This article is written by Nur Shukrina Bte Abdul Salam, an intern of OTP Law Corporation and Emelia Kwa, an associate of OTP Law Corporation.
When families go through disputes, be it over a divorce matter, an inheritance matter, or any other family-related conflict, it can get very acrimonious due to the personal nature of the issues. This is especially so when parties are involved in litigation, where parties perceive there to be a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’. Consequently, parties go on the offensive to protect themselves. It is an incredibly stressful process that takes a toll on everyone involved, with little or no hope of peace between them, even after the process ends.
At the Family Justice Forum 2018, Minister for Social and Family Development, Mr. Desmond Lee, shared how the Family Justice Court (FJC) is moving towards a peaceful approach in dealing with familial disputes. More counselling and mediation would be provided to steer parties away from litigation. This would help repair relationships and re-open communication family members, to minimise acrimony and maximise the possibility of a positive outcome.
For children, who are often the real victims of divorce, the peace approach is especially important and beneficial.
Parties can get so caught up in their conflict that they forget about the impact it has on their children. This may be the first time that their children are exposed to all the skeletons in the closet. Children may also be poisoned by all the allegations thrown at each parent. Parents often fail to realise that while a divorce may cost them a bruised ego, the child being dragged along would be bruised and battered by the end of the process.
To mitigate the negative impacts of divorce on a child, the FJC has set up the parenting co-ordination program. A parenting coordinator would work directly with both parents to facilitate communication and to help resolve disagreements. Parties would then not need to resort to fighting these issues in court. The parenting coordinator can directly impact the best interests of the child by educating parents on their impact and reducing conflict.
The Child Representative scheme helps to ensure the voice of the child is heard both by the parents and by the court. A Child Representative’s purpose is to represent the child’s best interests, and ensure that this is reflected in decisions concerning the child. This can serve as a form of emotional support for the child: not only can they express their views, they are also being involved in decisions as to their future.
The FJC has also made it compulsory for parents to attend mediation and a Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) conference. By providing them with a safe space to have honest conversations in the presence of a neutral third party, parties are more likely to remain civil. Mediators will also remind parents that whatever outcome reached must be in the best interests of the child.
By taking a peaceful approach, we can significantly shield the child from the animosity between both parents. One can only hope that such an approach would also spark more awareness in parties to put their children first, and not to let their conflict affect their ability to be the best parent for the child.