Parliament: Govt to step up efforts to strengthen marriages, mitigate negative effects of divorce

SINGAPORE – Since March 2019, more than 200 people have been trained to provide basic marriage support to couples, as part of government efforts to strengthen marriages.

Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling on Tuesday (Jan 5) said 215 community leaders, religious leaders and marriage solemnisers had been trained as Marital First Responders who can step in early before matters take a turn for the worse.

More such responders will continue to be trained, she said, adding that the Government will continue to work with social service agencies and community organisations to offer more marriage enrichment programmes for couples to strengthen their relationships.

She was responding to Mr Melvin Yong (Radin Mas) on a study about the intergenerational effects of divorce on children in Singapore that the Ministry of Social and Family Development released last month.

Mr Yong had asked if there were significant differences in the outcomes for the children based on the age of the child when the parents got divorced.

He also wanted to know the ministry’s next steps in examining the issue of a “divorce penalty” on the children and studying the efficacy of interventions to reduce its effect.

Ms Sun said it is important in divorce cases to focus more efforts on early childhood intervention, not only to mitigate the potential negative effects but also to enhance the positive development of the child.

“This intervention effort should be based on rigorous evidence from the social and behavioural sciences, and for it to work, we will need good policies and the help from experts but also the support from families, communities, and indeed a whole-of-society approach,” she added.

She said the ministry will continue to review parenting programmes that divorcing couples have to go through, to enhance their efficacy.

The ministry is also looking into how it can encourage more divorced parents to enrol themselves and their children in the Children in Between programme run by divorce support specialist agencies that equips children with skills to manage their feelings and develop resilience.

Ms Sun noted that it is also important to increase upstream efforts to strengthen marriages, like stepping up efforts to encourage couples to undergo marriage preparation programmes.

Ms Carrie Tan (Nee Soon GRC) asked about the ministry’s intention and motivation in publishing the study’s results “in a manner that unfortunately I think creates the unintended further stigmatising of divorcees… or maybe potentially guilt-tripping them, and also the unfortunate labelling of children from divorced families”.

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“This makes it harder for couples who are already considering divorce due to very difficult circumstances in their marriage, because then they worry about these outcomes which they already worry about and it doesn’t help them in their consideration process,” she said.

In response, Ms Sun said: “There are important observations that can be made from this data, and we wanted to share it with practitioners, with families, so that they understand what the data presents.”

In some instances, divorce may well be the best way out for a married couple, she noted.

“And if that’s the case, and if there are young, minor children involved, how best do we mitigate the impact of divorces on these children? That is the intent and the spirit of this study.”

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