No free mediation for divorcing couples worth $2 million
Resources to focus on less well-off and disputes involving children, but move draws some flak.
Wealthier divorcing couples fighting over money are being directed to private mediation services, as the Family Justice Courts (FJC) look to concentrate their free mediation resources on less well-off couples and those in disputes involving children.
Until Dec 31 last year, divorcing couples with assets of a gross value of under $3 million were able to seek free mediation at the FJC. Those above this threshold were directed to the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC) for private mediation, which costs each party $3,000 a day.
However, as of Jan 1, that threshold has been lowered to $2 million - meaning couples with $2 million or more have to pay to iron out their disputes. Only disputes over the division of assets are sent for private mediation, not those involving issues over children such as access and custody.
Assets include the matrimonial home and other assets acquired by one or both parties during the marriage, lawyers said.
A spokesman for the FJC told The Sunday Times: "Directing cases in which parties are only disputing the financial aspects of their case for private mediation allows the Family Dispute Resolution Division (within the FJC) to better utilise its resources to focus on cases involving children.
"As mediation is provided free of charge at the FJC, private mediation for cases meeting or exceeding the assets threshold allows our mediation resources to be made available to the most appropriate and needy of family cases."
Lawyers interviewed had mixed feelings about the move.
Ms Sharanjit Kaur of Withers KhattarWong described it as a good move as it will free up more mediation slots at the FJC for divorcing couples who cannot agree on their children's matters.
Mr Ashok Chugani of Mirchandani and Partners noted that most couples' main asset is their HDB flat and most would have assets of less than $2 million, adding: "For the ordinary person, $2 million is a lot of money."
Lawyer Shone Aye Cheng of AC Shone & Co noted that many couples are asset rich but cash poor, and may be hard-pressed to fork out more cash for private mediation.
She added that each party must also pay for his own lawyer to be present at the private mediation session on top of the SMC's fees, while legal costs can increase further if a dispute is not resolved during mediation and ends up being fought in court.
During mediation, an independent third party helps the couple to seek an amicable resolution on their division of assets. The advantages of mediation include potentially saving on hefty legal fees and reducing the acrimony involved in a litigation process.
Since the private mediation scheme was launched in October 2016, a total of 88 cases have been referred to the SMC.
One couple owned a business together and had assets of about $15 million. They came to a compromise regarding the division of their business assets as the mediation helped them to understand what is considered a fair division from each other's perspective.
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