Wednesday 9 December 2015

Proposed maintenance for ex-husbands to go ahead

Proposal drew mixed feedback from public, though it favoured all other amendments to Women's Charter
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2015

While public views were mixed on whether women should provide maintenance to former husbands incapacitated by illness or disability, that proposed amendment to the Women's Charter will go ahead.

Said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in a press release yesterday: "On balance, MSF has assessed that, for now, the proposed spousal maintenance for incapacitated men who cannot work and maintain themselves is appropriate for both men and women."

It had received about 260 public responses on proposed amendments to the Women's Charter over a period of three weeks or so.

The Women's Charter was enacted in 1961 to protect women and govern marriage and divorce matters in Singapore. It was last amended in 2011 to ensure that maintenance orders are better enforced by allowing the courts to impose more sanctions on defaulters.

On providing maintenance to former husbands, some Singaporeans felt it was "a step in the right direction" and suggested including men who become house-husbands.

Several thought maintenance should be extended to men in the same manner as for women, given the progress of women today.

Others felt that men are traditional breadwinners and society is not ready to accept that women, like men, should support their spouses or former spouses.

Some women wondered if they could maintain their husbands or former husbands while supporting their children on a single income. But MSF said that, as with a man's responsibility to pay spousal maintenance, the court will first consider a wife's financial circumstances and needs of the family.

The public favoured all the other proposed changes. These included getting divorcing parents to undergo a mandatory programme before they file for divorce to better protect the interests of their children; and enhancing the protection of women, girls and residents at shelters and welfare homes, as well as that of professionals engaged in protection work. The public also supported the proposal to void marriages of convenience.

MSF said it had considered including live-in partners within the coverage of the Women's Charter in response to calls for them to be included. "However, doing so will affect how a family is defined and viewed by the larger society. This also has impact on other pieces of legislation which reference family and marriage," it said. "Notwithstanding this, MSF is working with the relevant agencies and stakeholders to enhance support for victims."

Ms Jolene Tan, programmes and communications senior manager at the Association of Women for Action and Research, disagreed with leaving out live-in partners.

"Domestic abuse by a live-in partner is just as harmful and damaging as by a spouse," she said. She welcomed the move to provide maintenance for husbands. "It is unsound to deny men maintenance solely because some are squeamish about evolving family roles."

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