Monday, 31 October 2016

More break-ups among less educated; Marriage to foreigner less likely to last

Lack of resources one likely reason, say experts; they may also be less equipped to handle stress
By Theresa Tan, The Sunday Times, 30 Oct 2016

When it comes to marriage, love is not enough.

Money matters, and the lack of it can easily tear a marriage apart.

The proportion of non-university-educated men who end up divorced by their fifth wedding anniversary is two to three times that of their university-educated peers, according to government data tracking the 20,000-plus resident couples who wed each year.

The data used educational qualifications as a proxy for income, as couples do not reveal their incomes when they register their marriages.

The latest data looked at those who registered their marriages in Singapore in 2009.

Of this cohort, 9.3 per cent of the resident marriages involving grooms with secondary education had ended in a divorce or annulment before their fifth wedding anniversary in 2014. This is almost three times the 3.2 per cent of university-educated men.

Resident marriages refer to those involving at least one Singapore citizen or permanent resident.

Mr Gan had asked in Parliament for the number of divorces by income groups and how many of these break-ups involved a foreign spouse in the past three years.

While the ministry's reply did not pinpoint reasons why those who are less educated tend to see higher rates of divorces, experts say lack of resources could be one reason.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Mathew Mathews said the difference in percentages of divorces among the higher and less educated is significant.

He said: "It reminds us that it takes more than love to keep a marriage. You need resources."

Marriage counsellors and divorce lawyers said the lack of money to pay the bills and make ends meet is a lot more pronounced among lower-educated men, compared to the tertiary-educated men who draw higher salaries.

They added that men tend to marry women with similar socio- economic backgrounds. And financial woes faced by the couple are a major stress factor that can kill the marriage.

Ms Jessie Koh, head of Reach Counselling Centre, said that generally, lower-educated couples tend to be less prepared for married life. They do not put as much thought into issues such as finances and housing before tying the knot.

Some live with their in-laws as they cannot afford their own home. When they cannot get along with their elders, this strains the marriage. On top of that, many barely earn enough to support themselves, let alone a family, she said. The constant fights over providing for the family can easily drive a couple apart.

Family lawyer Lim Chong Boon added that for couples who are struggling financially, often the final straw is when one party cheats or gambles. He said: "If the husband does not provide for the family and he gambles or he does not treat the wife well, the women often leave. Why should they stay?"

Money aside, counsellors said that less-educated men may not be as equipped to handle the conflicts and stresses in a marriage.

For example, the husband may not be able to see the wife's point of view or might be unable to figure out how to resolve the conflict.

Ms Madelin Tay, a counsellor at Fei Yue Community Services, said: "We see it's the younger and better-educated couples who identify their marital problems and seek help to save their marriages."

Ms Lim, a 20-year-old who declined to give her full name, filed for divorce from her 23-year-old husband of one year recently. The couple have a 10-month-old son.

Ms Lim said: "I was too stupid. We did not ask ourselves whether we had enough money to support a family or buy a flat. It was after marriage that I realised it's not easy to raise a family."

Her husband, who studied up to his N levels, was working as a chef earning about $2,000 a month. But he could not stay in one job for long, kept changing jobs and went through periods of unemployment.

It was only after they tied the knot that she found out he had a gambling habit. They lived with his parents as they could not afford a flat. He did not give her any money to support their son and even stole from her.

Ms Lim, an O-level graduate who earns $1,300 a month as a salesgirl, said: "This man is irresponsible and I feel there is no point living with him. The marriage was a mistake."

Marriage to foreigner less likely to last
By Theresa Tan, The Sunday Times, 30 Oct 2016

For the first time, the Government has released data that shows just how many marriages involving a Singaporean and a foreigner break up.

This comes more than a decade after a trend of Singaporean men - mainly older and blue-collared - seeking foreign brides from developing countries in the region such as Vietnam and Thailand began.

The data confirms what many counsellors and divorce lawyers have said for some time now: these unions have a greater risk of collapsing, given their often shaky foundations, and impact on the children if any.

Among marriages registered in Singapore in 2009, 7.9 per cent of those involving a Singaporean and a non-resident - such as foreigners on long-term visit pass, ended before their fifth wedding anniversary. They either divorced or annulled their marriage. This is higher than the 6.4 per cent for resident marriages - those involving at least one Singapore citizen or permanent resident.

The Minister for Social and Family Development (MSF) released the data earlier this month in response to a parliamentary question by Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Gan Thiam Poh.

Starting in the early 2000s, lower-income bachelors, who struggled to find local partners, sought wives from Vietnam and Thailand. Matchmaking agencies sprouted, hawking catalogues of photographs of "eager and docile Vietnamese women", giving currency to the moniker "mail order bride". These foreigners also came to Singapore for "holidays", while really hoping to find a job - and a husband.

