Key Amendments to the Women’s Charter – Part 2 Enforcement of Orders Relating to Children and Other Amendments

By Nur Shukrina Bte Abdul Salam, Trainee at OTP Law Corporation

This article is Part 2 of an article on the Key Amendments to the Women Charter. You can read Part 1 here.

III. Enforcement of Custody Orders and Child Access Orders

Post-divorce, parties may encounter problems relating to custody, care and control, and child access. Since the Circuit Breaker in Singapore, some parents who were granted access to their children realised that their spouses who were granted care and control, had used the pandemic as an excuse to block access.

As a result, one parent may not be able to see his or her child for months. This is contrary to the best interests of the child. As enumerated by the family justice court on several occasions, it is in the interest of the child to have both parents in his or her life. Exceptional circumstances aside, children often need the guidance of both parents in their lives and should be afforded the opportunity to have a healthy relationship with both parents.

As such, in line with therapeutic justice’s forward-looking approach, the court’s enforcement powers in relation to custody orders and child access orders have been expanded. Sections 126A and 126B empowers the court to enforce custody and access arrangements that enable children to have both parents in their lives. The court may also order for parties to undergo support programs that will improve their co-parenting relationship.

A. Enforcement of Custody Order- s126A

Under the new section 126A, the court is empowered to direct the bailiff to restore a child to the physical custody of the person in whose custody, or care and control, the child is placed.

B. Enforcement of Child Access Order- s126B

Where an access order under s126(2)(d) has been breached by a parent who has care and control of the child, the parent who has been denied access can apply to court to enforce the access. The court may do all or any of the following:

(a) order additional access to the child to make up for the access denied to the relevant parent as a result of the breach;

(b) order for the parent with care and control to compensate the parent who was denied access, for any reasonable expenses incurred as a result of the breach;

(c) order the parent with care and control, the parent who has been denied access, and the child (or any of them) to attend all or any of the following:

(i) Counselling;

(ii) Mediation;

(iii) a therapeutic or an educational programme specified by the court;

(iv) a family support programme as defined in section 139A;

(v) order the parent with care and control to execute a bond, with or without sureties or security, as the court may determine, to secure his/her future compliance with the access order;

(vi) for every breach of the access order by the parent with care and control, sentence him/her to a fine not exceeding $20,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.

IV. Programmes for Children and Family Support

In line with therapeutic justice’s aim to provide therapeutic support to parties, and improve access to relevant and digestible information, the amendments to the Women’s Charter includes an expansion of programmes for children and families.

Under the new section 132A, if the court finds that it would be beneficial for the children to attend the programmes for children, the court may advise parties in matrimonial proceedings to ensure their minor children complete the prescribed programmes. Programmes for children are available for prescribed classes of children, and aim to help a child handle the impact of the judicial separation, dissolution, or annulment of his or her parents’ marriage.

The new Part 10A (comprising new sections 139A to 139J) on the amicable settlement of disputes expands the available family support programmes. Under the new s139C, the court may appoint conciliation officers to settle differences between husbands and wives. Under the new section 139F(2)(d), the court may advise parties to attend a family support programme to facilitate a possible reconciliation. Under the new sections 139I(2)(b) and 139J(2)(c), the court may advise prescribed persons (in addition to the persons mentioned in those sections) to attend a family support programme.

According to the infographic released by MSF, an example of prescribed persons are grandparents. Since it is common that grandparents are caretakers and often provide support for children of divorced parents, it would be in the best interest of the children to have grandparents undergo family counselling and support programmes as well. Grandparents often play a significant role and can have a big influence over the children’s perception of their parents, post-divorce. As such, grandparents ought to be involved and encouraged to positively influence the relationship between the children and their divorced parents.

Additionally, the Mandatory Parenting Programme (MPP), which is currently not required for couples divorcing under the simplified track, has been expanded to include all divorcing couples with minor children. 

V. Other amendments to the Women’s Charter

Apart from the above changes, there are two other amendments which are of note.

Firstly, pursuant to the new Section 24, remote solemnisations are here to stay! The Registrar may give permission for a marriage to be remotely solemnised using a live video or live television link if the parties to the intended marriage, the person solemnising the marriage and the witnesses will be in Singapore during the solemnisation. Additionally, the Registrar must be satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances that prevent the parties from solemnising their marriage in the presence of each other, the person solemnising the marriage or the witnesses, and it is otherwise appropriate to give permission.

Secondly, the new section 50(1) enshrines equal rights between married men and married women. The new provision states as a general principle that the rights, privileges, powers, capacities, duties and liabilities of a married woman are the same as those of a married man, unless otherwise provided in any written law. This is in addition to other provisions which have already existed under Part 6 of the Women’s Charter, that sets out the rights and duties of husband and wife. However, it should be noted that Part 6 is now divided into 3 divisions, and s50(1) has been placed under Division 2, called the “Abolition of common law disabilities imposed on married women, etc.”. It is evident that this amendment and inclusion of a general principle, is the legislature’s attempt at abolishing some of the outdated concepts that previously disadvantaged married women.

VI. Conclusion

The Women’s Charter (Amendment) Bill has been passed but has yet to come into force. Only time will tell if the new changes will help our court in its objective to further therapeutic justice in our family justice system.

In this author’s view, these changes are a step in the right direction. It is hoped that for those whose marriages have irretrievably broken down, the process will be made less painful; for children of divorced parents, the support programmes will allow them to better maintain good relationships with both parents; and for lawyers in family practice, these changes will allow them to offer their clients various options in achieving a peaceful approach and fair resolution.