Divorce wedding
(Photo: Reuters)

Thinking of divorce? Well think again. Couples thinking of divorcing in Singapore will have to first attend a mandatory parenting programme if they have children. They can only file for divorce after they have attended the programme.

Previously, divorcing parents only need to attend mandatory mediation and counselling after a writ of divorce has been filed. Tan Chuan-Jin, the Minister for Social and Family Development told Parliament that the existing arrangement was not ideal as couples would have become "hardened in position" or "too caught up with emotions" by then.

He said the aim of the amendment was to better equip parties with knowledge and awareness of the issues arising in a divorce that could affect their children. It would also "enable couples to be more informed and make child-centric decisions during the process of divorce."

MP Louis Ng however felt that the law should have explicitly state an exception for cases involving domestic violence. "This will not be in the interest of the child, as in addition to spousal violence or abuse, there may also be child abuse in such a situation."

These are just one of the few amendments passed by the republic's parliament on 29 February. Speaking in Parliament, Tan said the changes to the Women's Charter (Amendment) Bill was made in view of evolving trends in society. He highlighted the rising prevalence of dual-income families and divorces, and a small but increasing cases of wives being the main family breadwinner.

In addition to the mandatory parenting programme, the amended law extends the marriage preparation programme to all marriages where one of the party is below the age of 21. Currently the programme only becomes mandatory for couples where one party is 18 years old or younger or whether both parties are minors [below 21 years old].

Also for the first time, spousal maintenance will be extended to incapacitated husbands or ex-husbands. MP Lee Bee Wah in welcoming this move also called for the amendment to cover men who quit their jobs to become house husbands on "mutual consent" and who have performed their roles adequately. Another MP Louis Ng agreed saying that eligibility for spousal maintenance should be "based on the principle of fairness, rather than gender."

The amendment also makes a marriage void if one party to the marriage is convicted of the marriage of convenience offence under the Immigration Act. It also prohibits the publication or broadcast of any information in the mass and social media that will reveal or is likely to identify the location of a shelter, residential facility or its residents.