SINGAPORE – Twelve years after she got married, Sarah (not her real name) left her matrimonial home with her two daughters due to mental and physical abuse.
After settling down at her mother’s house, she went on to file a personal protection order against her husband, culminating in their divorce in 2017.
Throughout the process, the 51-year-old said she tried to shield her daughters, aged seven and four, from the changes to their life, even as she struggled with child access arrangements with her spouse.
After a psychologist assessed her family’s circumstances, Sarah said she was given care and control of their children in 2017, with visitation rights granted to her former husband.
But as the children continued to experience trauma, she appealed the child access order and requested to be granted sole custody.
“Both my children and I were abused, and in the end we walked out of the house with nothing but the clothes on our backs.
“Even after we left, I wanted him to be a part of the children’s lives. But each time they met him, they would come back upset and torn about the conflict between their parents. I felt frustrated and concerned that a man who abused his family could get visitation rights,” she said.
The family was advised to seek counselling, but without much success. Sarah returned to court for sole custody of her children, which was granted in 2018.
While she supports initiatives to promote co-parenting by divorced couples, Sarah said there was a need for better assessment of a family’s circumstances, including past incidents of abuse, to determine what custody arrangements would be in the children’s best interest.
While co-parenting may be the ideal outcome for all divorced couples, she added that it was not feasible for every family.
“I realized, after the whole custody battle, even though he said that he wanted to meet the children, he made no efforts to communicate with them. He also did not provide any maintenance, saying he would rather go to jail than pay maintenance, ” she said.
Sarah, who said she was the sole breadwinner of the family during her marriage, currently runs a training company and facilitates divorce support groups to help other women who are in similar situations.
Her daughters, now aged 12 and 15, have not seen their father since 2017. Her former husband began paying $100 maintenance per month for each child in 2020.
Sarah said: “Children need stability, and this is what parents should keep as a priority when undergoing a divorce. It has taken my daughters seven years to heal from their experience. But I know they still love their father. Someday, in the future , I hope both of them can have a good relationship with him.”