WHO will have Custody, Care and Control of the children when the marriage is dissolved?
CHILD – used in the context of the Women’s Charter (Cap. 353) means a child of the marriage who is below the age of 21 years.
If you ask any divorce lawyer or judge, he or she will probably tell you that the most difficult decision a judge will be asked to make concerns child custody. Often, both parents are dedicated parents, each wanting the best for their child. Although joint custody may be granted to both parents in some circumstances, the court is less inclined in doing so. More often than not, the court would award primary residential custody, care and control to one parent and access /visitation rights to the other.
In any suit for divorce, the court would therefore make such orders, as it thinks fit with respect to the welfare of any child. In deciding in whose custody a child should be placed, the paramount consideration shall be the welfare of the child. Subject to this, the court shall have regards to (a) the wishes of the parents of the child and (b) to the wishes of the child, where he or she is of an age to express an independent opinion.
Essentially, the parent who has been granted custody of the child shall be entitled to decide all questions relating to the upbringing and education of the child.
However, in some circumstances, the Custody Order may contain conditions as to the place where the child is to reside, the manner of his/her education, the religion in which the child is to be brought up. The Custody Order may also provide for the child to be temporarily in the care and control of some person other than the person given custody. It may also provide for the child to visit a parent deprived of custody or any member of the family of a parent who is dead or has been deprived of custody at such times and for such periods as the Court considers reasonable.
Under the law, once the child reaches the age of 21 years, the Custody Order in force will automatically become ineffective. However, if the child is suffering from any physical or mental disability, the Custody Order may continue beyond the child’s 21st birthday until he/she recovers from that disability.
Where an order for custody is in force, no person is allowed to take the child who is subject to the Custody Order out of Singapore unless with the written consent of both parents or permission of the Court. Anyone found contravening this shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding S$5,000.00 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to both.
When custody is granted to one parent, the other parent would be given “visitation rights” that is, rights to spend time with the child. However, the Court may deny such access to the other parent if it is shown that such access would not be in the interest of the child.
It is therefore encouraged that parents work out an arrangement between themselves as to which days, what time and place the parent having visitation rights may meet the child and for how long the access should be.
If a mutually convenient and reasonable arrangement can be made and both parents abide by it, this would not only reduce the pain that has already been brought upon the child as a result of the divorce proceedings, it can also be emotionally beneficial to both parents alike.
Please understand that divorce is a traumatic experience not just for the parties to the marriage, it affects the child to a great extent as well. As far as possible, parties should try to compromise with regard to access. The innocent child has the right to spend quality time with each of the parents and he/she should not be deprived of the company of either.
This is the second part of a four-parts series on divorce matters and proceedings in Singapore.