How are child custody, care and control and access determined in Singapore?

 “Enough is enough!” Jenny shouted, as she slammed her bedroom door. 

From her room, she heard the gate rattling. He left the house for yet another night.

Meanwhile, their two children hid in the room, as they always did whenever daddy and mummy start screaming at each other.

It had been this way for months. He would come home late at night, play with the kids, fight with her, and disappear again. It was always Jenny who had to keep everything in order.

Jenny, like many other women in Singapore, tried her best to keep her marriage together but it was time to move on.

While filing for her divorce, she came across a component called Ancillary Matters, which concerns the custody, care and control, and access to her children.

Ancillary matters are dealt with in the second stage of the divorce process in Singapore, after the Interim Judgment is granted.

Content Guide:

  • Child Custody
    • Types of Custody Orders
    • Who gets custody
  • Care and Control
    • Who is given care and control
  • Access
    • Types of access

According to the Women’s Charter, a child is defined as a child of a marriage who is under 21 years of age. It means any child of the husband and wife, and includes any adopted child and any other child (whether or not a child of the husband or of the wife) who was accepted as being a member of the family.

Children deserve to feel supported by both their mother and father. The Court recognizes the importance of both parents’ presence on child development. 

Children are a lifelong commitment after all, going far beyond that of a marriage. So who determines what’s best?

Recommended for you: How long does it take to divorce in Singapore – process and legal grounds

Child custody is NOT the same as care and control

When Jenny met her lawyer, she exclaimed, “I don’t care, I just want custody of both my children!”

People often use these terms interchangeably, but there is a difference.

Custody” refers to the power to make major decisions such as education, religion and healthcare.

Care and Control” refers to the upbringing of the child(ren) on a daily basis. The parent having care and control of the child(ren) will be in charge of the child(ren)’s daily living requirements and is responsible for their day-to-day life, such as the child(ren)’s meals, bedtimes and transport arrangements etc.

Jenny had actually wanted both custody AND care and control of her children, but because she didn’t understand the difference between the two, she had only expressed her desire for custody. Good thing she had a lawyer with her to keep her on track!

Overview of Child Custody

The Guardianship of Infants Act is the main statute governing child custody in Singapore and it is supplemented by the Women’s Charter.

Types of Child Custody

There are different types of child custody granted in Singapore, with joint custody being the most common as the Court generally promotes co-parenting despite a failed marriage. 

How does the Court determine who gets custody?

Decisions are always made in the best interests of the child. As much as financial and physical welfare plays a huge role, other factors such as emotional support, moral upbringing and religion are also taken into account. 

These are some of the factors that the Court considers for divorcing couples:

  • Who is the  main caregiver of the child during his/her formative years
  • What are the present living arrangements
  • The child’s wishes
  • The parents’ wishes
  • The child’s age
  • The parents’ financial capability
  • The parents’ working hours
  • Presence of family support

In Jenny’s case, her husband showed decent care for their two lovely children and was financially responsible. Whilst the Court felt that Jenny was more present for her children and knew their needs better, the Court awarded joint custody to promote co-parenting .

Care and Control

Essentially, care and control addresses who the child should live with from day to day. Where there are several children, the Court’s desire is to keep them together under the care and control of a single parent. 

Who is given care and control?

Care and control is generally awarded to the mother in cases where an infant child is involved, unless the mother agrees to the father’s request for care and control, and/or the child is old enough to state his/her desires. 

There is the possibility of shared care and control, where each parent’s time spent with the children is split equally. However, this is not recommended as the children will have to shuttle between two (2) families which may be disruptive if not managed well. So talk to us if you need help with this.

In Jenny’s case, her husband did not protest to her having care and control of the children. However, her husband was worried about her taking the children on holidays too often, leaving him with little time to spend with them.

Access

Access is granted to the parent who does not have care and control. Jenny’s husband was given access rights since it’s still beneficial for the children to spend time with their father.

But both Jenny and her husband disagreed on how much time he would get to spend with them. Of course, he wanted to spend more time with them, but Jenny was concerned that the children’s tuition and enrichment classes would be disrupted. 

Here’s how the amount of access is determined:

  • The child’s needs
  • The child’s wishes
  • The non-custodial parent’s previous contact with the child
  • The history of the relationship between the non-custodial parent and the child
  • Whether such access causes any disruptions towards the child’s schooling arrangement

And there are three types of access:

  1. Liberal access – The non-custodial parent gets to see the children as and when they want, bring them overseas freely etc

2.          Reasonable access – The non-custodial parent gets to see the children within reasonable and routine hours.  Overseas and overnight access has to be mutually agreed upon.

3.          Supervised access – This is often granted if the child does not have much previous contact with the parent with access, and/or or there have been allegations of violence committed against the child. Eg. mother/father was in prison and the child is not familiar with them

In such cases, one immediate family member and/or the ex-spouse will be present during access. Alternatively, the parent with access can choose to have access at DSSA – (Divorce Support Specialist Agency) at a fee.

Jenny’s husband, like in most other cases, was granted reasonable access to the children. Together with their lawyers, they worked out a schedule where he would get routine access over the weekends, on Father’s Day, alternate public holidays and half of the children’s school holidays.

Once access orders are awarded by the Court, both parties are legally bound to follow the agreement. However, some parents face the problem of being denied access to the child or their spouse demanding more than what is ordered by the Court. If you encounter this problem, please seek professional help from a lawyer.

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