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Media Release: The future of family justice – international and multi-disciplinary pathways

For the first time, top jurists and policy makers from the ASEAN region and Hague Convention countries as well as an International Advisory Council on family justice will be meeting in Singapore to discuss ways to better manage cross border disputes involving children and to address emerging trends.

2 Recognising the challenges of globalisation and the increasing context of cross border disputes involving children around the world, the Family Justice Courts (FJC) in its sophomore year, have been actively engaging in the international arena to increase awareness and opportunities for collaboration in this regard, with different jurisdictions.

3 Families form the bedrock of society. However the family today is increasingly fragile. In developed nations across the world, there has been a general increase in the occurrence of family breakdown and Singapore has likewise been confronted with a growing rate of divorce and family-related disputes.¹  We have, in Singapore, witnessed a significant rise in international marriages which often take on a multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-racial dimension. There has also been a corresponding rise in family disputes involving international marriages. Of all the divorce cases filed, the percentage of divorces involving at least one party of a different nationality increased by about 5% in a short span of 3 years.²

4 Family disputes with cross-border elements raise complex and difficult questions. Whether for relocation or the return of child in abduction cases³ , decisions could result in the separation of the child from one parent across national boundaries. Conversely, it could result in the primary caregiver being compelled to remain in a jurisdiction where he or she may not have any roots or access to support networks. Whichever way the court decides, the decision is bound to cause considerable pain and anguish to one of the parties. The child being caught in the centre of the dispute is certainly not spared. The challenge is to see past the competing tensions between the parents and focus on the welfare of the child as the guiding principle. The issues are also not legal per se but require a multi-disciplinary approach e.g. the assistance of mental health professionals in addressing the ongoing familial relationships despite the separation and any follow on work to bring about sustainable outcomes for all concerned. 

¹ Crude divorce rates (per 1000 residents) grew from 0.8 in 1980 to 1.9 in 2014. See Department of Statistics Singapore ( 
² 31% in 2011 to 33% in 2012 to 36% in 2013
³ Applications for return of child in abduction cases may be made to the Court under the International Child Abduction Act (Cap 143C) and the 1980 Hague Convention to which Singapore is a signatory or where the other country involved in the dispute is not a Hague Convention country, by applying for relief under the Guardianship of Infants Act (Cap 122). 

5 In seeking to share experiences and learn from best practices around the world on cross-border family disputes as well as emerging trends and challenges in family justice, FJC is organising 4 events in the week of 26 to 30 Sep 2016 namely – 

  • Symposium on Cross-Border Disputes Involving Children (Symposium) 26-27 September 2016) 

    A total of 120 participants have signed up for the Symposium including Hague Network Judges⁴ , ASEAN delegates, representatives from Central Authorities⁵ from around the world, FJC officers and other local participants. It will be a first time gathering of top jurists and policy makers from the ASEAN region and Hague Convention countries to discuss common concerns on the theme of Cross-Border Disputes involving Children. The intent is to raise awareness amongst participants on the complexities of cross border disputes involving children and how the Hague Conventions could be useful in facilitating resolution of such disputes. There will also be sessions on the use of mediation, judicial communications and judicial networks in this regard. FJC is co-organizing this event with The Hague Conference On Private International Law.
  • Council of ASEAN Chief Justices’ Working Group meeting (CACJ) 27 September 2016

    Representatives from ASEAN countries will be attending the CACJ WG meeting in the afternoon of the 27 September. The meeting hopes to form a network amongst the ASEAN Family Judges to facilitate communications amongst them when dealing with cross-border child disputes and to explore other opportunities for capacity building in this field.

⁴ The Hague Conference on Private International Law administers a group of judges called the International Hague Network of Judges, comprised of judges from various countries who are experts in the Hague Convention and other international family law issues. The role of a Network Judge is to help facilitate direct judicial communications by serving as a link between his/her colleagues at the domestic level and other members of the Network at the International level. A Network Judge also serves as a resource for his/her judicial colleagues domestically.

⁵ A “Central Authority” is an agency or organization that is designated to play a key facilitating role in the implementation and operation of the Hague Conventions in their respective countries. 

  • International Advisory Council (IAC) 28 September 2016 

    The International Advisory Council (IAC) is chaired by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and comprises renowned family law experts. The IAC members were appointed on 1 April 2016 and will be meeting for the first time on 28 September 2016 in Singapore. The quest to improve and enhance the administration of family justice is an on-going one. There is a need to anticipate and be prepared for emerging trends and new challenges in the changing context and dynamics of modern families. At this inaugural meeting, the IAC will discuss and share perspectives on the latest developments in family law and to generate ideas and innovations that could be taken in order to better position FJC in addressing present and future challenges in this field.
  • International Family Law Conference (IFLC) 29-30 September 2016

    Whilst the first 3 events are closed door meetings, the IFLC to be held from 29 – 30 September at the Supreme Court is open to the public for registration. The Conference brings together eminent local and foreign speakers from the legal, psychological and social science sectors to examine how family justice systems around the world are meeting current challenges while developing multi-disciplinary pathways and facilitative eco-systems. The Conference is further designed to facilitate an exchange of insights and a platform for learning and sharing of best practices in the area of family justice. More than 400 participants, including members of the judiciary, practitioners and academics both local and from other jurisdictions, have signed up to attend the Conference. The IFLC is co-organised by FJC, the Law Society of Singapore, the Singapore Academy of Law with the Ministry of Social and Family Development as our Conference partner.
6 For more information, please refer to the enclosures for the programmes for the Symposium and IFLC and Annex A for the members of the IAC and their resumes. 