Marriage counsellors and divorce lawyers said such unions are often more vulnerable. One reason is that many of these transnational couples do not have a strong foundation for marriage.

They may hardly know each other, with some having met just a few times before saying "I do".

Many soon realise they are not compatible after marriage and some do not even speak a common language, noted Care Corner Counselling Centre's counsellor Jonathan Siew. "We see many transnational couples where they have realised their spouses are different from how they had portrayed themselves before marriage."

Lawyer Shone Aye Cheng said some of these foreign women may marry not for love, but for better prospects in Singapore - such as the chance to get permanent residency or citizenship here through marriage. The cultural differences and the challenges of adapting to life in Singapore can add further strain on a marriage.

Ms Teo Seok Bee, senior manager of Touch Family Services, said some foreign wives have not even visited Singapore before marriage. Adjusting to life here, on top of learning to live with a new spouse and his family, can place great strain on the union.

Last year, there were 6,450 marriages involving a Singaporean and a non-resident, down 5 per cent from the 6,777 in 2005. Three in four of these marriages last year were between a Singaporean groom and a non-resident bride, going by the Population in Brief 2016 report published by the National Population and Talent Division.

Steven (not his real name), a 43-year-old manager, married a Chinese national after a whirlwind four-month courtship. The nurse, who is in her 30s, was here on holiday when his friends introduced them. But the marriage soured shortly after the wedding. She kept asking Steven, an university graduate, for money to pay her housing loan in China. He gave her tens of thousands.

She also confessed that she was pregnant with another man's child, which she aborted. The couple also have a son, who is now eight years old.

Some years ago, he decided on divorce as he felt he could not trust her and she neglected their son. They were wed for about two years.

He said: "Everything changed after marriage. She went from being loving to nasty and harsh."

Foreign spouses get timely help to adapt
By Pearl Lee, The Sunday Times, 30 Oct 2016

It is a Tuesday morning, and eight Singaporeans and their foreign spouses are discussing issues they face in their marriages.

They looked to be in their 30s and 40s, and the foreigners - a mix of both men and women - came from countries such as France, Thailand, and Vietnam.

They asked social worker Justin Paul many anxious questions: Can the Singapore partners be more supportive of their spouses going out to work or attending courses?

Is there anything the couple could do to increase their foreign spouse's chances of getting permanent residency? Would the couple be able to buy a Housing Board flat?

The one-day Marriage Support Programme is part of the Ministry of Social and Family Development's effort to support transnational marriages involving a Singaporean and a non-resident. It is run by voluntary welfare organisations Fei Yue Community Services and Care Corner.

During the session, Mr Paul, 34, discussed effective ways of managing conflicts. He also answered their queries on immigration, employment and housing policies.

He reminded the couples that concepts such as "near" and "far" could have different meanings in different cultural contexts, and that they should not assume that their partners understand what they mean.

Last year, a total of 800 married couples attended the programme, which was launched in December 2014.

Some couples need to attend the course as part of their foreign spouses' applications for long-term visit passes, which give them long-term residency here.

One area that Mr Paul stressed was the need for both the foreign spouses and their Singapore families to try and get along.

If the foreign spouses are unfamiliar with the culture of their partners' families, it could be a source of tension for the couples, Mr Paul told The Sunday Times.

As these couples face restrictions when buying public flats, their Singapore partners' families may feature strongly in their lives as most end up living with them, at least for the first few years, he said.

"For example, the dining table etiquette in a family. It comes naturally to the Singaporean but the foreign spouse may not know it."

Mr Paul and his colleagues are also seeking to engage the Singapore partners' parents, to let them know how they can better support their children's marriages.

While such problems may be present in most marriages, they are magnified for those with a foreign spouse due to cultural, and sometimes communication, differences.

Mr Steven Boey, 56, who works in the construction sector, agreed. He and his China-born wife Shang Xijuan, 42, a part-time waitress, attended the programme shortly after they got married two years ago.

Its focus on cultural differences and conflict management was useful as the couple have differing views on child-rearing, said Mr Boey, who takes care of Madam Shang's 13-year-old son from a previous marriage.

"Our most serious arguments are about child-raising. We have very different views about disciplining children, probably due to cultural differences," he said, as he made reference to China's one-child policy.

"The conflicts can't be solved but at least we can try to manage them."

Other measures to support transnational couples include the pre-marriage long-term visit pass assessment by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, introduced last January. The online assessment is done before marriage to determine if the foreign spouses can stay here for the long term.

This helps couples plan for the scenario if their partners are unable to live here over the long term, said Mr Paul. "It also manages the couple's expectations."

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