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Selina Lum
Friday, Jul 4, 2014


Family justice system to be reformed for less painful divorces

The Straits Times | Selina Lum | Friday, Jul 4, 2014

SINGAPORE - A new specialist family court structure, geared towards resolving divorces more effectively and less painfully, is on the cards after the Government accepted the recommendations of a committee looking into how to better help troubled families.

Get the full story from The Straits Times.

Here are press statements from the Ministry of Law:

The Committee for Family Justice has finalised its recommendations on the new framework of the family justice system. They will form the blueprint for the development and implementation of a legal and policy framework in order to transform the family justice system in Singapore. The implementation of the framework will be spearheaded jointly by the Ministry of Law, the Judiciary and the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

The Committee's key recommendations are as follows:

(i) Providing better support for families to resolve their disputes through a robust and integrated network of assistance and support.

a. 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.

b. Establishment of Specialist Agencies that will provide a range of services to address issues arising from divorce. These Specialist Agencies will be in addition to the three existing agencies that specialise in addressing Family Violence issues. They will provide services such as information and non-legal advice, case management by social workers, counselling and family dispute management.

(ii) Creating 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.

a. Before filing for divorce in the Family Court, couples 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.

b. If the couple decide to institute divorce proceedings, the enhanced court processes will include the following:

- "Court Friend" scheme to render practical support and help unrepresented litigants navigate the court system.

- Judge-led approach where judges will be empowered to take a more proactive role in court proceedings, where appropriate.

- Differentiated case management to provide different tracks for each type of case that enters the court system.

- 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.

c. Introduction of a new Family Law Practitioner (FLP) accreditation. To enhance family law practice in the new family justice system, a corp of lawyers who have undergone specialist training and are accredited as FLPs will be developed.

On the recommendations, Senior Minister of State for Education and Law and co-Chairman of the Committee, Ms Indranee Rajah SC said "Families should be saved as far as possible, and court proceedings should be brought only as a last resort. If notwithstanding this the family still ends up in the court system, the court process should not worsen the anguish that the family is undergoing. The feedback from the public and stakeholders underlines this. Families should be supported, until the issues are resolved and they are able to adjust to the changes that taken place. The recommendations are aimed at creating a comprehensive, end-to-end family justice system. The Government and the Judiciary are committed to better protecting and supporting families in distress, at every step of the journey."

Feedback received during the Public Consultation on Interim Recommendations of the Committee

Feedback received by the Committee expressed broad support for the interim recommendations. The feedback gave suggestions to refine the interim recommendations and addressed issues pertaining to the implementation of the interim recommendations. They include:

a. Placing the child's best interests and welfare at the centre of the family justice system.

b. Acknowledging that every family is unique, and recognising the importance of being sensitive to the needs and circumstances of each family in providing services and assistance.

c. Helping families resolve their disputes early and amicably through a seamless and synergistic family justice system.

d. Helping families navigate the court system with minimal costs and effort by streamlining court processes and procedures, and providing appropriate assistance to unrepresented litigants.

e. Reducing the burden of acrimony in all family disputes and helping families to move on after divorce.

All feedback received was considered by the Committee in putting together this set of recommendations. In the next stage of work, the Committee will review other specific aspects of the family justice system, including the enforcement of maintenance orders, and the resourcing and training of social service professionals and judges.

Government accepts committee recommendations on new framework for the Family Justice System

The Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Social and Family Development were consulted by the Committee for Family Justice on the review of the family justice system in Singapore.

The Government welcomes and accepts the recommendations of the Committee for Family Justice. This will realise the vision of a more robust family justice system, which will better protect and support our families.

The two key thrusts of the Committee's key recommendations are to:

(i) Provide better support to help families resolve their disputes through the development of a robust and integrated network of assistance and support; and

(ii) Create 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.

The Government is committed to implementing the suite of recommendations put forth by the Committee. This will include the development of the social support framework, and the introduction of a new Family Justice Act in Parliament to establish the Family Justice Courts.

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