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. This duty still exists even if either spouse has remarried.
The court can order payment of child maintenance in the form of a monthly allowance, or a lump sum.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even if you have not filed for divorce from your spouse yet, you can still apply for child maintenance through making a Magistrate’s Complaint. Here’s how:
When applying for child maintenance, consider submitting a draft application online via iFAMS (Integrated Family Application Management Systems) first. This is not compulsory, but you are encouraged to do so.
To file an application under iFAMS, log in to iFAMS using your SingPass ID. Once logged in, you will be able to create a draft application for your child maintenance order. You will need the following documents for the application:
- The child’s birth certificate
- Syariah Court divorce order (for applications for child maintenance following a Muslim divorce)
- Identification document such as NRIC or passport
A step-by-step guide to filing an application under iFAMS can be found here. There is a nominal fee of $1 to file a child maintenance application under iFAMS.
The next step is to go to the Family Justice Courts (FJC) Registry or the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) to verify your documents and submit your maintenance application. You should also bring your child’s birth certificate with you.
If you did not submit a draft application via iFAMS, you can also make your application at either the FJC Registry or SCWO, though this option is more time-consuming.
After your application has been submitted, you will appear before a judge who will consider your application. If you applied at the FJC, attendance before the judge will be in-person while if you applied at the SCWO, attendance before the judge will be via video conference.
Before the judge, you will have to swear or affirm that the contents of your application and your answers to the judge’s questions are true and correct.
If your application is in order, the judge will issue a summons to your spouse. This summons will state a date for a first court hearing of the matter. Both you and your spouse have to attend the hearing. You will need to pay a nominal $1 for this summons to be issued.
The summons will then be served on your spouse. A summary of what happens in court after that is as follows:
- If your spouse shows up in court, a court officer will read your application to your spouse. If your spouse agrees to your application, the court can record a consent order (i.e. a court order confirming what the parties have agreed to).
- If your spouse fails to show up that day, a warrant of arrest will be issued against him.
- If you fail to show up that day, your application will be struck out.
- If your spouse does not agree to your application, the court may send the matter for mediation. If both of you manage to settle the matter, the court can record a consent order.
- If mediation fails, both of you will be given a court date to start the process of the court deciding on the matter on both parties’ behalf.
You should also bring to court the financial documents listed in paragraph 25(1)(a) of the Family Justice Courts Practice Directions to help the court decide how much maintenance to grant:
- 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
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
Text: Singapore Legal Advice