The Changing Landscape of Family Justice In Singapore

JTJB Legal Update December 2014

A comprehensive review of the Family Justice system was conducted in 2013 and 2014 through the formation of a Review Committee and an extensive public consultation exercise.

The Committee’s key recommendations have been adopted and were implemented through the enactment of the Family Justice Act. These include:

(a)  The provision of better support for families to resolve their disputes through a robust and integrated network of assistance and support by:

  1. Strengthening community touch points such as Family Service Centres, schools, hospitals, charities, MPs and lawyers to direct families to the appropriate providers of assistance for their problems.
  2. Establishing more specialist agencies that will provide a range of services to address issues arising from divorce such as information and non-legal advice, case management by social workers, counselling and family dispute management.

(b)  The creation of a comprehensive specialist family court structure known as the Family Justice Courts. This will introduce enhanced court management processes that will empower the Court to adjudicate and resolve family disputes more effectively, while lessening the trauma and acrimony involved in the divorce process.

Under the new regime, before filing for divorce in the Family Court, both the husband and the wife must undergo a pre-filing consultation session to understand the importance of co-parenting and the practical issues arising out of a divorce that may have an impact on children, unless they are able to agree on the divorce and all ancillary matters.

The pre-filing consultation sessions will most likely be handled by the Community Touch Points above or by the Family Justice Courts with the help of external specialist agencies. The Family Justice Courts will also be equipped with counsellors, mediators who may be of assistance to parties.

If the parties decide to proceed with the divorce and institute divorce proceedings formally, the following schemes will be in place to assist parties to resolve the issues arising out of the divorce proceedings:

  • A “Court Friend” scheme to render practical support and help unrepresented litigants navigate the court system.
  • A Judge-led approach where judges will be empowered to take a more proactive role in court proceedings, where appropriate.
  • A differentiated case management system to provide different tracks for each type of case that enters the court system.
  • A child-centred approach that places more emphasis on addressing the interests of children in the divorce process. The proposed measures include: (a) expanding the mandate of the existing Counselling and Psychological Services of the State Courts to better represent the child; (b) appointing Child Representatives in appropriate court proceedings to, e.g., act as the child’s advocate; and (c) involving social and psychological service professionals in court proceedings to ensure that the best interests of the child are protected.

If parties require lawyers to represent them in particularly difficult divorce proceedings, parties will have the benefit of looking for lawyers who have a Family Law Practitioner (FLP) accreditation. This scheme is intended to enhance family law practice in the new family justice system and will consist of lawyers who have undergone specialist training and are accredited as FLPs. This scheme is still in its infancy and is not meant to be a compulsory requirement for family law practitioners.

The reforms to the Family Justice system are aimed at enabling parties to reach an amicable resolution on issues such as the custody, care and control of the children, maintenance and division of matrimonial property as quickly as possible without the need for acrimonious and protracted litigation in Court.

This update is for general information only and is it not intended to constitute legal advice. JTJB has made all reasonable efforts to ensure the information provided is accurate at the time of publication.

Contributed by:
Muhammad Raffli

Raffli first joined the firm as a practice trainee in January 2011 and was retained as an Associate. His areas of practice include probate, family law and civil litigation.