SINGAPORE — From early next year, the Syariah Court will require divorcing couples with children who are minors to discuss their co-parenting plans at the counselling stage, as part of efforts to better protect children during divorce proceedings.
The move, announced by Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim at a seminar yesterday, will help ensure that parents consider the best interests of their children from the onset of the divorce process, he said.
On average, more than 2,000 children below the age of 18 are involved in divorce proceedings every year, said the Syariah Court in a statement.
In his speech yesterday, Dr Yaacob said divorce hurts the family even when it is amicable and that the impact on children can continue into adulthood.
“Research has shown that those who experienced divorce as children face challenges breaking the cycle in adulthood,” he said. “The last thing we want is for the legacy of tragedy to be passed on from one generation to another.”
To ensure a more child-centric divorce process, the Syariah Court said couples with children below the age of 18 will need to submit a post-divorce co-parenting and care arrangement plan for their children. The plan must be prepared at the marriage counselling stage before divorce proceedings commence in court.
“This would make it compulsory for parents to consider their children’s welfare and the custody, care and control and access arrangements when making decisions that would inevitably affect their children,” said the Syariah Court.
As part of the Syariah Court’s collaboration with Malay-Muslim self-help group Mendaki, a family social services initiative called Nadi Khidmat will be extended to the court’s clients, especially those with children who are minors, to help them access information and referral services to national agencies for other forms of assistance.
In August, the Syariah Court’s marriage counsellors will undergo a skills-based workshop to enhance their knowledge of working with children. This will provide them with a better understanding of the complexities of helping divorcing couples who have children.
Currently, existing administrative measures to safeguard the interests of children include pre-divorce briefings conducted by the PPIS As-Salaam Family Support Centre and the Muslim Law Practice Committee.
The Syariah Court also refers cases of divorcing couples who have children to the Housing and Development Board, so they can receive guidance on housing after the separation.
Social welfare reports are also prepared to help the court make informed decisions on cases that involve child custody disputes.