23 October 2018

Braving the storm – Knowing your rights as an expat wife going through a divorce (part two)


Wai Sze Ip
Associate | Singapore

When expat wives pack their suitcases and move with their husbands to Singapore, the thought of losing it all through a divorce would have never crossed their minds. In recent years, there have been many examples of expat wives who have moved to Singapore in these circumstances on a Dependant Pass, which as the name suggests, is dependant on the husband being employed locally. These Dependant Passes ensure that the growing number of expats who have decided to find long-term work in Singapore would be able to live with their spouses and children.

However, during a divorce, it is common for an expat wife to be stripped of her Dependant Pass, thus forcing her to return back to her homeland. In some cases, she would have to leave her children behind, even if she has been granted custody of them.

This all sounds deeply unfair for expat wives who have left everything behind, and are now being forced to return back home – away from the new lives that they have painstakingly built over the years. However, not all hope is lost. This article is part of a two-part series which explains the rights that expat wives have when going through a divorce in Singapore. Part One talks about the issues that expat wives might face should they choose to relocate with their child back to their homeland while this article explores how expat wives can remain in Singapore if they choose to do so.

Understanding how a Dependant’s Pass works

In order to stay in Singapore as an expat wife, you would need either an Employment pass or a Dependant’s Pass. An Employment Pass would be granted if you have a job in Singapore and would not result in any complication during a divorce, thus allowing you to remain in Singapore as long as you continue to work.

However, issues may arise if you were granted a Dependant’s pass for your stay in Singapore. When an expat wife’s husband moves to Singapore and gets a job, he receives an Employment Pass, which is sponsored by his company. The working husband would then sponsor his wife and children with Dependant Passes that are dependant on his Employment Pass, which he can decide to cancel if he wants to. Cancelling the Dependant Pass does not take much effort at all – all the husband has to do is to cancel the Dependant Pass online on the Ministry of Manpower website.

Losing your Dependant Pass

According to an article published by The Straits Times in 2016, “getting rid” of expat spouses by cancelling their Dependant Passes has become more common. This is especially common in cases where divorce proceedings are acrimonious and parents are fighting for custody over the child. By cancelling his spouse’ Dependant Pass, the husband would thus stand to gain an advantage in the battle of custody over the child by sending the other spouse back to her homeland.

In cases such as these, the impact on the party who is forced to return is devastating. There appears to be no other solution but to leave behind the identity that they have created for themselves here, the lives that they are now used to and the community that they have fought so hard to be a part of. There are cases where cancelling an expat wife’s Dependant Pass would mean having to tear her away from her child, even if she has custody and control over him or her.

The turning point

Before the Family Court case of TYC v TYD [2017] SGFC 23, an expat wife would only have 30 days after her Dependant’s Pass is cancelled to get a work permit by looking for employment or she would be left with no other recourse and would have to pack her bags and leave Singapore.

However, a turning point occurred in TYC v TYD. The wife stated that the husband cancelled her Dependant Pass to cause her “financial hardship and stress, with a view to having her leave Singapore and to place her at a disadvantage in the proceedings.” The wife then went on to highlight how the cancellation of her Dependant Pass was for “obtaining de facto care and control of the child”. In light of these facts, and in order to ensure fairness during the trial, the court ordered the husband to reinstate and/or renew the Wife’s Dependant Pass until the end of the divorce proceedings or pursuant to a court order.

As such, whilst a concern, there seems to be little need to worry if your husband decides to cancel your Dependant’s Pass to gain a better advantage during divorce proceedings. The court will not condone the husband’s action of cancelling an expat wife’s Dependant Pass for the sake of causing her undue pressure and financial hardship or for reducing her chances of getting custody of the child.

The calm after a storm – exploring other ways you can remain in Singapore

Having to build a new life as an expat wife in a country that was once foreign to you is definitely no walk in the park, and to risk having that taken away from you all at once can make you feel completely helpless at the hands of another party. However, there are ways to prevent your partner from cancelling your Dependant’s Pass during divorce proceedings.

The issue of Dependant’s Passes can be a complex one to handle and if you require more knowledge on this area of the law, do not hesitate to contact a family lawyer. When going through something as complicated as a divorce in a foreign country, it would be helpful to know where your case stands and most importantly, to be fully aware of the rights that you have as an expat wife, and to know when someone is taking those rights away from you.

Wai Sze Ip Associate, Withers KhattarWong* | Singapore

Category: Article