Proving Unreasonable Behaviour for a Divorce in Singapore

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Getting a divorce under Singapore law is not as straightforward as simply asking or applying for one.  What must first be satisfied / proven by either spouse is that the marriage has broken down irretrievably to the point where they cannot be expected to live together anymore.


Under section 95(3)(b) of the Women’s Charter, you can prove this by showing that the other spouse has behaved in such a way that it would be unreasonable to expect the married couple to continue to live with each other.

Defining the term “Unreasonable Behaviour”

The term “Unreasonable Behaviour” has a rather broad definition. It can include either active or passive acts, or even the failure to act  the part of a spouse.  With such a broad definition, unreasonable behaviour has thus been found in many various situations, and this could range from cases of domestic violence to cases of much lesser severity which cumulatively could amount to unreasonable behaviour, where one single instance of such an act would not be sufficient to reach the level of ‘unreasonable’ required under the law.  Other examples include cases where one spouse refuses to engage in conjugal relations with the other spouse for a significant period of time, or another case where there is consistent verbal abuse levied against the other spouse.  Further non-exhaustive examples include:

  1. Compulsions / addictions such as in respect of drugs, alcohol and gambling
  2. Homosexual tendencies
  3. Refusal to share parental responsibilities / intentional neglect of children
  4. Physical abuse
  5. Lack of financial support

The key question to be asked and answered is – whether or not the aggrieved spouse can reasonably be expected to continue living together with the other spouse given the unreasonable behaviour of the spouse.  In answering this question, some general considerations which the Court would typically take into account would be the character, attitude, attributes, personality and behaviour of both parties during the marriage.

Incompatibility and State of Marriage

The Court had in the case of Wong Siew Boey v Lee Boon Fatt, cautioned that the particulars of unreasonable behaviour provided must not amount to more than a complaint that parties are incompatible, no longer have anything in common and cannot communicate, or that one of them is bored with the marriage.

As such, a spouse cannot simply complain that parties are no longer compatible to get a Divorce.

If a spouse feels that parties are no longer compatible, he or she will need to provide sufficient details of his or her spouse’s unreasonable behaviour to show that the incompatibility is so great that it has caused the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.  Further, financial irresponsibility / poor financial status / lack of financial prudence of a spouse alone is generally insufficient to prove unreasonable behaviour. However, unreasonable behaviour may be proved in more severe cases where the family is brought to the brink of financial ruin due to the behaviour of one spouse.

How the Court Determines Unreasonable Behaviour in Singapore

The Court has laid out the general approach / steps to be taken in determining whether there has been unreasonable behaviour in the case of Castello Anna Paula Costa Fusillier v Lobo Carlose Manuel Rosado:

  1. First, the Court considers whether the spouse seeking the divorce finds it unbearable to continue living with the other spouse. The analysis itself is subjective, so it does not matter if the aggrieved spouse has a reasonable justification or proof of this.
  1. Next, the Court then looks and examines the behaviour of the other spouse, including all and any relevant acts (whether passive / active / omissive), and determines objectively whether it reaches the level where it would be unreasonable for the aggrieved spouse to continue to live together with his or her spouse. These relevant acts necessarily must affect the marriage if not they would not be considered  relevant in the first place. Such acts could include behaviour and conduct towards family members and outsiders.
  1. There is no strict requirement to demonstrate malice in the behaviour of the other spouse, though this is still an important relevant consideration.
  1. The Court will also consider cumulative behaviour or the cumulative effect of certain behaviour such as recurring or repeated acts which have persisted over a significant period of time. This means that patterns of behaviour or a series of acts which individually do not count as unreasonable behaviour, may be objectively taken as a whole to prove unreasonable behaviour.

In the case of Wong Siew Boey v Lee Boon Fatt, the aggrieved spouse’s numerous complaints (23 paragraphs worth) would  appear individually as typical symptoms of the normal wear and tear of married life, but when collectively and cumulatively considered as a whole, they became relevant in the Court’s finding that there was unreasonable behaviour.

It might be challenging to determine if a specific situation or an act of a spouse can be considered “unreasonable behaviour” and whether this in turn would be sufficient to show that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. If you are in doubt, engaging an experienced family lawyer for advice and assistance is recommended.

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