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More divorced couples share care and control of their kids

More divorced couples share care and control of their kids

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 22 Nov 2021
Author: Theresa Tan

A total of 9.5 per cent of all civil divorces last year were awarded shared care and control.

More couples are being given shared care and control of their children after their divorce, meaning that their child takes turns to live with each parent during the week and the child has two homes.

A total of 9.5 per cent of all civil divorces last year were awarded shared care and control, up from 5.6 per cent in 2016.

A total of 256 couples were given such orders by the Family Justice Courts (FJC) last year, up from 161 cases in 2016.

Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli revealed these numbers in response to a parliamentary question by Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng on Nov 2.

Mr Ng asked if the Ministry of Social and Family Development has observed an increase in cases given shared care and control and if the MSF has looked into studies showing shared care and control is a better option for children, compared with sole care and control.

The parent who has care and control of the child lives with the child and makes decisions on the child's daily needs.

Care and control is different from custody, which is the authority to make major decisions that affect the child, such as on religion, education and serious medical issues.

Ms Dorothy Tan, senior associate director of family law and probate department at PKWA Law Practice, noted that shared care and control tends to be the exception rather than the norm.

This is because the FJC's paramount concern is the child's interest and the couple have to really cooperate in their parenting decisions for such arrangements to work.

She said: "On the practicality front, the child now has to shuttle between two households, and everyone has to pitch in to ensure a consistent stability for the child."

In cases where there is shared care and control, the child may live with one parent for three days and the other parent for four days.

Or the child lives with each parent on alternate weeks, family lawyers interviewed said.

An FJC spokesman told The Straits Times that the trend of more couples sharing care and control reflects the prevailing legal principles that the child's welfare is the paramount consideration for matters concerning the child.

While the FJC seeks to make orders that promote joint parenting, it depends on whether joint care and control is "practical and suitable for a child in his or her developmental stage".

She said: "Parents who recognise the need to place their child's interests above their personal marital conflict and who demonstrate willingness and capacity to transcend their personal grievances for the child's welfare will be considered for shared care and control order."

She added that "disputing parents who are intent on revisiting past bitterness from the marital relationship with the inability to communicate effectively will not be found to be suitable parents" for shared care and control.

The spokesman also highlighted that couples can agree to share their child's care and control, subject to the court's approval.

Lawyer Rajan Chettiar, managing director of Rajan Chettiar LLP, said there are more fathers who are very hands-on in their children's lives and want to continue to live with their child after the divorce, hence more are seeking shared care and control.

Ms June Lim, managing director of Eden Law Corporation, said more couples are aware that having joint care and control gives them more housing options with the Housing Board, hence they agree to such arrangements to qualify for subsidised public housing.

For example, divorcees must have custody and care and control of their child to form a family nucleus to qualify to buy a two-room flexi-flat or a bigger flat from the HDB or in the resale market, among other eligibility criteria.

If they have shared care and control of their child under the age of 21, the applicant must have the written agreement from the former spouse to list the child as an "essential occupier" in the flat.

In his parliamentary reply, Mr Masagos said a scan of studies done locally and overseas found there are no conclusive findings on the benefits of shared care and control.

For example, a 2018 study in Australia found that such arrangements may work well for children where the parents are able to cooperate and communicate.

But where there are high levels of conflict, such arrangements may be more damaging because children are likely to be "caught and used" in these domestic battles.

Besides, the appropriateness of such arrangements for infants and young children remains highly contested, the study found.

Mr Masagos noted a 2020 study done by the MSF on co-parenting styles that found that a cooperative co-parenting style is associated with positive outcomes, such as fewer behavioural and emotional problems shown by the child and better school learning behaviour.

Cooperative co-parenting is characterised by parents who communicate frequently and collaborate regarding their children's matters and make major decisions about their children together.

The cooperative co-parenting style is, however, independent of whether there is sole or shared care and control.

  • 9.5%

    Proportion of civil divorces in which shared care and control of children was awarded last year.

    5.6%

    Proportion of civil divorces in which shared care and control of children was awarded in 2016.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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