during the ancillary matters hearing together with the other ancillary matters, such as the division of matrimonial assets.

You can still apply for child maintenance even if you have not filed for divorce from your spouse yet. Here is a summary of the procedure:

  • File a Magistrate’s Complaint seeking child maintenance from your spouse.
  • Swear or affirm the complaint before a Magistrate or District Judge.
  • Your spouse will be issued a summons. The court will also send your spouse a letter for him or her to accept the summons at the Family Justice Courts’ Maintenance Registry at a specified date and time.
  • If your spouse fails to show up that day, he or she will be served the summons at his or her home or workplace, and requested to attend court.
  • If your spouse shows up, both yourself and your spouse will be able to take advantage of free mediation services to try and settle the matter privately.
  • If both of you manage to reach a settlement, the settlement will be recorded before a Magistrate or District Judge as a court order.
  • If however both of you fail to reach a settlement, both of you will be given a court date to start the process of the court deciding on the matter on both parties’ behalf.

What If My Spouse Wants Me to Sign an Agreement for Him or Her to Not Provide Any Maintenance For My Child after We Divorce?

While parties are free to come to their own agreements on the terms of their divorce, the courts tend to scrutinise agreements relating to children more closely than other ancillary matters when deciding whether to uphold these agreements.

The Singapore Court of Appeal has held that the welfare of the child will be the overriding consideration, and that the court will not allow parents to wash their hands off their responsibility of supporting their children. If your agreement with your spouse would leave your child with insufficient support, or if you and your spouse have agreed to an unfair distribution of responsibilities in relation to your child’s needs, the court would intervene and make orders to ensure that your child’s interests are taken care of.

Therefore, it may be unlikely that a court would endorse an agreement which has the effect of allowing your spouse to contract out of his or her responsibility to provide maintenance for your child.

However, if the court has allowed such an agreement but you subsequently wish for your spouse to contribute to your child’s maintenance, you may apply to court to vary the previous maintenance order.

Can You Change the Terms of the Child Maintenance Order Later On?

The court may vary your maintenance order if you prove that there has been a material change in circumstances which require a variation of the order, or if there is a good cause for the variation.

For example, an applicant managed to successfully apply for an increase in child maintenance after convincing the Singapore court that there had been a material change in the parties’ circumstances. This was because the applicant’s spouse had stopped paying for all the food, utilities, internet, phone bills and the domestic helper’s expenses, such that the applicant was left with the burden of paying these expenses.

In addition, note that your spouse may also apply to court to have the amount of child maintenance payable decreased if there has been a material change in circumstances which justify such a decrease in payment.

You can read more about variation of maintenance orders in our other article.

What Documents Do You Need to Bring to Apply for Child Maintenance/Variation in Child Maintenance?

The documents you will need to bring for a maintenance application or variation of maintenance application are listed in paragraph 25(1)(a) of the Family Justice Courts Practice Directions:

  • List of monthly expenses for yourself
  • List of monthly expenses for your child
  • Documents and receipts to prove such monthly expenses
  • Documents to prove the respective debts of yourself and your spouse (if any)
  • Your payslips and Central Provident Fund (CPF) statements for the last 6 months
  • Evidence of your employment (e.g. employer’s letter or employment contract)
  • Your Notice of Assessment of Income for the past 3 years
  • Your updated bank passbooks and/or updated bank statements (including sole and joint accounts)
  • Your bank deposit slips to show payment/non-payment of maintenance

What If My Spouse Refuses to Comply with the Terms of the Child Maintenance Order?

If your spouse fails to comply with the terms of the maintenance order, you can apply to the Family Justice Courts for the maintenance arrears to be enforced against your spouse.

You should bring along the following documents listed in paragraph 25(1)(b) of the Family Justice Courts Practice Directions:

  • The calculations for the amount of maintenance arrears
  • The updated bank passbooks and/or updated bank statements of both yourself and your spouse (especially for the period when the maintenance was not paid)

A divorce lawyer will be able to best advise you on the exact application process and the amount of child maintenance you may be able to expect to obtain based on your unique circumstances. You may approach one of our trusted divorce lawyers if you wish to explore the possibility of obtaining maintenance for your child further.

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