About the Family Justice Courts

Established in 2014, the Family Justice Courts (FJC) are a restructure of our Court system to better serve litigants by bringing together all family related work under a specialised body of courts. FJC is comprised of the Family Division of the High Court, the Family Courts and the Youth Courts and is administered by the Presiding Judge of the FJC. The cases dealt with by FJC include those relating to divorce and ancillary matters, family violence, maintenance, adoption and guardianship, youth court, mental capacity and probate and succession. Its mission is to make justice accessible to families and youth through effective counselling, mediation and adjudication.

Media Contact:

Ms Elyana Mohd Ishak,
Assistant Director, Communications
Tel: 6325 7039

Ms Sarah Lim,
Senior Executive, Communications,
Tel: 6325 8049

International Advisory Council (IAC)

  • The IAC is chaired by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and the members are as follows:

    - Judicial Commissioner Valerie Thean, Presiding Judge for the Family Justice Courts (Vice-Chair)

    - Chief Justice Diana Bryant, Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia;

    - Justice Jacques Chamberland, Judge of the Court of Appeal, Quebec, Canada;

    - Professor Emeritus Dr. Dagmar Coester-Waltjen, University of Göttingen, Germany.

    - Justice Michael Hartmann, Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong.

    - Sir Mathew Thorpe, former Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales.

    - Professor Linda Silberman, New York University, USA.

    - Dr. Robert Emery, University of Virginia, USA. 
  • Members from different jurisdictions were chosen based on their knowledge, experience and expertise in the field of family justice. Apart from Judges and former judges, the members include an academic and a social science expert.
  • Their CVs are attached:

The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO Family Court of Australia


Diana Bryant is the Chief Justice to the Family Court of Australia. Her recent achievements include overseeing the conclusion of the Children’s Cases Program, a pilot program for a less adversarial means of hearing parenting cases, as well as implementing a Docket system throughout the Court. She is one of Australia’s two judges designated to the International Hague Network of Judges and has authored several publications on child-centred practises, among others.


Family law, as the international community might understand it is about laws that respective states put in place to deal with the consequences of the breakdown of relationships.

Family justice as a term is how courts go about the application of those laws in the most appropriate way.

There is of course an inevitable intersection between family law in the legislative sense and family justice as applied by courts and both go hand in hand. 

There is also a need to acknowledge that the application of family justice will and should differentiate itself in many respects from the general justice system both civil and criminal, but particularly civil. That is because the family justice system is largely concerned with making orders in relation to children who are the product of marriages or relationships which have come to an end.

Unlike other civil litigation the family justice system operates in a milieu in which rights of the parties are subordinate to the best interests of the children concerned.

All systems of justice seek to operate as fairly and efficiently as they can and to learn from other jurisdictions. In family law and family justice however there is an added imperative to do so.

The subordination of the rights of the parties to the best interests of the child is one of those factors, delay is another. No courts like to have delays in having matters heard but delay in family law proceedings has a much more significant effect than in other civil law processes. The lives of the parties are put on hold, but they are not static. Changes and vicissitudes affect parents and children and often need attention, sometimes by courts in the period leading up to their final hearing.

These interim applications put even more pressure on the court systems, and the passage of time which passes before the hearing can constitute a significant part of the life of a young child and have adverse consequences upon their present and future relationships with one or both of their parents.

Hence courts that exercise family law jurisdiction have an added responsibility to ensure that cases are heard in a timely way and that perspectives, developments and innovations from other jurisdictions are identified, and if appropriate applied.

Traditional court processes, especially in common law countries, do not always lend themselves well to parenting proceedings, and processes from other countries and other systems of law can be applied. No system or good idea should be discarded or ignored simply because it emanates from a system of law different to our own.

Singapore has embraced this ideal and established the International Advisory Council on Family Justice bringing together experts and leading thinkers throughout the work in the field of family justice to discuss and share perspectives on the latest developments and to generate ideas and innovations. This constitutes best practice and situates the Family Justice Court in Singapore at the forefront of family court practice.

The work of the International Advisory Council (IAC) will undoubtedly benefit Singapore but the knowledge and experience gained will also be disseminated throughout the international family justice community.

