Getting a divorce in a foreign country can present different challenges. For instance, a foreign spouse who is sponsored by his/ her spouse’s company as a dependant runs the risk of being asked to leave Singapore before the conclusion of the divorce proceedings.
When a foreigner (X) comes to work in Singapore on an Employment Pass (EP), X’s employer usually sponsors his/ her spouse and children. They become “dependants” on X’s employment pass. X can request for the cancellation of the Dependant’s Pass (DP) anytime- before or during divorce proceedings- and the dependant would then have to leave Singapore.
Things can get worse if the parties have children, as they cannot leave Singapore with their children without the consent of the other parent. Should they decide to take the plunge and leave with their children, they run the risk of being returned to Singapore to face charges on child abduction.
There have been cases whereby one spouse cancelled the DP of the other, thereby separating him/ her from their children. This is usually done in the hope of improving his/ her chances of having care and control of the children.
After the cancellation of the DP, a foreign dependant can stay in Singapore on a social visit pass/ tourist visa for a period of 30 to 90 days. During this period, he/ she will not be able to work. As such, other than the risk of being separated from the children, the dependant spouse may also face financial difficulties.
One lawyer interviewed commented that the current rules and regulations governing DPs allow the spouse holding the EP to “play God”.
Another lawyer commented that it may be within the legal rights of the EP holder to cancel the DP of the other parent and retain the DP of the children.
See: Amelia Pang, “More expat spouses left in lurch in divorce cases”, The Straits Times, 18 September 2016
As a divorce lawyer in Singapore, I have handled many cases involving expatriates. Generally, lawyers would help parties reach some interim arrangement on the DP so that the dependant spouse can stay in Singapore until the conclusion of divorce proceedings.
It is not always the case that one spouse desires for the other to leave Singapore as soon as possible. In some cases, the EP holder would actually want his/ her spouse to stay in Singapore a little longer, for parties to sort out the terms of their divorce.
Should parties not be able to reach an agreement, the DP holder has the option of applying for a work pass on his/ her own merits.
Given that the issue of DP being cancelled is becoming more of a problem, perhaps it is time for the ICA to consider making it easier for a dependant spouse whose DP is cancelled to apply for a long-term visit pass so that he/ she is able to stay until the end of the divorce proceedings.
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