11% drop in applications for enforcement orders

This article is more than 12 months old

But getting maintenance still a major issue after 2011 amendments to Women's Charter

Part-time clerk S. Chia has been waging a 16-year battle. Since her divorce in 2001, she has been trying to get her ex-husband to pay the monthly maintenance of $500 for herself and their two children aged 18 and 20.

Following amendments to the Women's Charter in 2011, she was able to apply to court to get his employer to pay her directly from his salary.

But he resigned from his managerial position the next month. So she had to go back to court to apply for yet another enforcement order.

He owes her about $10,000 in maintenance arrears.

"He wouldn't pay until I take out an enforcement order. It's very tiring to keep taking out such orders," said Ms Chia, who earns just over $1,000 a month.

Her headaches underscore the challenges some broken families face in compelling breadwinners to provide financial support, despite the 2011 amendments.

Last year, there were 2,651 applications for the enforcement of maintenance orders, an 11 per cent drop from the 2,979six years ago.

Lawyers said the number of applications have been gradually falling since the 2011 measures.

For example, the courts can direct an employer to pay the defaulter's wages to the person entitled to it.

Defaulters can also be ordered to attend financial counselling or perform community service.

Divorcees who are re-marrying must also make a statutory declaration if they have any maintenance arrears. This is to remind them of their obligations to their former partners and to ensure their new spouses are aware of this.

If the person refuses to make a declaration or if the Registry of Marriages (ROM) suspects he or she is not telling the truth, it will not issue a marriage licence, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

The Straits Times understands that the ROM has yet to deny anyone a marriage licence because of this. As of last December, 1,646 people who were re-marrying had declared their maintenance arrears.

Lawyer Rajan Chettiar said of the falling numbers: "I think more people (who are supposed to pay maintenance) realise they cannot play punk and get away with it."

Lawyer Ivan Cheong noted that in recent years, more couples were settling their divorces and ancillary issues such as maintenance through mediation, instead of fighting it out in court where a judge decides who gets what.

When the couple agrees during mediation on terms such as the amount of maintenance each month, they are also more likely to comply with these terms. Hence, there may be fewer defaults, he said.

However, lawyer Malathi Das pointed out that not getting maintenance is still a major problem for many people, with over 2,000 enforcement applications filed a year.

Besides monetary woes, this often leads to other problems, lawyers said. For example, some women block ex-husbands from visiting their children if they are not paying maintenance. And the children become estranged from their fathers.


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