The Honourable Justice Jacques Chamberland Court of Appeal, Quebec 


Justice Jacques Chamberland was appointed to the Quebec Court of Appeal in 1993. He regularly takes part in the work of The Hague Conference on Private International Law, particularly with regard to the civil aspects of international child abduction. He is also a special advisor to the chair of the Judicial Committee on International Child Protection (a committee of the Canadian Judicial Council). 


I feel honoured and privileged to be part of the IAC. I look forward to working with my colleagues and providing the Family Justice Courts of Singapore, from my Canadian perspective, with the best advice possible. 


Professor Emeritus Dr. Dagmar Coester-Waltjen,
LL.M. (Univ. of Michigan)
University of Göttingen, Germany 


Dagmar Coester-Waltjen is a Professor at the University of Göttingen with over 30 years of faculty experience. She achieved the status of Habilitation at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich "Internationales Beweisrecht" (conflict of laws on evidence) in 1983 and is a member of the Academia Europaea (London) and of the Academy of Comparative Law (Paris). Her field of expertise is family law, civil procedure and conflict of laws.


I am looking forward very much to participating in the International Advisory Council. I am happy to learn more about the Singapore legal system and other jurisdictions and I want to share my thoughts and knowledge on German and European law with other colleagues. In a globalized world we need to communicate with each other, understand the differences and similarities of our approaches, exchange our ideas and strive together for better solutions on the national as well as on the international scene.


The Honourable Justice Michael John Hartmann
Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal,
Hong Kong 


Over his legal career, Mr Justice Michael Hartmann has had broad experience in international matters. Arriving in Hong Kong (from Zimbabwe) in 1983, he headed the international team in the criminal division of the Attorney General's Chambers, assisting in negotiating new extradition treaties to comply with Hong Kong's 1997 change of sovereignty. He was also one of the team who ensured that the Hague Convention on the Civil Abduction of Children was introduced into Hong Kong law in time for the change of sovereignty. As a High Court judge, Justice of Appeal and finally as a Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal, Mr Justice Hartmann has written a number of judgments on difficult areas of international family law, including such issues as relocation, and has chaired a number of judicial committees seeking to improve and rationalise family law procedures. For the past four years, since his retirement as a full-time member of the Hong Kong judiciary, he has specialised in family mediation.


Singapore is the ultimate 'global' city and has proved itself to be so in a number of areas of law, arbitration being one shining example. That is why, in seeking the most efficient and fair judicial proceedings in family matters, I believe that policy makers will benefit from doing so in the light of international advances, benefitting from the experience - good and bad - of other comparable jurisdictions.


The Right Honourable Sir Mathew Thorpe
Former Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales


Sir Mathew Thorpe is an Associate Member of 1 Hare Court, from which (in its previous form) he practised as Mathew Thorpe QC before his appointment to the Family Division in 1988. Sir Mathew was Head of Chambers at Mitre Court between 1986 and 1988. His distinguished judicial career is well-known, and he retired from the Court of Appeal in the summer of 2013. From 1995 to his retirement he was Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales.


I am excited to join the International Advisory Council. It is a brilliant idea and expressive of Singapore's commitment to ensure its Family Court is a world leader. I look forward to working with the Chief Justice and Presiding Judge Thean.


Professor Linda Silberman
Professor of Law, New York University


Professor Linda Silberman is the Martin Lipton Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law and Co-director of the Center on Transnational Litigation, Arbitration, and Commercial Law. She has been a member of numerous U.S. State Department delegations to the Hague Conference on Private International Law with respect to both the Hague Abduction Convention and the 1996 Protection of Children Convention. She is the author of numerous articles on those Conventions, and delivered Hague Academy lectures entitled “Cooperative Efforts in Private International Law on Behalf of Children: The Hague Children’s Conventions”. She is also known for her work on alternative dispute resolution in the family law area. 


I am honored to join the International Advisory Council to the Singapore Family Justice Courts. Singapore is taking the lead in recognizing the expansion of cross-border disputes in the family law area as well as seeking international and domestic solutions to these issues. The creation of a group of experts to exchange views about how family law courts in different countries address important issues of family law – both domestic and international – will benefit not only Singapore but also family court systems across the globe


Dr. Robert Emery
Professor of Psychology and Director of Centre for Children,
Families and the Law at the University of Virginia


Robert Emery, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia. He has authored over 150 scientific publications, and several books including Marriage, Divorce, and Children's Adjustment; Renegotiating Family Relationships: Divorce, Child Custody, and Mediation; and his guides for parents, The Truth about Children and Divorce: Dealing with the Emotions So You and Your Children Can Thrive and the forthcoming, Two Homes, One Childhood: A Parenting Plan to Last a Lifetime.


I am honoured by my appointment to the IAC.

Families and family life are changing across the world. Family change began earlier in the United States than in many countries. I hope I can contribute based on successes and mistakes in American family policy and family law practice. I also look forward to learning more about the unique experiences and challenges in family law in Singapore


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