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Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Separation

1. In this article, I am going to try my best to explain these 3 concepts in layman terms. Along the way, I will mention some frequent points of confusion / misunderstandings about each concept. It is not meant to be used as legal advice or to be (mis)quoted elsewhere.

A. Divorce

2.This is the most common way to dissolve a marriage. Under the Women’s Charter, there are 5 (soon to be 6 – see: facts that can be relied on to show an “irretrievable breakdown of marriage”.

3. Within 3 years from ROM, parties are not able to file for divorce. However, one can apply for leave (permission) to divorce within these 3 years if one can show that he/she suffered “exceptional hardship” or “extreme depravity” by the other. This is not to be confused with the “3 Years Separation with Consent”, which is 1 of the facts that can be used to show “irretrievable breakdown of marriage”(see:

4. Generally speaking, there are 2 parts to divorce proceedings. There is the “Divorce” part dealing with the grounds for divorce, and the “Ancillary Matters” part dealing with the children’s issues (custody, care & control and access), monetary issues (maintenance for children and maintenance for wife / incapacitate husband) and division of matrimonial assets. If parties have an agreement on all the issues then they can proceed under the Simplified Divorce Proceedings track. Otherwise, parties will file divorce proceedings under the “normal” track where the court process aims to assist parties come to a resolution (hopefully amicably).

B. Annulment

5. Annulment is also a way to dissolve a marriage. To qualify for an annulment, there are certain specific grounds that need to be met, which are different from divorce grounds. If such grounds are satisfied, the marriage is considered “voidable”. Meaning that technically the marriage should not be valid but can continue unless steps (e.g. annulment) are taken to nullify it.

6. Just like divorce proceedings, annulment proceedings will deal with the Ancillary Matters too. However, unlike divorce, annulment proceedings can be filed within 3 years from ROM. Also, unlike divorce proceedings, there is no “simplified” track for annulment proceedings.

7. Most commonly, parties use the “non-consummation” ground. In recent times, the Family Court has scrutinized the particulars relied upon to satisfy such grounds in annulment proceedings. So, be prepared for the Judge to ask you some very personal questions as he/she probes how genuine your application is.

C. Separation

8. Separation does not dissolve the marriage. It deals with the state of a marriage and can be shown by several factors. Amongst others, physical separation, not sleeping in the same room, not having intimacy, holding out to the world that you are separated, etc. There must be a separation of households (i.e. having separate lives) and the intention to be separated.

9. Separation can be formalized in 2 ways, but it is not compulsory to formalize a separation:

9.1 Deed of Separation. This is an agreement between the parties to be separated, as well as any other terms that parties may agree upon for the period of separation and/or in relation to any subsequent divorce proceedings. If there is any breach in terms, parties still need to take the necessary application in Court.The exact terms that you should go into a Deed of Separation, depends on the various permutations of your matter.

9.2 Judicial Separation. This is separation by a Court Order. Process is similar to divorce proceedings under the normal track. All terms will be reflected in a Court Order. Not a common option. In 14 years of practice, I have come across 1 case. The wife in a very long marriage wanted the security of the Ancillary Matters being reflected in a Court Order, but was not ready to dissolve her marriage due to sentimental reasons.

9.3 In either option, parties do not become “divorced” automatically after a certain time. Parties will still have to commence divorce proceedings if they want to divorce later on.

D. Conclusion

10. Whether you can or should divorce, annul, or separate, depends on your circumstances as well as objectives. The exact terms that you should ask for to protect your rights and interest, also depends on the various permutations of your matter. No 2 cases are alike. For a proper assessment and advice on your matter, you should seek legal advice from a family lawyer.

11.Need any assistance or have any questions on this topic? Get in touch with me on my direct line at+65 94763230 (call / What’s App / text) or e-mail me at

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