How can you prepare child relocation from or within Singapore? What if your child has been relocated without your consent?
Singapore is a member of the Hague Convention on Child Abduction.
We will explain what that means for your options.
Shu Mei is Director Dispute Resolution at Drew & Napier in Singapore. Shu Mei is an accredited mediator and an accredited Collaborative Family Practitioner.
She is a member of the International Academy of Family Lawyers (IAFL).
Shu Mei has volunteered to keep this page about the Singapore up to date.
Lawyers and mediators in Singapore
We provide a list of lawyers and mediators in Singapore who can assist you in drafting an international parenting plan, in preventing conflicts over the primary residence of the children, and in negotiating and litigating over the children in the event of relocation or child abduction.
Parental authority: Singapore
The law does not bestow authority on a parent over their child. A parent, by the fact of parenthood, possesses authority over their child.
In order to discharge their responsibility in the upbringing of their child, a parent needs to exert or exercise their authority. Such exercise of authority must be for the benefit of the child.
Some areas of parental authority include physical possession of the child and permanent relocation with the child. Parental responsibility may be equated with custodial rights. When parents have joint custody, they are jointly responsible for making major decisions about the upbringing, education, health and religion of the child.
There is a distinction in court orders between ‘custody’, ‘care and control’ and ‘access’ under Singapore law. The default for most separated / divorced couples is to have a joint custody order, unless there are exceptional circumstances involved justifying a sole custody order. The parent with day to day decision making rights who the child resides with most of the time is the parent with care and control, whilst the other parent has access, which may be known as contact or visitation. It is also possible for parents to share care and control of children, meaning that they share day to day decision making over the children and spend roughly equal time with the children, though such orders are not as common.
Traveling with children: Singapore
A parent’s physical possession of the child is constrained by section 126(3) of the Women’s Charter, which prohibits a parent from removing the child out of Singapore for more than a month “where an order for custody, or an order for care and control, is in force”. Therefore, where a custody order subsists in respect of the child, consent of both parents or the leave (permission) of the Court is required to remove the child out of Singapore for more than a month.
A parent who contravenes the above shall be liable under section 126(5) of the Women’s Charter to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.
Child relocation: Singapore
Therefore, a parent who would like to relocate the child from Singapore will need to apply to Court for leave (permission) to leave the country.
In deciding whether to grant permission, the Court’s first and paramount consideration is the child’s best interests, and the law expects parents to put the interests of the child before their own.
However, where the factors weigh in favour of allowing relocation, the Court will generally emphasise the importance of ensuring that the left-behind parent has liberal access to the child to mitigate the impact of being physically apart.
The Court will consider the following factors, among others:
• the effects on the child if the (reasonable) wishes of the parent with primary care to relocate are denied;
• the child’s loss of relationship with the left-behind parent;
• ease of mobility of the left-behind parent;
• settledness of the child in Singapore;
• familial support / network;
• the feasibility and meticulousness of the applicant’s relocation plan (f.i. the compatibility and prospects of the education system that the child would be exposed to after the relocation).
Child abduction: Singapore
Parental authority provides the basis for an application under section 14 of the Guardianship of Infants Act for the return of the child back to the parent where the child “… is removed from, the custody of his lawful guardian”.
Singapore is also a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“Hague Convention”).
Singapore acceded to the Hague Convention when Parliament passed the International Child Abduction Act.
The International Child Abduction Act is the statutory mechanism in response to the unreasonable exertion of parental authority of abducting one’s child away from the child’s habitual residence.
The 45 Articles in the Hague Convention are motivated by 2 objectives: (i) to secure the prompt return of child wrongly removed to or retained in any contracting state; and (ii) to ensure that rights of custody and access under the law of the contracting state are respected in the other contracting state.
Assistance in locating abducted child
Singapore’s Central Authority helps Singapore discharge its obligation under the Hague Convention.
If your child has been taken to or retained in Singapore, the Singapore Central Authority may assist in locating the abducted child and facilitate the voluntary return of the child or an amicable resolution of the dispute relating to the removal or retention of the child.
If not located or the child has been discovered to be removed to another location, the role of the Central Authority is at an end.
Court order for return of child to habitual residence
Where voluntary return fails, an application can be made for an order to return the child to the child’s country of habitual residence.
The Singapore Court is concerned only with the return of the child concerned to the child’s country of habitual residence.
The Hague Convention makes clear that this application is not to be equated with an application for an order for custody and / or care and control.
The Hague Convention creates an exception to the return of the abducted child if the child objects to being return to the child’s country of habitual residence.
Where the child has attained an age and maturity at which it is appropriate to take account of the child’s views, the Court may deny the return order based upon the child’s objection.
Mediation and / or counselling play a part even prior to the filing of an application. It remains a platform for parties to try to resolve issues throughout the proceedings.
Appeal and Stay of Execution
If an order for the return of the child is made, a parent may appeal against such decision. When a party appeals, that party can ask the court to decide that the return order is suspended, pending the appeal.
If you think your child is in Singapore, but do not know exactly where, the Central Authority of Singapore can help you locate the whereabouts of your child who has been wrongfully removed or retained.
If you fear that your child will be abducted from Singapore to another country, you may consider applying for an injunction restraining the other parent from taking the child out of Singapore without your consent or an order of court.
Legal aid is available to citizens or residents of contracting states who are involved in applications under the Hague Convention.
If you qualify, you will need to pass both the full Means Test (which assesses your financial eligibility for legal aid) and the Merits Test (which assesses whether you have a reasonable case to bring or defend in court).
Criminal law : Singapore
Parental authority to physically possess the child provides the basis of the offence of “kidnapping from lawful guardianship” punishable by section 361 of the Penal Code.
Sections 361 and 363 provide that “Whoever takes or entices any minor below 16 years of age … out of the keeping of the lawful guardian of such minor … without the consent of such guardian” is liable on conviction with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine or to caning. However, given that parents are typically also lawful guardians of children, there is no specific criminal law provision for international parental child abduction, unless there is a breach of the provisions of the Women’s Charter mentioned above or a breach of a court order in which case there may be penal consequences which follow.
Relevant websites : Singapore
Custody and welfare of children
Singapore Statutes Online : Woman’s Charter 1961
Criminal law on child abduction
Subsidized legal aid
Blogs about Singapore
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Relevant case law in Singapore
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