The much discussed amendment to the Women’s Charter, allowing married couples to divorce amicably and still remain friends was finally passed on 10 January.
During the Parliamentary debate and subsequent interviews with family lawyers, much of the focus had been on the benefits of less acrimony between divorcing couples, the impact on divorce rates and the sanctity of marriage.
Beyond all these quantitative and qualitative benefits and repercussions, one important aspect that has received less attention than it should is allowing people to acknowledge and accept themselves as flawed, and give them the opportunity to correct mistakes and make better decisions the next time.
This is precisely what this amendment addresses — that a breakdown in marriage doesn’t necessarily involve one party committing an injustice against the other such as adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, or separation to be justifiable.
It merely shows that both parties have not consciously done something to hurt the other and that no one is at fault.
Sometimes, the reason can be as simple as growing apart and as humans, a wrong call was made when choosing a lifetime partner. One reason is because it is impossible to know everything about a person, and that people grow into the relationship as they get to know each other.
And most importantly, the couple should not be compelled to find fault with the other party when there is none, in order to get out of an unhappy marriage. The change in the law will better allow the family to heal and move on and the irreparable breakdown of the union remains the sole ground for the split.
Would this change make divorce easier? Divorce by mutual consent is not a recent talking point as it was proposed as an amendment to the Women’s Charter for the first time in Singapore in 1979. Unfortunately, it was removed before it could become law. One reason cited then was to not make it easy to terminate a marriage, such that there is no incentive to save it.
The assurance this time around is that all safeguards in the current divorce framework will continue to apply — this includes the three-year minimum marriage period before divorce can be filed, and the three-month period before the divorce is finalised.
The amendment is a move away from the current divorce regime where parties agreeing on the divorce have to cite one of the existing effects, forcing them to point fingers at each other as they look for reasons to prove one of the three fault-based facts or dredge up past hurts.
The amendment also acknowledges humanity and all its imperfections, allowing couples to correct a misalliance and help the family to move on.
In his commentary on CNA Online, Dr Hu Shu, who heads the sociology programme at the School of Humanities in the Singapore University of Social Sciences, says “no-fault divorce will not encourage divorce or discourage marriage”. Instead, it will only make the parting of ways less acrimonious for those determined to end a counterproductive union.
After all, it benefits no one to drag out an unhappy marriage in a lengthy and agonising process of divorce.