Divorce is one of the common reasons why people file cases in court. Singapore alone has seen a rise in dissolution of marriages even if there is noted decrease in the number of marriages in the country.
In 2013 for instance, the total number of marriages registered a drop of 6% from the previous year; while the same year saw an increase of 4% in the total number of marital dissolution. (Source: http://www.singstat.gov.sg)
Every country – and even each state – has different grounds for accepting divorce cases. For Singapore residents, the law has only one ground for divorce – the marriage has irretrievably broken down – which has to supported by the following reasons: adultery, unacceptable behavior, separation of three or four years, and desertion of over two years.
The process of filing for divorce in Singapore consists of two stages:
(1) the court determines whether the marriage has grounds to be dissolved
(2) the court deals with “ancillary matters” such as child custody and division of assets.
Within both stages, the divorce case can proceed as being either uncontested or contested.
As the name suggests, uncontested divorce is when the couples completely agree on all issues that pertain to their marriage and its termination, leaving nothing unresolved and unsettled.
All matters that may cause contention have been ironed out outside the court. This gives the couple a chance to end their marriage quietly and privately, without much fuss. As such, this is often pertained to as a simple divorce.
Compared to contested divorce, uncontested ones are speedy, convenient, private, and inexpensive. In Singapore, hearings for the latter usually last only five to ten minutes.
Owing to its quick resolution, expensive legal fees are done away with. The law requires the service of only one lawyer to draw up a Consent Court Order for both parties. Furthermore, although getting a divorce lawyer can definitely help in the all the legal aspects of the proceedings, they are not required in order to achieve an uncontested divorce.
Any party can technically file a petition for divorce without legal representation.
Although both parties may have agreed to the divorce, there are still many aspects in the dissolution of marriage that may not be agreeable to either the Plaintiff (the one who filed the case) or the Defendant (the one served the case).
Contested divorce, therefore, is when the couple cannot agree on one or more crucial areas that are needed to conclude the termination of their marriage. Key issues that are usually in contention include:
- child custody
- child support
- child visitation rights
- division of property and assets
- debt allocation
In cases where an agreement cannot be reached, the court is needed to arbitrate and decide even if one or both parties are already aided by a legal counsel.
While an uncontested divorce in Singapore will proceed to the hearing after service of the Divorce Writ, a contested divorce has to go through a Pre-Trial Conference (PTC).
Among the purposes of a PTC is to see if the spouses have areas they can agree on which can lessen the issues to be tackled. In addition, a PTC is a venue to prepare both parties for the contested divorce hearing which will actually be a trial in open court.
As mentioned above, a hearing for an uncontested divorce can only take a few minutes while its counterpart can take one to several days depending on the number of witnesses and the complexity of the case. The Plaintiff and the Defendant as well as their witnesses are to give evidence in court and are also cross-examined. This would explain why contested divorces are tedious and expensive.
Nevertheless, in both cases, whether contested or uncontested, the couple still needs to invest emotionally, physically and financially in order to successfully terminate their marriage.