Most divorces in Singapore involve children. From 2008 to 2018, 52-56% of all divorces under the Women’s Charter (Cap 353) involved at least one child below the age of 21.
Divorce is thus a life-changing event not just for spouses, but also for their children. Indeed, even if the divorce is uncontested and relations between both spouses do not seem acrimonious, the exposure of children to inter-parental conflict and separation through divorce can have profound, long-term psychological effects on children.
Children of divorce tend to experience the following:
More worryingly, mental health experts have observed increasing numbers of children in Singapore suffering from depression and other mental health issues, with parental divorce often cropping up as a major factor.
That being said, all children are different. Among other things, the child’s age is a key factor affecting how he/she responds to and makes sense of divorce.
Although babies cannot understand the conflict between their parents, they can perceive tension and changes in their parents’ behaviour, eg if the parents engage in loud quarrels or physical violence. In the long term, the child can exhibit anxiety, neediness and irritability. At the most extreme, he/she may even suffer developmental delay.
Compared with babies, toddlers have a heightened perception of tension and behavioural changes in their parents. The toddler may still be unable to articulate their thoughts or feelings. However, with greater self-awareness at this age, he/she may regress and become more reliant on the custodial parent. He/she may cry more and seek more attention. He/she may even revert to behaviours that he/she has outgrown, eg thumb-sucking and bedwetting. The toddler may resist being left alone and going to sleep at night, and suffer from nightmares.
Nursery/kindergarten-going children will be able understand that their parents are in conflict and are living separately. However, this is difficult for the child to accept. He/she may feel responsible for his/her parents’ divorce, and blame himself/herself for it. Therefore, like a toddler, he/she may exhibit regressive behaviour in order to gain more parental concern and draw both parents back together to care for him/her.
Together with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (“MSF”) and the Divorce Support Specialist Agencies (“DSSAs”), the Courts have implemented various programmes to help divorcing spouses and their children cope with the social and psychological impact of divorce. This is in line with the Courts’ shift towards a child-centric approach in divorce matters.
The following is a summary of the key programmes aimed at supporting divorcing parents and their children through the divorce process:
Mandatory Parenting Programme (“MPP”)- Even before commencing divorce, spouses with children below the age of 21 must undergo the MPP. This is a 2-hour counselling session by DSSA counsellors which seeks to help parents understand and work out post-divorce living arrangements, issues of child custody and access, as well as co-parenting.
Compulsory mediation and counselling under the Family Dispute Resolution (“FDR”) Division of the FJC- Divorcing spouses with at least 1 child below the age of 21 are now required by law to undergo mediation and counselling, as part of the divorce proceedings. As divorcing spouses invariably disagree about future living, caregiving and financial matters, children often experience uncertainty and anxiety. FDR mediation and counselling is thus aimed at keeping spouses focused on the welfare of the child in resolving their disagreements. The steps in the FDR mediation and counselling process are as follows:
Longer-term support. Through FDR mediation and counselling, the CFS can, with the divorcing spouses’ consent, refer them and/or their children to the DSSAs or Family Service Centres (“FSCs”). Programmes provided by the DSSAs are as follows:
For advice on these issues speak to one of the fully qualified family lawyers at Yeo & Associates LLC at 62203400.