Once upon a time, your thought the storybook ending pictured you, was your smiling wife and your sweet child standing hand in hand. But your blue skies are marred by a dismal grey and thunderous clouds. The storm’s uprooting the warmth and closure of your home.
Now there is no more love and affection, and your child is left in the eye of the storm without a hand to hold. You know the storm will only clear once you divorce your spouse. But that you may no longer get to spend as much time as you would like with your child.
Thus if at the end of a divorce Care and Control was not awarded to you, you need Access to your children. This article will elaborate more on what this means and what you ought to know.
The Welfare of the Child in Singapore
In Singapore, divorce generates the heated debate of which parent gets custody, care and control of the child. The welfare of the child is the focal point in the context of divorce because according to the Family Justice Courts,
“The child remains at the heart of our work… The welfare of the child is our paramount consideration and will override any other consideration. This legal principle is soundly rooted in societal needs. Our young are the future of our society, and we best protect our community’s future by protecting our young.”
The laws regarding the welfare of the child are stated in The Guardianship of Infants Act, Women’s Charter, and Administration of Muslim Law Act. All these statutes advocate the best for the child.
Child custody, care and control and access are a vital component in every divorce case. And it is worth knowing that the Singapore Courts believe that the child should have contact with both parents.
What is Access?
Access is a Court order given to the parent who does not have care and control of the child. The parent who has access to the child can schedule times to visit the child. Both parents are encouraged to jointly work out the days, time, and place of visitation. If a mutually agreeable arrangement is reached, this will help make the custody proceedings move forward faster and minimise the emotional damage done to the parties and their children.
The Problem and the Role of the Court
Although joint settlements between the parents would speed up the divorce proceedings, most of the time it is the Court that must decide when and where the parent with access can visit. When the Court decides on how much access to give to a parent or the amount of access, it often encounters problems.
There is a problem with the amount of access granted because the Women’s Charter does not state the amount of access time a parent should be given with his child. Instead, Section 126 of the Women’s Charter merely states that the parent who does not have care and control of the child should be granted access times that would be considered fair and reasonable. Then it is up to the Court to decide what is “fair” and “reasonable.”
So how does the Court Decide on the Quantum of Access?
A standard called the “welfare principle” is applied when deciding what type of custody order to award. By using the welfare principle, the Court attempts to give the arrangement that optimally suits the best interests of the child. The welfare of the child is not only measured in terms of money or physical comfort, but also in terms of moral, religious and physical well-being as well as his or her bond of affection to either parent. Generally, when awarding custody, the Court will take into account the following:
- The primary caregiver of the child during his or her development years
- The continuity of care given to the child
- The child’s sense of security
- The current living arrangements
- The child’s interests/wishes about who s/he should live with
- The parents’ interests (the court will prioritise the child’s wishes over those of the parents)
- The age of the child
- The child as well as the parents’ race and religion
- The parents’ financial abilities (the parent with the higher financial capability does not necessarily give him or her an advantage in custodial arrangements)
- The presence of family/sibling support
To analyse these elements, the Judge may ask for affidavits and social service reports or those from counselling sessions. Commonly used reports include the Social Welfare Report, which is prepared by officers from the Ministry of Community Development and Sport. The officers are tasked with speaking to the child and observing the child’s interaction with his or her parents. After reviewing these notes, the Judge will then award the type of custody that is best for the family.
What do you, as a parent with access, get?
There are two types of access orders: supervised and unsupervised. Access orders are usually unsupervised, which allows the parent to spend time with the child without a third party present creeping on them.
On the other hand, supervised orders are usually given to protect the child from potential physical or emotional abuse. They are also to assess the relationship between the child and noncustodial parent.
Ultimately, the Court will consider the welfare and the best interests of the child when deciding on the visiting hours. Examples of access periods include weekday access, weekend, access, school holiday access and public holiday access.
- Weekday Access
- Weekday access means access to the child a few hours in the middle of each week; the times depend on the child’s school schedule and extracurricular activities.
- Weekend Access
- Weekend access may include overnight access; this may also depend on the child’s school schedule and extracurricular activities
- Public Holiday Access
- Certain public holidays may be more significant to parties (e.g. Lunar New Year and Deepavali). Special arrangements can be made for such significant public holidays.For example, if one parent has a reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve with the child, then the other parent will be able to spend the first day of Lunar New Year with the child. This arrangement can then be switched for the next year.
After access orders are handed down, some parents face the issue of being denied access to the child. This denial of access happens when the parent with whom the child lives blocks the other from seeing the child. The police are frequently called, and allegations are raised to keep the children away from the other parent.
To help safeguard the interests of the children, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) are gearing their efforts towards providing more agencies that have supervised visitation programmes. Currently, the THK Centre for Family Harmony offers such a program in which children of divorced families can meet with their other parent.
Process of Appeal for Child Access
If you are a parent who wants more time with your child but cannot legally do so, we can help you appeal for more time. We can help you try to get more time with your child to make sure he or she does not outgrow childhood without a father or mother. We will help you file a Notice of Appeal. Keep in mind that the Notice must be issued within 14 days of the District Judge’s order. You must then serve the Notice on the other party within 7 days of it being issued. If you have further questions about the details of the process or appeal papers.
The article was originally posted at irblaw.com.sg