These days, businesses often comprise both employees who are local residents as well as foreign expatriates, and Singapore is one of the many countries within Asia which is home to a large number of expat couples and families.

Singapore-based expat couples with children who are going through a separation, or considering separating, should be aware that a new and concerning trend around parenting matters has been emerging in Singapore.

Many expats who are living in Singapore are dependent upon their visa. Consequently, those who hold a "dependent visa" are reliant on their partner holding the appropriate visa.

Following the breakdown of a relationship, the dependent visa is often cancelled and the non-sponsored spouse must obtain a social visit pass or a tourist visa if they wish to remain in the country.

This allows the non-sponsored spouse to remain in Singapore for 30 to 90 days, but does not allow them to retain or obtain any paid employment. Once the social visit visa or tourist visa has expired, the non-sponsored spouse must leave the country.

If one parent attempts to leave the country with their children without obtaining the consent of the other parent, the remaining parent is entitled to apply to the State Central Authority to invoke the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In short, the remaining parent is able to seek to have the children returned on the grounds of abduction.This issue becomes complicated by Singaporean law which stipulates that the consent of both parents is required to be able to leave the country with your children. This consent requirement continues to apply following a breakdown of a relationship, and even following a divorce.

In recent times, some spouses have been forced to leave Singapore without their children due to their visas having expired or their inability to retain their paid employment. Others have been forced into participating in drawn out legal battles.

Key points for expat couples

  • The breakdown of a relationship is always a difficult and stressful time, and this is magnified when former couples need to deal with and resolve parenting issues involving more than one country. It is vital for expatriates to consider all of their options regarding when to leave a relationship and how to do so before taking any action.
  • If legal proceedings become unavoidable, it is also important to consider which jurisdiction (country) which will be most favourable to you in terms of both parenting outcomes, and property and asset division.
  • Separating expat couples should ensure that they seek legal advice from an appropriately qualified professional.