December 4, 2022

Saluti Law Medi

Rule it with System

Getting Out Of An Abusive Marriage: Practical Tips And Understanding Your Legal Rights In Singapore – Divorce


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You feel an immediate surge of panic and anxiety when you are
around them. You find that you dread going home at a reasonable
time, as home no longer feels safe anymore. You feel like you are
always walking on eggshells. You are in a constant state of
trepidation and fear for when the next outburst will happen. You
cannot quite remember the last time you felt at ease. You cannot
remember who you used to be before you felt this way. You feel
burdened with leading a dual life with your friends and family, and
you find you have alienated most of your close relationships.

Abusive and unhappy marriages take a toll. For some, it can be
much worse than just a sense of dread. Some suffer both physical
and emotional abuse that traumatize them and their children. This
trauma takes a long time to process and heal from. Some feel fear,
betrayal, and loneliness coupled with other negative emotions.
These emotions manifest in our lives and wear away a person’s
resolve. You might find that you become uncharacteristically
short-tempered with your children or family members. You might
always be in a constant state of distress and worry and cannot
quite focus on tasks at hand. You might have also lost your zest
for life and constantly feel that you need your spouse’s
approval before being able to do simple tasks, such as meeting up
with friends. You might feel trapped and burdened.

It may be hard to accept that there is a problem, but know that
you are not alone. Acknowledging your unhappiness and that you do
not deserve to be treated this way is the most crucial step. It is
what you decide to do next that matters most.

If you are past the point of no return and feel that you cannot
have a rational conversation with your spouse to stop their abusive
behavior, below are some practical tips to guide you.

If you are in imminent danger

1. Leave the family home immediately

If you and/or your children are the victims of physical abuse or
family violence and fear for your safety, you should take your
important belongings and leave the family home with your
children immediately if you are in a
position to do so.

Stay with a family member or friend temporarily. You can also
find other temporary accommodation (like a domestic abuse shelter)
to keep yourself out of harm’s way before any legal
protections are in place. You may also wish to call the National
Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline (1800-777-0000) to
enquire about your options and to ask for their help to point you
towards a domestic abuse crisis shelter for your safe and temporary
refuge.

When you do leave the family home, take active steps to keep
your new residence confidential from your abuser. Do not post
pictures, videos or any information online which could disclose
where you are. You might even feel compelled to not disclose this
address to your immediate family members if there is a risk of them
disclosing it to your abuser. If you have engaged the help of a
lawyer, they will need to know your address, but please highlight
to them that this must be kept strictly confidential for your
safety.

If there is a need for you to return to the family home, always
have a trusted third party accompany you for your own safety.

2. Law enforcement and legal protections

Police Involvement

It is recommended to call the police if you or your children are
being attacked by an abusive spouse. You should also try to
document such violence, be it through audio or video
recordings.

Though the police may decline to be involved where the abuser is
not actively attacking an individual, it is always advisable to go
to your nearest police station to lodge a police report after an
incident. This is crucial as it serves as a record of the incident
(be it verbal abuse or past incidents of physical abuse) which can
be used in Court later. If you have suffered from physical
injuries, this should be included in the report and the police can
refer you for medical treatment. These records are essential and
can be used in Court to protect you.

Applying for a Personal Protection Order
(“PPO”)

Following this, you may wish to also go to the Family Protection
Centre in the Family Justice Courts or to any Family Violence
Service Centres to apply for a PPO to protect yourself
and/or your children. A list of resources may be found at the end
of this article to guide you through this process.

A PPO is akin to a restraining order in Singapore. You
may apply for one on your own, or you may wish to engage a lawyer
to help you with this.

Under the PPO regime, you may also obtain an Expedited
Order (“EO”) which is an urgent and
temporary order given to you immediately (and without the need for
a trial) to protect you or your children from imminent danger of
family violence.

Where you have no other alternatives and must still reside in
the same house as your abuser, you may also apply for a Domestic
Exclusion Order (“DEO”) under
the PPO which would ban the abuser from entering certain
parts of the home or from entering the home entirely.

If there is a breach of the PPO and/or an EO and/or
a DEO, you must report this to the police immediately and the
abuser may be fined or jailed for their breach of the PPO.

If you are not in imminent danger

If you are not in imminent danger, you should take your time to
craft an exit strategy for you and your children to get out of
harm’s way in the best way possible.

1. Speak to close family or friends

You may wish to first tell some close family or friends about
the situation in order to have their support and to rely on them
for help.

Being in an abusive marriage or relationship is difficult
enough, without you isolating yourself out of fear of judgment or
shame. It sometimes takes an objective person to flag out abuse to
you and to give you the wakeup call you need.

While you are going through a difficult period in your life, it
is always important to cultivate an emotional support system.

2. Consult a specialist family lawyer

Where possible, you might wish to consider consulting a
specialist family lawyer to get comprehensive advice to guide you
through the process.

