Singapore

Portal to ease uncontested divorce process to be up by year-end

Some lawyers worry the online offering will minimise their role in acting for couples

Couples will soon be able to file their divorce papers online on a new Web portal.

Tentatively called Litigation Assist, though its name has not been finalised, the portal will generate court documents relating to uncontested divorces and allow them to be filed.

This simplified track is for spouses who are not contesting the divorce and who have agreed on all ancillary matters, such as child custody and maintenance.

The portal, which will be up and running around the end of this year, will ease the administrative process of filing for a divorce, especially for people without a lawyer.

A Family Justice Courts (FJC) spokesman told The Straits Times: "The current process is labour-intensive, requiring court users to manually complete the necessary court forms and supporting documents."

Those who have no lawyers have to go in person to a Service Bureau, either at the Supreme Court or Chinatown Point, to file their case.

If a lawyer is hired, he will usually file the divorce documents for his client.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon announced the new portal during the Law Society Family Conference last month.

The FJC spokesman said the portal will guide users to obtain the relevant personal information from MyInfo to complete the court forms online. MyInfo is a government service that allows users to manage their personal data for online transactions.

Going online will remove the need for the person to file the divorce papers at the Service Bureau.

The new portal will also assist lawyers by allowing them to follow up with the filing process and provide advice after their clients have filled in their basic information.

After both parties have seen the application and consent to the divorce proceeding on the simplified track, the case will be filed in court.

The FJC spokesman added that cases on the simplified track generally do not require the parties or their lawyers to attend court hearings, unless otherwise directed.

Some family lawyers told The Straits Times they were initially concerned that the new portal minimises their role in acting for couples going through an uncontested divorce.

As lawyer Gloria James-Civetta pointed out, lawyers spend a considerable amount of time and effort in negotiations to help many couples agree to an uncontested divorce in the first place.

The FJC spokesman acknowledged the concern, noting that family lawyers continue to play a "critical role" in family disputes, and they are still required to provide legal advice on divorce-related issues as the new portal will not be able to do this.

Lawyer Ivan Cheong said the new portal may be useful for couples who already know what they want in an uncontested divorce with few or no ancillary matters that require legal advice.

He said: "In such cases, the semi-automation of the process and the ability to have the divorce papers filled and filed with minimal inconvenience would assist. They would also, of course, save on legal fees."

Wanted: Public views on new portal providing divorce support

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has started a public consultation exercise for an online portal that will provide information and support to couples headed for divorce or who want help saving their marriage.

The exercise will rope in 100 Singaporeans who have gone through a divorce. The views of those who thought about splitting up but eventually decided not to are also being sought.

The consultation, which began on Sept 25 and ends on Nov 28, will help decide how the portal can be customised in a way that best aids those who need it.

An MSF spokesman, in a statement, said: "By taking into consideration citizens' suggestions and feedback, the ministry hopes to better customise and refine the content of the portal so it will help families achieve better post-divorce outcomes, especially in supporting children, who are often the most impacted by divorce."

The ministry is also seeking suggestions on the portal name.

The portal, which is expected to be ready in the later part of next year, will consolidate information and resources that divorcing couples may find useful, including matters related to the Housing Board and Central Provident Fund.

Views will be gathered through online questionnaires and nine engagement sessions, with in-depth discussions on how the ministry can improve the portal's content.

After these sessions, MSF will work with the Syariah Court to make resources available for Muslim couples in the court's online portal. The Syariah Court and Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, together with their partners, will ensure the resources remain relevant to the needs of Singapore's Malay/ Muslim community.

The portal was one of the recommendations of the Committee to Review and Enhance Reforms in the Family Justice System.

Those wishing to give feedback can submit their name and contact details to msf_fdg@msf.gov.sg - THERESA TAN

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