The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
October 11, 2011

Singapore’s Solution to Dead-Beat Dads

In 2009 alone, Singapore moms filed 3,600 claims against fathers who failed to make child support and spousal maintenance payments, some of them repeat defaults.  Custodial parents who depend on regular payments to support their minor children endure an endless stream of time-consuming court procedures in an effort to enforce their kids’ legal right to support.  The PBEye recently learned from The Straits Times that pro bono is about to make justice more accessible to single parents in Singapore.

The Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) is tackling this barrier to justice by shifting the burden from the custodial parent to the parent that is chronically in arrears.  Last week, SCWO, in collaboration with social services and the justice system, opened the doors of Maintenance Support Central (MSC), a one-stop drop-in center where low-income moms can get help to collect unpaid maintenance and child support, and access free financial and emotional counseling services.  MSC partners with the Law Society of Singapore’s Pro Bono Services Office and the local family bar in order to provide parents with free legal representation.  SCWO President Laura Hwang told Singapore Law Watch that the center’s average client is a mother in her thirties with two children, and has only a secondary school education.  Money is tight for these parents, and time spent at court chasing down delinquent maintenance payments is time that they could be working.  One working mom, Leanne Tan, shared, “I had to make six, seven trips to court every time my former husband defaults on child support payment.  In the last three years, there had been about eight incidents of default. Just imagine the number of times I had to take time-off from work to go to court.”

Through pro bono legal services, MSC helps means-tested indigent moms file enforcement complaints without having to spend countless hours in a courthouse.

Under Singapore law, ex-spouses who fall into arrears face penalties, including mandatory community service, financial counseling sessions, and banker’s guarantees to prevent future arrears.  But, without MSC’s free legal assistance, single parents in Singapore who can’t afford to hire an attorney or take time off from work are unable to utilize these enforcement mechanisms.  Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob told reporters, “We don’t want the children to grow up remembering the court system as part of their routine in life.  We see this as a more holistic approach towards enforcing or ensuring that women have a stream of revenue to take care of their needs and [those] of their children.”

The PBEye tips its hat to Singapore’s legal community for collaborating to harness pro bono to provide meaningful access to justice.

Are you in the know about emerging pro bono initiatives abroad?  Drop us a comment below and tell us all about it.

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