SINGAPORE – Couples seeking uncontested divorces and who are not represented by lawyers will soon be able to obtain such divorces online without needing to attend court hearings or formally submit court documents.
An online portal, called Litigation Assist, will be launched to help such litigants-in-person with the generation and submission of documents as well as draft court orders, said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on Monday (Sept 14).
“Where appropriate, it will also connect them with lawyer-mediators who can advise and assist them with online negotiations,” the Chief Justice added in his online opening speech for the annual Law Society Family Conference.
The two-day conference comprises eight webinars by panellists, including lawyers and judges, on topics about the practice of family law.
Chief Justice Menon said that Litigation Assist would help enhance access to the family justice system.
This is in line with the family justice system’s adoption of “therapeutic justice” as its overarching philosophy – where the law helps divorcing parties to repair their relationships to a functional level and to focus on their shared future, among other things, said the Chief Justice.
The adoption of therapeutic justice will involve the restructuring of existing court processes, especially in the provision of more “upstream” services such as counselling and mediation for families before they apply to the court for divorce.
The perspective on the role of family law by key stakeholders must also be changed fundamentally, said Chief Justice Menon.
An example he offered was for the divorcing parties to be referred in court judgments as “husband” and “wife”, or “father” and “mother”, instead of “plaintiff” and “defendant”.
This is to reflect the relationships they share and the responsibilities that they will continue to owe to each other and to their children, he said.
The Chief Justice also said that a curriculum for family court judges will be developed to familiarise them with the tools available under the new approach of “therapeutic justice”.
“Similarly, our practitioners must be offered training so that they may advise their clients on the most suitable course for the resolution of familial conflict, and to empower them to exercise the appropriate skills required in each situation,” he said.
Chief Justice Menon said that the courts will also continue to work with other stakeholders in the family justice system, such as the social services, mental health and law enforcement sectors, to resolve family disputes.
For example, a new scheme under consideration for dealing with alleged child abuse cases may see the Family Justice Courts, the Ministry of Family and Social Development and the Singapore Police Force share information and formulate a triage protocol, he said.
“The goal is to help us act more quickly and accurately to sift out allegations of child abuse that have merit, from those that are being weaponised to harm the relationship between the other parent and their child.”
The Chief Justice also said that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed “inherent fault lines in families” and subjected the family justice system to a significant stress test, noting a rising trend in family violence across the world, among other things.
“As the end of the pandemic remains out of sight, we will have to keep our sights on both the important task of reconceptualising family justice, and the urgent need to ensure the smooth delivery of family justice in spite of the present challenges,” he added.