Till differences and affairs do us part...
AS OLD barriers against divorce break down, so do marriages, it seems.
The latest statistics on marriage and divorce, released yesterday, seemed to bear this out.
Last year, 7,525 couples got divorced or had their marriages annulled, a 4 per cent increase from the year before. Only once before, since 1990, have more marriages ended this way in a single year.
Marriage counsellors and lawyers told My Paper the stigma once attached to divorce is fading, and there is more awareness on how to obtain one. These make it easier to call it quits.
"People are more familiar with the term divorce as compared to 10 or 20 years ago, and have no qualms about getting one," said Iris Lin, senior social worker at Fei Yue Community Services.
Richard Cheong, director of Hero Training & Consultancy, also noted that remarriage and single parenthood barely raise eyebrows now.
The reasons most commonly cited for divorce in non-Muslim marriages were unreasonable behaviour, and having separated or lived apart for three years or more.
Muslim marriages, meanwhile, broke down mostly because of infidelity, followed by financial problems and desertion.
Extramarital affairs are no longer just committed by husbands, said Tan Soh Hiang, a counselling manager at Focus on the Family Singapore.
"Increasingly, we see affairs being indulged in by wives. So now it's from both sides, which could explain the rising divorce rates," she said.
And while the lack of knowledge on how to get a divorce might have held people back in the past, family lawyer Lee Terk Yang noted that many can now turn to free legal clinics for advice. "People are now more aware of their legal rights," he said.
Marriage counsellors also pointed to the growing independence of women as a possible reason for the higher divorce numbers.
Women are more financially independent now and no longer fight to save an unhappy marriage for the sake of security, said Ms Lin.
"They are no longer at the losing end," she added.
Out of the divorces that took place last year, two-thirds or 4,599 were initiated by women.
The figures from the Department of Statistics also showed that there were 2,983 male divorcees aged 45 and above last year, the highest number for this age group since 1990. This group made up 42 per cent of male divorcees.
Mr Cheong said this is due to couples delaying their divorces for their children's sake.
"Then, when their kids are older and can handle a separation and divorce, they think there is no point holding on any longer," he said.
The increase in divorces was also coupled by a 6 per cent fall in marriages, from 27,936 in 2012 to 26,254 last year.
On whether the institution of marriage is eroding, marriage counsellors said people still believe in it but just do not work as hard to keep it intact.
Ms Tan encourages couples to seek help the moment cracks appear, to nip the problem in the bud. "People entering marriage also need to set realistic expectations and not expect it to be problem-free," she added.