Understanding the Legal Grounds for Divorce in Singapore

Understanding the Legal Grounds for Divorce in Singapore

A breakdown of a marriage is difficult regardless of the circumstances. Unfortunately, a testament to this breakdown is when a party is already seeking a dissolution of the marriage. The journey towards a divorce can be legally and emotionally daunting. Fortunately, divorce lawyers in Singapore are always willing to help couples deal with their current situation.

That said, before asking a lawyer to start the divorce proceedings and cost you a lot of financial stress, you should first be aware of the legal grounds to terminate your marriage.

This article will discuss the various legal grounds that you can utilise to initiate your divorce.

Prerequisite for Getting a Divorce

Before we delve into the legal grounds, you must first understand the criteria that will allow you to file for a divorce.  In Singapore, the Women’s Charter stipulates specific prerequisites that couples must meet before initiating the divorce process. These criteria ensure that divorce is considered carefully and that all possible avenues for reconciliation are explored.

  • Either the Plaintiff or the Defendant must have been domiciled in Singapore at the start of the proceeds, or either one has resided in Singapore for at least three years before the commencement of divorce proceedings;
  • The Plaintiff and the Defendant must have been married for at least three years;
  • The marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage

The cornerstone of divorce proceedings under Singapore’s civil law is the establishment of an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This concept is central to the divorce process, emphasizing that the marriage has reached a point beyond repair, where no reasonable prospect of reconciliation exists.

To prove this breakdown, the plaintiff may substantiate one or more of the following grounds:

1.     Adultery

Adultery is recognised as a compelling legal ground for divorce in Singapore, predicated on the breach of marital fidelity. It involves a spouse engaging in sexual relations outside the marriage, which the other spouse cannot condone, leading to an irreparable breakdown of the marital relationship.

Establishing adultery requires substantive evidence, which can pose challenges due to the private nature of these affairs. Intriguingly, the law does not necessitate direct proof of the act but rather circumstantial evidence that leads to a reasonable inference of adultery. This might include photographs, hotel receipts, text messages, or emails that suggest an intimate relationship outside the marriage. In some cases, private investigators are employed to gather this evidence, highlighting the lengths to which individuals may go to substantiate their claims.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused a rise in divorce cases stating adultery as the reason for the breakdown of marriage in Singapore.

2.     Unreasonable Behaviour

Unreasonable behaviour constitutes a broad spectrum of actions that render the petitioner unable to reasonably cohabit with their spouse. This category encompasses a wide range of behaviours, from verbal abuse and physical violence to addiction and neglect.

The threshold for what constitutes “unreasonable behaviour” is subjectively determined by the court, based on whether the average person could be expected to live with the respondent under the circumstances presented. Notably, societal attitudes toward what is deemed “unreasonable” evolve over time, reflecting changing norms and tolerances.

For instance, excessive gambling or spending, refusal to engage in sexual relations, and persistent refusal to communicate or participate in family life have all been recognized as forms of unreasonable behaviour. In recent years, addiction to social media or online gaming leading to neglect of familial duties has emerged as a new form of unreasonable behaviour in divorce cases.

3.     Desertion

Desertion occurs when one spouse abandons the other without any justification, intention of returning, or consent from the other spouse, for a continuous period of at least two years. This ground for divorce delves into the intent behind one partner’s decision to leave, which must be to end the marriage. The challenge in proving desertion lies in demonstrating the deserter’s intention to permanently cease cohabitation without reasonable cause or agreement.

An interesting aspect of desertion is its psychological component; it’s not merely physical absence but also the deserter’s resolve not to return or resume marital relations. This distinction is crucial because a physical separation due to, for example, work commitments abroad does not constitute desertion if the intent to maintain the marriage is present. Cases of desertion often involve situations where one spouse has left the marital home, cutting off communication and refusing attempts at reconciliation.

4.     Separation

Separation as a ground for divorce acknowledges the physical and emotional distance that has developed between spouses, allowing them to part ways without assigning blame. It is based on living apart for a continuous period of either three years with mutual consent or four years without it. This ground reflects an understanding that some marriages may dissolve not through overt actions like adultery or unreasonable behaviour but through gradual estrangement or incompatibility.

One of the most compelling aspects of separation is its capacity to serve as a no-fault ground for divorce. Couples may choose this path as a less confrontational approach, recognizing that their marriage has come to a natural end.

 Final Thoughts

The legal grounds for divorce under Singapore’s civil law reflect a comprehensive approach to addressing the complexities of marital dissolution. By understanding these grounds, couples are better equipped to navigate their divorce proceedings thoughtfully and effectively. It’s essential for those contemplating this path to seek professional advice from experienced divorce lawyers in Singapore, ensuring that their rights are protected and that they can make informed decisions throughout the process.


Denisse loves reading and writing about culture, history, and politics. Outside writing articles for The Singaporean, Denisse enjoys musicals, gaming, and Harry Potter.

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