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Time and time again the issue of care and control of children arises in marital conflicts. If there is one question that many couples with children facing marital conflict ask me is; with which parent their child or children will be ordered to live with, by the Court. Who will get the child or children to live with them day to day?

There are many assumptions and misconceptions on this issue. The general perception is that the child, especially those in their tender years, will always be with the primary caregiver and the typical mindset is that the primary caregiver is always the mother.

Whilst this may be true, the reverse is also possible. Every family is unique and it is the circumstances of each family that is looked at by the Court when it exercises its wide discretion when determining what is in the best interests of the child and deciding whom the child should live with and how.

Recently, in the case of VPG v VPF, the Court intervened to assist yet another family to determine if a three-year old child should relocate with the father or stay with the mother here in Singapore. The case is a reminder to all that the child’s best interest is always paramount. Further, the Court also went on to emphasize that no parent can be replaced by extended family members.

This case involved a young couple who are Employment Pass holders in Singapore. The Court had to intervene to decide with whom the child should live – which parent should have the child’s care and control or if it should be shared. The High Court, on appeal, decided that their 3 year old child should go back with her father to their country of origin despite having lived here with the mother and her extended family. The Court expressed that while kinship support is good for a child, it cannot replace the role of the child’s parents in her life.

Surprised by the outcome? Well, I was too, to be fair, but when I read the facts and the circumstances of the family, I understood the rationale behind the Court’s verdict.

The Court found that the family was in Singapore for only a short time and the father had sought for the child’s return to their country of origin 3 months after the child was moved to Singapore. The parties only had a transient connection to Singapore. The Court also found that the family’s connection to Singapore is tenuous — both parties and the child are not citizens here, with no permanent legal status in Singapore. The parties only have Employment Passes which do not give any secure long-term immigration status in Singapore and the child has only lived in Singapore for a year or so.

The Mother had a history of brain haemorrhage that affected her day to day activities and for which she has been receiving medical treatment. At the time of the application, she was much better and could manage herself. The Court commented that it must have been very trying for the mother to have suffered the brain haemorrhage as well as endured the difficult road to recovery. The Court held that this should be a reminder to the mother, all the more, to support her child’s relationship with the father. If the mother has medical issues, the Father can take on a greater caregiving role especially during the times the Mother needs to focus on her health issues. Apart from her, the father is the child’s only other parent. The Court commented that the mother’s extended family members are not the child’s parents and that while kinship support is good for a child, it cannot replace the role of the child’s parents in her life.

An interesting decision, and yet another reminder to parents that each of them play an irreplaceable role in the lives of their children!

This case illustrates the wide discretion the Court has and how it is important to consult a lawyer in good time who will assist and empower you as these issues are not determined merely by fixed rules. The court has a wide discretion and above all the child’s best interest is paramount.

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