How is Maintenance for a Wife and Children decided by the Court in Singapore?

maintenance wife children singapore

What exactly is Maintenance and Who can Apply for Maintenance in Singapore

Maintenance is financial support that a child, wife or incapacitated husband can apply to the Courts in Singapore for once neglect or refusal to provide reasonable maintenance has been proved. This is provided for in Part VIII of the Women’s Charter.

In divorce proceedings, maintenance also forms part of the ancillary matters to be decided. Maintenance will have to be decided for the children, wife or incapacitated husband, and this is a matter separate from asking for the division of matrimonial assets.

Maintenance for the Child

The Women’s Charter stipulates a statutory duty for parents to maintain their children, whether legitimate or not. Therefore, if a parent neglects or refuses to provide adequate support for a child, the child can apply for a maintenance order for the parent to pay a monthly allowance or a lump sum.

Child maintenance is available for persons up to the age of 21. Children above 21 years will only be granted maintenance if the court is satisfied that the child still needs maintenance due to mental or physical disability, national service, education or special circumstances.

An application for child maintenance can be made by:

  • The child himself, if he is above 21 years
  • The child’s guardian or any person who has the actual custody of the child
  • Where the child is below 21 years, any siblings who has attained the age of 21 years
  • Any person appointed by the minister

The law also provides that where someone has accepted a child who is not their offspring into his family, the person has a duty to maintain the child and orders can be made for that person to give child maintenance if necessary. This obligation ceases if the child’s biological parents take the child away.

Maintenance for the Wife

Similarly, a duty is also owed to a wife where her husband has neglected or refused to provide reasonable support for her. If it has been proved that neglect or refusal is present, the Courts may order that the husband pay a monthly maintenance or a lump sum.

Under Section 113 of the Women’s Charter, there is also a legal duty to provide maintenance to an ex-wife. Only one such application may be made upon termination of marriage and if such an application is dismissed by the court, no further applications will be entertained.

Maintenance for the Incapacitated Husband

A husband cannot apply for a maintenance order, unless he is incapacitated. If a wife neglects or refuses to support an incapacitated husband, he will be able to make an application for a maintenance order.

What Amounts are Usually Given for Maintenance in Singapore?

There is no set amount that the court will adhere to regarding maintenance with regards to the ex-spouse or children. The court will assess the case as a whole and take into consideration the factors stipulated in Section 69 and Section 114 of the Women’s Charter. These include:

  • Financial needs of the applicant seeking for maintenance
  • Income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources of the applicant
  • Physical or mental disability of the applicant
  • Age of each party to the marriage and the duration of the marriage
  • Contributions made by each of the parties to the marriage and the welfare of the family
  • Standard of living of the applicant before the neglect or refusal
  • In the case of a child, the manner in which he was being, and in which the parties to the marriage expected him to be educated or trained
  • The conduct of each of the parties to the marriage, if the conduct is such that it would be in the opinion of the court be inequitable to disregard it

Usually, an expense table will have to be submitted for the court to be satisfied that the amount being claimed is necessary and reasonable.

In divorce proceedings, a wife may decide that she does not want maintenance from her formal husband. However, it is advisable for wives to ask for nominal maintenance rather than to ask for no order of maintenance.

This is to ensure that the wife can still make an application in the future to receive maintenance from the ex-husband, by way of a variation of maintenance order, should her circumstances change.

The Court of Appeal has clarified that an ex-wife can no longer ask for maintenance if the Court made no order for maintenance during the divorce proceedings, as it essentially means a rejection of an application for maintenance.

Therefore, unless a wife is absolutely certain that she does not want maintenance from her ex-husband, a nominal amount of $1 should be requested. However, it is not a guarantee that the Singapore Courts will grant this, and there has indeed been direction that the Court will take into account the circumstances of each individual case and not grant nominal maintenance in every request.

Are Maintenance Orders Enforceable?

It can be distressing if you do not receive maintenance despite the award of a maintenance order.  Section 71 of Women’s Charter provides that when a minimum of one payment fails to be made, the person receiving maintenance can apply to the Court to enforce the maintenance order.

A lawyer is not needed for you to apply to for the maintenance order to be enforced. However, a lawyer can be engaged to represent you at the hearing if you deem it necessary.

The Women’s Charter has been amended to impose harsher penalties against defaulters, and implement more safeguards for the person receiving maintenance. For example, the defaulter may be liable to fines, imprisonment, community service or financial counselling.

Varying Maintenance Orders

Under Section 72 of the Women’s Charter, the court has the power to vary or rescind any maintenance orders if there is:

  • Proof of a material change in circumstances of the person receiving maintenance
  • Proof of a material change in circumstances of the person paying maintenance
  • Good cause shown to the satisfaction of the court

A material change, which cannot be self-inflicted, would include situations where a party is now unemployed, or the party who was previously in financial difficulty, has obtained gainful employment, or received a sum of money. Changes in social circumstances such as remarrying can be a reason for varying maintenance orders as well.


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