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Singapore – Family Law: APE v APF [2015] SGHC 17.

14 April, 2015

 

Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific – Singapore  Regulatory & Compliance

 

A court will give a parent supervised access to the child only in exceptional circumstances such as where there are serious welfare concerns (for instance, violence by the parent), where the child is estranged from the parent, or where factors exist such that it is difficult for unsupervised access to be effectively implemented: 

— APE v APF [2015] SGHC 17 (Singapore, High Court, 20 January 2015)

 
Facts

 
This case concerned the ancillary matters arising from the divorce of the plaintiff (“Wife”) and the defendant (“Husband”). The focus of this update is the Court’s decision on when supervised access should be granted to a parent.

The Wife submitted that the Husband should be granted supervised access to their 10 year old daughter (“Child”) on the following grounds:

 

  • The Husband was a poor caregiver and the Child had suffered injuries whilst in the care of the Husband and his parents;
  • The Husband had a deteriorating relationship with the Child and she was uncomfortable being alone with him; and
  • The Husband was not serious about his parenting role, as he had failed to visit the Child since October 2012. This was despite the fact that the Wife was not hindering his access to the Child.

 
The Husband admitted he was estranged from his daughter, but submitted that this was in part due to the actions of the Wife who had made access to the Child difficult. Unsupervised access should be granted so that he could establish a proper relationship with the Child. There were no factors present such that supervised access was warranted:

 

  • There were no allegations of abuse towards the Child;
  • The Wife’s allegations of aggressive behaviour were, at best, bare assertions and related to the parties’ quarrels towards the end of the marriage;
  • The presence of the Wife and/or her mother during access visits would place the Child in a position of conflict and diminish the chances of the Husband building any relationship with the Child; and
  • The relationship between the Husband and the Child had been good between 2007 and 2010, and it was only after he had been chased out of the matrimonial home by the Wife that the Child started becoming estranged from him.

 

Decision

 
The High Court noted that there was sparse authority on the circumstances in which a grant of supervised access was warranted.
The Court held that unsupervised access should be awarded unless the following exceptional circumstances are present:

 

  • There are serious welfare concerns regarding the non-custodial parent such as violence or inappropriate parenting;
  • The child has been estranged from the non-custodial parent such that the parental-child relationship is in need of serious repair (for instance, if the child is fearful in meeting the non-custodial parent); or
  • Factors exist such that it is difficult for unsupervised access to be effectively implemented (for instance, where the relationship between both parents is so acrimonious that unsupervised access is not possible without detriment to the child).

 
The Court held that, where possible, the wishes of the child if he or she is of a sufficiently mature age to express an independent opinion should be taken into account. Even if the child should view the non-custodial parent in a negative light, the courts should seek to repair the parental-child relationship where the circumstances permit. In such situations, the courts could, for instance, assist an adolescent child in identifying the underlying reasons why he or she holds such a view and whether this view has been influenced by any acrimony that the custodial parent holds against the non-custodial parent.

 
On the facts of the present case, the Court held that supervised access by the Centre for Family Harmony would be appropriate, given the estrangement between the Husband and the Child, who was still of a young age. It would also be beneficial for both the Wife and the Husband to attend parenting courses and counselling sessions to reduce the acrimony between them. This arrangement would be beneficial to all parties as it would ensure that the Husband acted appropriately at all times, while also ensuring that the period of access between the Husband and the Child would be left undisturbed and uninterrupted. The Court held that in future, when supervised access becomes unnecessary, the access order might be varied if and when the opportune moment arose.

 
Our Analysis / Comments

 
The case emphasises the importance which the court places on the bond between a child and his/her parent and the arrangements that the court may put in place to foster the bonds. Thus, supervised access would only be granted where there are exceptional circumstances where the interest of the child would be otherwise undermined. Even in situations where a child is estranged from his/her parent whether due to the attitude of one or both parents or the animosity between them, the court would look into the mending of the relationship with a view to allowing the child to establish a bond with the estranged parent.

 

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For further information, please contact:

 

Bock Eng Sim, Partner, WongPartnership

bockeng.sim@wongpartnership.com

 

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