Changes to Women’s Charter, including option for couples to divorce by mutual agreement, passed in Parliament


MPs also pushed for more support to be made available for couples, in the form of marriage counselling.

MP Yip Hon Weng (PAP-Yio Chu Kang) noted this can help couples to identify potential problems early and be better prepared.

But there remains a stigma among some that seeking marriage counselling is a sign of failure, he added, stressing the need to “normalise” counselling and “destigmatise the shame”.

MP Melvin Yong (PAP-Radin Mas) said authorities could make marriage preparation courses “more extensive” and even mandatory for all. At the moment, such courses are only made compulsory for couples where at least one party is below the age of 21.

Ms Sun replied that the Government “strongly” encourages all couples to attend marriage preparation programmes, and that rebates are already available to those who attend such workshops or programmes.

MPs, including Mr Yip, also mooted making pre-divorce counselling or parenting education courses mandatory for couples. In her reply, Ms Sun said that with the amendments in the Bill, all divorcing couples with minor children will have to attend a mandatory parenting programme before filing for divorce.

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At this programme, counsellors may assess the couple’s suitability for reconciliation and refer them for further support, she added.

In addition, Mr Yong asked if such pre-divorce counselling could be extended to those who cite “unreasonable behavior” as a reason for divorce.

Ms Sun said: “We agree it is good to do so, but our priority at this point is to extend the (mandatory parenting programme) to all divorcing couples with minor children, regardless of the fact they cite. We will explore extending pre-divorce counselling further at a later stage.”

It is also important to extend similar support to children, other MPs said.

For instance, MP Louis Ng (PAP-Nee Soon) called for the MSF to make its “Children-in-between” programme mandatory for all children whose parents are undergoing a divorce.

The programme is an “exceptionally good” one but at the moment, less than 2 per cent of children affected by their parents’ divorce attend the programme, he said.

“We should do a lot more to make this number as close to 100 per cent as possible,” Mr Ng added. “My proposal is that the court should, by default, order that all children of divorced parents participate in this ‘Children-in-between’ programme. Parents can appeal to opt out.”


Meanwhile, Ms Tan and MP Ang Wei Neng (PAP-West Coast) raised the issue of allowing maintenance applications to be made for husbands without the condition of incapacity.

Ms Tan said: “We can go beyond that to allow for husbands to apply for maintenance from wives if the distribution of labour between the spouses during marriage favoured the earning potential of the wife to be realised, instead of the husband’s.”

While men have traditionally taken on the roles as primary breadwinners and women being the primary family caregivers, times are changing rapidly, she added.

“If women expect men to pull their weight in domestic and caregiving chores in order to free us up to pursue our career aspirations, it follows logically that in cases where a woman earns much more than her husband and the husband has been taking on more of the domestic responsibilities, husbands should also be able to access maintenance after divorce.”

Ms Tan also noted that she has come across cases of men having suffered physical or emotional abuse from their partners. But these are “rarely reported due to the stigma around men showing their vulnerability”.

“Men deserve protection equally and clauses should provide for that, even if the number of occurrences of men being victims are significantly lower than women,” said Ms Tan.

In her closing speech, Ms Sun said that even with women being “in a much better position today”, it remains more likely for married women to give up their careers to care for the family. This means that women tend to be more financially vulnerable following a divorce.

“The current provision therefore provides maintenance for the parties that tend to be more financially vulnerable post-divorce – women and incapacitated men. While we want to move toward gender-neutrality, those who are more vulnerable must be protected,” said Ms Sun.

“In any case, the courts refrain from granting high amounts of maintenance to wives who are able to work, even if they had not worked or stopped working for some years,” she added, noting that the courts’ goal is to “award reasonable maintenance”.

There were also calls to change the name of the Women’s Charter to Family Charter.

The reasons raised by Mr Ng include how the latter would be “more appropriate” in reflecting changes to the Women’s Charter, which now “protects not just women but men and children as well”.

There is also a “rising, incorrect sentiment that the Women’s Charter is bad for men”, he said, citing a research by AWARE which “found that one of the main narratives in online misogyny is that ‘men are unprotected by the law’”.

“Undoubtedly, we know these voices are wrong. But renaming the Women’s Charter to accurately describe its scope can help defuse the anger,” he added.

Ms Tan noted that renaming the Women’s Charter would “correct the prevailing impression that family law in Singapore favours women over men”, and “send an important signal to reduce the animosity seen too often in divorce proceedings”.

In response, Ms Sun said the current provisions on marriage and divorce are “gender neutral and do not discriminate in favour of men or women”.

“The Women’s Charter also provides for protection of women and girls in the areas of vice (and) prostitution activities, for which there is good reason for this distinction as women are disproportionately affected,” she added.

“And while Singaporean women today are better educated with better employment opportunities, there are still vulnerable women who require the protection of the Women’s Charter,” she said.

Artmotion Asia

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