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legal grounds for divorce Singapore

A relationship breakdown is difficult to deal with no matter the circumstances. But it’s particularly tough for those seeking to end a marriage. Divorce can be an emotional process and you’d be forgiven for wanting a good divorce lawyer to snap their fingers and get all the paperwork and legal processes over and done with as soon as possible. 

But before asking a lawyer to commence proceedings, you should be aware of what constitutes legal grounds for divorce in Singapore. Unlike a casual relationship, marriage is a legal status which means you must meet strict criteria for it to be altered. This criteria varies between countries, so it’s particularly important for expats who have moved to Singapore to familiarise themselves with the relevant laws.

You must meet the following criteria to apply for a divorce with the Family Justice Courts:

  • You or your spouse is a citizen or permanent resident of Singapore; or you or your spouse have lived in Singapore for a minimum of three years immediately preceding the divorce
  • You have been married for at least three years, unless you have obtained special permission from the court by demonstrating exceptional hardship or extremely unreasonable and cruel behaviour by your spouse
  • You have legal grounds for divorce

In essence, the only way to have legal grounds for divorce in Singapore is by proving the marriage has irretrievably broken down for at least one of the following five reasons.

1. Adultery

adultery legal grounds for divorce Singapore

You will have grounds to file for divorce if your spouse has engaged in a sexual relationship with another person and you therefore find it intolerable to continue living with them. Note that you will need to provide evidence that this has occurred in the form of a confession, written evidence or a report from a private investigator. You will also need to file for divorce within six months of discovering the infidelity.

2. Unreasonable behaviour

This is one of the more general reasons you may apply for a divorce and applies when your spouse is behaving so badly that you cannot possibly continue living together with them. This category covers a range of behaviours with examples including:

  • Domestic violence
  • Threat of domestic violence
  • Verbal abuse
  • Gambling addiction
  • Substance addiction
  • Financial irresponsibility
  • Improper relationship with third party*

*As opposed to adultery, which specifically involves sexual intercourse, an improper relationship may be cited if your spouse has had a non-sexual but nonetheless inappropriate and damaging relationship with another person.

3. Desertion of two years

man abandoning spouse legal grounds for divorce Singapore

When it comes to divorce, desertion is described as a person having abandoned their spouse for at least two years. You will need to prove that you have not been living together during this time and that your spouse has no intention of continuing the marriage.

4. Separation of 3 years (where your spouse consents to divorce)

Divorce through separation of three years is applicable when both parties have been living separately for at least three years and both consent to the divorce. This will not apply if you have been forced to live separately by nature of employment or any other reason, even if both of you provide consent. If you briefly reconciled before returning to your separation, you may still be able to apply under this category under certain conditions.

5. Separation of 4 years (where your spouse does not consent to divorce)

separation from spouse legal grounds for divorce Singapore

If your spouse does not consent to the divorce and has not behaved unreasonably, committed adultery or deserted you for two years, you will need to have been separated for at least four years before getting a divorce. Proof you are living apart is required, and you must demonstrate you have no intention of continuing the marriage regardless of whether your spouse consents. 

At Tembusu Law, our divorce lawyers understand how difficult the end of a relationship can be. We have years of experience practicing family law in Singapore and work hard to ensure the process is as smooth as possible. Get in touch to find out how we can help.