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VJM v VJL and another appeal [2021] SGHCF 16

Outcome: Appeal allowed in part.

Facts

1 The Wife and Husband filed separate appeals against the District Judge’s decision covering multiple issues, including the custody, care and control of, and access to their child, and the relocation of the child.

Court’s Decision:

2 The court largely dismissed parties’ appeals, save that it allowed the Husband’s appeal for access to the child in part, for him to have additional days and periods of access to the child. In particular, the court upheld the District Judge’s orders for joint custody and sole care and control to the Mother, as well as allowing the child’s relocation with the Mother to the USA.

3 The law requires that joint custody is the default parenting method as it is the position consistent with upholding the welfare of the child. The child can benefit from the guidance of both parents in matters of significance as they are both responsible for the child. Parties are expected to work on reducing present conflict rather than excluding a parent from important decisions in the child’s life based on projected future parental conflicts. They should consider with an open mind the inputs of the other, use therapeutic or mediation support to assist them if necessary, but judicial intervention should be the last resort: at [4] to [6].

4 The relocation of a child leads to the child’s unfortunate but inevitable physical separation from one parent. The loss of time and relationship with that parent can be mitigated by the cooperation of both parents to support substantial access, or if one parent is willing to migrate to where the child is relocating to. A family’s lack of connection to Singapore is a strong factor in favour of relocation. On expenses of relocation, rather than the enforcement of promises, the question is whether it is reasonable for one party, or both, to bear such expenses: at [8] to [9], [11] to [12] and [49].

5 One cannot call any arrangement in which a child spends some time with both parents a ‘shared care and control’ arrangement, and simply do away with child access in such case. Shared care and control is decided on the facts of each case, and should not be misperceived as unsuitable or never ordered by the court – it may be ordered if it promotes the child’s welfare, but it cannot be seen how it can be ordered when the parents reside apart separately in two different countries. Shared care and control is not merely a label describing any arrangement in which both parents spend some time with the child, regardless of the amount or frequency of time spent with the child. Neither is shared care and control an arrangement where each party has exactly mathematically equal time with the child. Regardless, an order for sole care and control does not make the parent with sole care and control better or more important; instead, a truly strong parent would actively support the child in having a close relationship with the other parent: at [19] to [23] and [29].

6 The court ought to be slow to intervene in parenting issues such as restrictions on the child’s travels, as the parents must discharge their parental responsibility to safeguard the child’s wellbeing: at [36].

The full text of the decision can be found here.

This summary is provided to assist the public to have a better understanding of the Court’s judgment. It is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Court. All numbers in bold font and square brackets refer to the corresponding paragraph numbers in the Court’s judgment. 

2022/07/22

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