Marital Separation

  • Divorce
Marital Separation

Under Singapore law, a couple may only get a divorce granted if the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The parties must prove such in four legally defined ways: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, or separation.

If the parties cannot prove any of the above-mentioned reasons but still wish to seek a divorce, they may consider seeking a separation to secure their divorce. Spouses often take this route to end their marriage when neither of the parties are at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.

To successfully get a divorce based upon separation, both spouses need to meet any of the following requirements depending on the type of the divorce that applies:

  • Uncontested divorce: If both parties agree to cease the marriage, they must live  separately for a continuous period of three years;
  • Contested divorce: If one spouse challenges the ground for divorce, the spouses must have lived separately for a continuous period of four years.

When it comes to calculating the continuous period of separation, allowances may be given for any period not exceeding six months. Reductions may be provided for two or more periods exceeding six months in total when spouses continued to live with each other. However, this period will not count towards the period of separation.

There are three main ways a party may bring about separation:

  • Informally (without any formal written documentation);
  • Writing a separation agreement, usually a Deed of Separation; or
  • Obtaining the judgment of judicial separation.

Informal separation

In Singapore, laws regulating spousal relationships do not impose that married couples have to live together. This means that two spouses are free to decide whether or not they want to live apart. If a couple is going to get divorced on the grounds of separation, either or both of the spouses need to intend for the separation to lead to a divorce for it to be valid. If a spouse has to live abroad for some time due to work commitments, the separation may not be considered valid as the separation is a matter of necessity.

In the event of an informal separation, physical separation is often necessary. Still, this does not mean that spouses need to live in two different homes. It is possible for couples to live in one house. However, there should be a clear disruption of sexual and marital relations.Couples must refrain from performing typical spousal activities for one another, such as cleaning or cooking.

Formal agreements of separation

If two spouses choose to bring about the divorce with a legal agreement of separation, they may need to file a Deed of Separation. This document contains the terms and conditions of the relationship during the separation period, and requires registering with the court or a governmental department. Sometimes, people opt for a formal agreement because it might be harder to prove an oral agreement in dispute, even if such agreement is also valid.

The separation agreement usually contains terms such as:

  • The date of the commencement of separation;
  • The couples’ living arrangements;
  • The couples’ agreement to live separately from each other;
  • Other relevant and mutually agreed terms concerning the separation.

At times, the agreement also contains other terms not directly related to the separation, such as:

  • The division of marital assets;
  • The children’s living arrangements;
  • How much maintenance one party needs to pay the other.

Terms of this agreement are usually similar to those found in a divorce agreement. An experienced lawyer may assist in drafting the deed of separation according to a couple’s needs.

The court may decide to exclude deeds or terms of acts that it determines to be unfair or improper. The court, however, will not impose any sanctions for such deeds.

Before deciding whether the Deed of Separation is the best choice for a couple, it is important to note that it will not change the legal state of a marriage. The marriage will still exist legally, which means that among other things, the spouses involved cannot remarry.

Judicial separation

In the Women’s Charter (chapter 353), section 101(1) provides parties with the opportunity to file for a writ for judicial separation. With this, a party must prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down due to adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, or separation. Parties must have robust evidence to be granted a judicial separation, so applying for this type of separation is unlikely to be of particular use to a person seeking a divorce.