1. There are 2 main parts to a divorce in Singapore – the grounds for divorce, and the Ancillary Matters (i.e. custody, care & control and access, maintenance of the child(ren), maintenance of the (ex-)wife / incapacitated husband, and division of matrimonial assets. If all issues have been agreed upon, parties can opt for Simplified Divorce Proceedings, instead of filing proceedings along the “normal” route.
2. Either way, there are a few “core” documents that need to be prepared at the start – i.e. the Writ for Divorce, Statement of Claim and Statement of Particulars. You will need to ask yourselves the following questions amongst others: (a) What are the grounds for divorce?; (b) Does the Court have jurisdiction?; (c) Can I put my own grounds for divorce? (d) Should I state all the terms that I want in the Statement of Claim if parties have not come to an agreement?; (e) How much details should I put in the Statement of Particulars?; (f) Where do I go to file the divorce papers?; (g) Who can serve the divorce papers on my ex-spouse?; (h) Can I send the divorce papers by e-mail or post?; (i) Can I divorce if my spouse is not in Singapore or cannot be contacted?; (j) What is the procedure for divorce?
3. The answer to all the questions above is“It depends!”. Q: On what? A: On a variety of factors. Q: Where can I find information on these? A: From a variety of sources. Q: Do I need to get a lawyer? A: No, but it is highly advisable! Q: So how can I file divorce proceedings by myself? A: I do not know how to answer this in 1 sentence.
4. By this point, I am very certain that you are annoyed at me. Perhaps you think that I am trolling you. I assure you that this is NOT the case. To the contrary, I am revealing the questions that even lawyers should ask themselves when handling a divorce matter. Getting the divorce “forms” is easy. It is available online. Recently, an eService Portal has also been launched. Filing divorce documents can potentially be straightforward IF you know what to do. But handling a divorce matter is not just about “filling forms”. Knowledge of the law and where to look up the relevant information is a mere prerequisite. Competence and experience allow a lawyer to see what lies ahead. This allows us to advise you on what to do, how to do it right and when to take certain steps.
5. I applaud various parties for their initiative in summarizing the law and making such information freely available to the public. To a great extent, it gives clients a basic understanding of certain points. I would however caution on believing that one can be a competent lawyer just by reading a few articles online. Too often I have represented clients who got a “bad deal” previously because they were not represented. When asked why they agreed to certain terms, they would say “I did not know”. When asked why they did not engage a lawyer or even seek legal advice, they would say “To save money”. Often, their bad deal had already cost them many times more than their legal fees. Plus, they had to pay me (or a new lawyer) to try to make a bad situation less-bad. Monetary loss is the least serious implication. Some consequences of doing the wrong thing, are irreversible and claiming ignorance is never an excuse, even if acting in-person.
6. Often, I am asked “How to file myself?” .I always say that this question is like asking a mechanic how to fix your car on your own, or perhaps asking a surgeon how to operate on yourself. In either scenario, you may cut the wrong thing or cut the wrong way. The result? Perhaps a car breaking down in the middle of the road, or a hole in your body and you not knowing how to stitch yourself up. Either way, in the end, you will still have to send your car to the mechanic or yourself to the surgeon. It’s similar for trying to handle legal proceedings on your own.
7. Understandably, not everyone has the ready resources to pay for legal services when a crisis occurs. I humbly submit that we should take a closer and more serious look at “financing / funding” for legal matters. Sort of how insurance works. Of course, there will always be issues of “insurance fraud” as well as policy considerations against making litigation easier. I do not have the answer to this issues, but I am certain that handling a legal matter without representation / advice from a qualified lawyer, is NOT the answer.
8. I always say, “The day that the public tries to be their own doctor, is the day that professionals can kiss their careers goodbye!”. Well, in recent times we have seen many people trying to be their own doctors. The amount of conspiracy theories on vaccines, let alone self-prescribed treatments, in the recent 2 years itself is mind-boggling. Perhaps doomsday is upon professionals already. Then again, people have been trying to be their own doctors for time immemorial. So perhaps, just perhaps, there is a glimmer of hope that society finally accepts that we should engage the right professional for the right situation. I humbly suggest that the right professional to help you with a legal matter, is a lawyer.