updated 26 Mar 2013, 07:24
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Mon, Jan 14, 2013
The Straits Times
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More checking on would-be spouses
by Hoe Pei Shan

CHECKS on marital records have jumped almost sixfold in about three years, aided by technology and improved public access.

Since records from the Registry of Marriages (ROM) were made available online in May 2010, the Ministry of Social and Family Development has seen a massive increase in the number of searches.

From the ministry's last release of statistics, there was an annual average of about 5,600 searches from 2007 to 2009.

After the records were made available in digital form, the annual figure jumped to 28,500 in 2010, 28,871 in 2011 and 32,600 last year.

The ministry was unable to provide a breakdown of user profiles as that information is no longer collected.

Three years ago, however, it reported that about half such checks are done by individuals - presumably potential spouses - and the rest by private investigators, companies and journalists.

Previously, interested parties had to pay $15 to check if someone had registered a marriage and with whom, and could obtain the information only over the ROM counter.

But since May 2010, when records were made available online, people can conduct two free online searches each over a 12-month period, and pay $35 through the site or in person for any number of additional searches.

A ministry spokesman told The Straits Times that free searches are capped "to prevent frivolous searches while providing greater convenience to marrying parties".

Both the free and paid search services provide the same information, including the names of both parties in a marriage, the partially masked NRIC numbers of both parties, and the date of marriage.

The only difference is that paid searches come with hard copies of the records on the official letterhead.

The Government's decision to make the records available online followed proposals from former Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan, and was intended to "make it easier for individuals to search for the history of... a prospective spouse".

Back in 2009, amid rising divorce rates, Dr Balakrishnan told reporters that improved public access to marital records would be useful to couples looking to make "an informed decision before they proceed" with marriage.

Private investigator S.M. Jedan, 58, agrees with the concept of access being useful. He says his clients tell him they "want to make sure they know the truth and are doing the correct thing" in marrying their partners.

He conducts about 15 to 20 marital records searches each month for clients who span all ages and who are almost evenly distributed among men and women.

Some are in relationships with wide age gaps; others are already having affairs but want to find out more about their married partners' spouses.

"We see many more such requests now, perhaps because the younger generation is becoming wiser, and maybe less trusting too," said Mr Jedan, who has been in business for 30 years.

But some, like digital advertiser Alvin Phoon, 24, remain indifferent to such personal background digging, despite greater access to information.

"I'd ask my partner first, and only if alarm bells go off in my head will I probe further," said Mr Phoon. "Looking up records would be the last resort."

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