Think the law is unfair? Speak up and make your voice count

Think the law is unfair? Speak up and make your voice count

Channel NewsAsia·2018-03-02 05:05

File photo of a rin being placed on a finger.  (Photo: AFP)

SINGAPORE: The recently formed inter-agency Review and Enhance Reforms (RERF) committee will work to make support services available earlier for couples whose marriages are on the rocks, before they file for divorce in court. 

This was announced by Justice Debbie Ong, Presiding Judge of the Family Justice Courts (FJC) on Wednesday (Feb 28) at the FJC Workplan 2018 seminar.

“We will work to facilitate opportunities for parties to appreciate the consequences of the various decisions they make, and be empowered to make decisions that are reasonable and good for their children," said Justice Ong. 

"The court is to be the forum of last resort for the resolution of family disputes,” she added.

In her speech, Justice Ong highlighted the Mandatory Parenting Programme – a two-hour counselling session conducted by the divorce support specialist agencies to encourage divorcing couples to make decisions that prioritise their well-being of children.

She said that the FJC was “greatly heartened” by such efforts, and will continue to work with Ministry of Social and Family Development to support such endeavours.

REVIEWING AND STRENGTHENING FAMILY LAW 

Justice Ong also added that the RERF Committee may review the court’s power to divide matrimonial assets and maintenance.

In highlighting situations where matters do proceed for adjudication, Justice Ong emphasised that it is important to further reduce costs and complexity, while increasing timeliness of the resolution of family proceedings. 

In this context, the FJC will take stock and review the Family Justice Rules and Practice Directions which came into force in October 2014. The RERF Committee will ruminate on the work required in the review and the simplification of the rules and processes.

SAFEGUARDING WELFARE OF CHILDREN

The FJC is also looking to strengthen the Child Representative scheme. 

Implemented in 2014, the scheme sees trained lawyers safeguarding a child’s welfare in high-conflict divorce cases by representing their wishes and best interests in court.

In response to queries, an FJC spokesperson said the revised process will ensure that Child Representatives are present at the final hearing for proceedings. 

“With the (representative) ... being able to explain the orders made by the court, it is hoped that the child will better understand why the judge made the decision that affects him or her,” said the spokesperson.

Justice Ong noted that feedback to the scheme has been positive. 

"Judges felt that the CRs were valuable in interviewing the children, the parents and the significant caregivers. The CRs themselves felt that their role as representatives of the children was meaningful, and they gave up much of their time, including weekends, to carry out this work," she said. 

The FJC is also looking at building online facilities for child maintenance claims.

The project aims to provide an outcome simulator to help parties understand the possible outcome of a maintenance claim and a forum for both parties to negotiate.

When negotiation fails, online mediation of the claims will be provided.

This "will help parties to resolve their child maintenance claims earlier and with less cost, ultimately benefiting the children", said Justice Ong.

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