updated 23 Oct 2013, 00:07
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Thu, Jul 04, 2013
The Straits Times
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Calming the rocky waters of divorce for more children
by Janice Tai

Seeing his mother at weekends used to be something 10-year-old Thomas (not his real name) looked forward to - but not now.

His parents are going through a bitter divorce and whenever he is dropped off by his father for his scheduled visit, there are often rows and snide remarks.

His schoolwork has suffered and he has become socially withdrawn - something his feuding parents learnt only when they went for counselling.

As of yesterday, problems such as these can be tackled earlier after a new ruling which makes divorcing couples with at least one child younger than 14 attend counselling and/or mediation sessions ordered by the Family Court.

The compulsory sessions aim to help divorcing couples focus on their children's welfare instead of fighting over custody or care arrangement issues.

The ruling is an extension of amendments made to the Women's Charter passed in 2011, which affected couples with at least one child below eight years old as of September that year.

The scheme will be progressively extended to families with offspring below 21 years old.

The sessions are provided for free at the Child Focused Resolution Centre, part of the Subordinate Courts.

On average, parents have to attend between one and three sessions of counselling and usually one or two sessions of mediation.

When parents reach an agreement on childcare arrangements during these sessions, it can be recorded by a judge as a court order which they are legally bound to abide by.

Figures from the Subordinate Courts show that of the 3,256 parenting plans filed in 2009, almost nine out of 10 couples could not agree on them.

However, 98 per cent of the cases without agreed parenting plans reached an agreement on parenting issues after they attended sessions at the resolution centre last year.

The move comes as record numbers of married couples seek to untie the knot.

The latest statistics show that in 2011, 7,604 ended their marriages, compared with 6,904 in 2006.

Voluntary welfare organisations also report having more couples seeking marital help. Care Corner Counselling Centre dealt with 317 new marital cases last year, up from 230 in 2005.

Harry Elias Partnership lawyer Koh Tien Hua said that counselling is crucial, even for families with older children.

These teenagers may be facing complex problems ranging from identity issues to learning how to deal with new additions to the family.

Said Mr Koh: "Unlike the younger children, who are still dependent on their parents, these teenagers need help in navigating multiple influences in the world even as they deal with the trauma of divorce."


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