Specialist family lawyers are experienced in helping clients
navigate and extricate themselves from abusive marriages. With
their experience, they acutely understand your suffering and their
hope is to help you navigate the legal system in order to help you
find a peaceful solution.

Where you choose to seek advice from makes all the difference
between a nasty and stressful Court battle or an amicable and less
stressful experience with a specialist family lawyer guiding you
through.

3. Navigate moving out of the family home

You should start thinking about how to effectively secure
alternative accommodation and when you wish to time the
commencement of divorce proceedings.

Some individuals stay with friends or family during this period
or find short-term rental options. You should also ensure that you
have enough money saved so that you can conduct the move and to
support yourself. Alternatively, you may wish to seek the
assistance of friends and family for financial support to tide you
over during this time. This is crucial so you do not feel compelled
to remain trapped in an abusive marriage due to financial
constraints.

Before you move out of the home, ensure all of your important
belongings (especially your and your children’s passports,
birth certificates, and health records) are with you. Besides your
important belongings, you should also keep a soft or hard copy of
your marriage certificate as you would need that in order to file
for a divorce in Singapore.

Navigate the move during a time where you know your abuser is
not at home or ask a trusted third party to help you out with the
move for your own protection. You may wish to slowly and
incrementally move your items, or you may wish to move all of your
items at one time. The latter is recommended for your own safety.
In this situation, you must be prepared that you will not be able
to return to the family home.

Once you have moved out, be sure to change your residential
address to your new address with your banks, government agencies
and with your employer. The last thing you want is your abuser
being in possession of an important document and using that to
manipulate you.

4. File for a divorce

Extricating yourself from the marriage is easier when you are
not physically living in the same place as your abuser, especially
if you engage lawyers to assist you. Your lawyers will organize and
ensure that all legal documents are served on your abusive spouse.
Your lawyers will also help to minimize the need for you to
communicate directly with your abusive spouse by conducting
communication through lawyers.

Where you jointly own the family home you have moved out from,
this asset and other joint assets acquired during the marriage will
be dealt with during the divorce proceedings. Your legal interests
in the property will not be prejudiced just because you have moved
out. As a joint owner of the home, your legal rights will remain
intact whether you reside in the home or not. The likely outcome
would either be one party buying out the other party’s share
in the home, or for the home to be sold and for both of you to
split the net sale proceeds. For joint accounts, monies are usually
ordered to be split between spouses. The aim of the divorce is to
get a clean break from your spouse and for you to move on from this
painful experience.

Where you have minor children and are required by the Court to
attend family counselling, a counsellor or third party will always
be present. Such mediation and counselling sessions can also take
place without the need for you to be in the same room as your
abuser. Highlight to your lawyer your concerns regarding you or
your children being left alone with the abuser. This would be a
prime situation for your lawyer to request that any access time the
abuser has with your children will be supervised (this means it
will be conducted in a neutral environment with a third-party
present).

5. Prioritize your mental health

While you may be a parent with children or overstretched with
other responsibilities, you must take care of yourself first. It is
strongly recommended that you carve out some time for this. This
could be spending time with co-workers, friends or family, or even
something as simple as going for a quick 20-minute walk or
meditating.

You are going through a traumatic and difficult time in your
life. While the hope is that this is not a prolonged period, the
trauma which has been inflicted is immense. Begin the healing
process by taking care of yourself or speaking to a mental health
professional or counsellor. You will be referred to a counsellor
when you consult the help of a Family Service Centre or a Family
Violence Service Centre. If you require urgent emotional support,
please call the Samaritans of Singapore’s 24-hour hotline at
1800-221-4444.

There are many resources available to you, but you need to begin
the first step which is to seek help. Once you have chartered a
path forward, the dark clouds will start to clear, and you will be
on your way to a happier and more peaceful life.

Your well-being is the most important thing, and you should not
let another person take that away from you. While some things, such
as your spouse’s behavior, are out of your control, what is
in your control is how you choose to take charge of your life.
Hopefully with the right insight and advice, you can be empowered
to make a choice to transform your life into something better.

List of Resources

1. Guides on applying for a PPO:


https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/family/how-to-file-personal-protection-order-application


https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/family/apply-personal-protection-order


https://www.judiciary.gov.sg/docs/default-source/family-docs/ppo_guide_english.pdf

2. List of Family Violence Services Centres:


https://www.msf.gov.sg/Divorce-Support/Divorce-and-Children/Effects-on-Children/Pages/Dealing-with-Family-Violence.aspx

3. Family Service Centre E-Locator:

https://www.msf.gov.sg/dfcs/familyservice/default.aspx

4. Explanations of Family Violence and what you can do:


https://www.msf.gov.sg/policies/Strong-and-Stable-Families/Supporting-Families/Family-Violence/Pages/default.aspx

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.