Adultery, being unprepared among real reasons why marriages in Singapore fail: Lawyers

Nurul Azliah
Senior Lifestyle Reporter
Divorce rates have gone up by 1.2 per cent from 2015, according to the Statistics on Marriages and Divorces released by the Department of Statistics Singapore on Tuesday (18 July).

While thousands of Singaporeans continue to get hitched every year, more couples have also been calling it quits.

According to recent data revealed by the Department of Government Statistics on Tuesday (18 July), couples who underwent civil divorces have cited several reasons such as “unreasonable behaviour” and having “lived apart or separated for more than three years”. Meanwhile, couples who underwent Muslim divorces cited infidelity and desertion among the reasons for splitting.

However, after speaking to three Singaporean lawyers who have had a number of years of experience dealing with divorces in the country, it appears there are far greater reasons that have led to the breakdown of marriages here. A lot of times, the couples themselves don’t even realise the problems until it’s too late.

Unreasonable behaviour

While “unreasonable behaviour” has been stated as the top reason for civil divorces in Singapore, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Singaporean couples have decided to split solely based on petty and annoying behaviour such as the constant “monitoring of phone calls” or simply “not caring for the other”.

According to lawyer Satwant Singh, 53, who has been in the practice for 21 years, couples still need to show “how the marriage has broken down due to these reasons, based on the first three years of marriage”.

For the record, you’re not allowed to file for a divorce during the first three years of marriage unless you can satisfy the four grounds for marriage annulment, which includes non-consummation.

“Unreasonable behaviour” is also one of the easiest ways for couples in Singapore to file for a divorce due to its “wide-encompassing nature”, said Satwant.

“It can be anything and everything under the sun (so long as) it is unreasonable to the point where the plaintiff cannot be expected to live with the defendant,” said lawyer Tan Jin Huang, 33, who has been in the practice since 2009.

Some couples have also used the same reason simply because they are unable to prove that a partner has committed adultery, which both Satwant and lawyer Ray Louis, 46, believe is on the rise in Singapore.

“It may not reflect in the statistics but the threshold to prove adultery is quite high. You have to show proof of adultery, which means you have to hire a private investigator or show incriminating evidence,” said Louis.

This means that photos of your spouse holding hands with another person or screenshots of flirtatious text messages will not be enough to prove in court that your spouse has cheated on you.

Adultery on the rise in Singapore

With that said, third party involvements continue to be increasingly common among Satwant’s clients, and he finds this trend worrisome. “It think it’s a very scary trend. It used to be domestic violence leading to divorces, but now it seems to be adultery,” he said.

According to recent statistics, divorces citing domestic violence have dropped from 23.7 per cent in 2006 to 8.2 per cent in 2016 among Muslim divorces.

Satwant added, “Adultery is a mindset and it is very difficult to change except [if] you inculcate values into society… What many people don’t see is the impact on the kids. When you divorce because you had an affair, then who’s going to take care of the kids?”

Furthermore, many couples don’t realise that affairs in marriages don’t occur in the spur of the moment.

“A spouse doesn’t usually have an affair overnight. It is usually that the couple’s relationship has already drifted for quite a while,” said Louis, who was also a marriage counsellor for 13 years. He added that a lot of times these couples don’t realise that they were drifting from each other.

“From what I’ve seen, people don’t try to work hard enough to fix the relationship. At times, they turn to alcohol or other people so they won’t have to deal with the issue,” said Louis, adding that the technological advancement of social media has made it much easier for people to cheat.

“Fifteen years ago, you have to go to meeting points. Now, you can do it over the phone,” said Louis.

‘They think they are ready for marriage’

Other reasons that might lead to couples drifting apart include financial problems, conflicting expectations on marriage roles, lack of communication and lack of preparation.

“I’ve had clients who had only met each other for a few months before they went to ROM (Registry of Marriages). They are young, they think they are ready for marriage,” said Louis, who believes that couples in Singapore should “really get prepared” before getting hitched.

“For example, people sometimes propose to one another by asking if they would like to apply for a HDB flat. That can hasten the process of dating, courting and getting married, when people should be making wise and thoughtful decisions,” he said.

“I’ve also seen many young couples fall out of love very quickly. How is that you got married and then you’re not in love anymore? Getting married is a very serious thing. You are talking about the rest of your life. This is the person who is also going to take care of your kids,” said Satwant.

He, Louis and Tan all agreed that couples can better prepare themselves for marriage by going through courses before tying the knot.

Related story: Singapore divorces up 1.2 per cent; ‘unreasonable behaviour’ a top reason

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