Whilst there is no dispute over the parental obligation to maintain a child born of a marriage, given that the traditional family structure has gradually evolved over time, it is important to consider how that may impact maintenance. It is not uncommon nowadays for families to adopt children. It is even less uncommon to see families comprising of children born of an existing marriage and a previous relationship or marriage. Hence, a common question that may arise when parties divorce is whether a former spouse is obligated to maintain a child not born of the marriage, i.e. an adopted child or step-child.
Generally, Section 68 Women’s Charter (“WC”) imposes a duty to provide reasonable maintenance for a dependent child, whereby a child is under the age of 21 years old. This duty exists regardless of whether the parents are married to each other, remarried or whether the child is illegitimate.
For a child above the age of 21 years old, the court may still grant an order for maintenance, if he or she is suffering from mental or physical disability, or serving full-time national service or is or will be a student, or is under some other special circumstances.
But what about a child that is adopted or a step-child? Does a former spouse still have the obligation to maintain that child after the marriage has ended?
Section 92 of the Women’s Charter provides for a definition in respect of a “child of the marriage”. The definition is wide enough to cover any adopted child and any other child, whether or not he or she is a child of the husband or the wife.
It is also provided for in Section 64(b) of the Women’s Charter, that the definition of a family member extends to that of an adopted child and step-child.
That being said, it does not necessarily mean that a step-parent is under a legal obligation to maintain a step-child. The crux is that the courts will look at whether the child has been accepted as a ‘member of the family’.
Importantly, it should be also noted that this liability for a non-biological parent to maintain a step-child is not that of a primary liability. As provided for in Section 70(1) of the Women’s Charter, ‘where a person has accepted a child who is not his child as a member of his family, it shall be his duty to maintain that child while he remains a child, so far as the father or the mother of the child fails to do so.’ However, as per section 70(3), any sums expended by that non-biological parent shall be recoverable as a debt from the father or mother of the child.
For any enquiries pertaining to maintenance of an adopted child or step-child, it is advisable to seek the advice of a lawyer who is able to assess all the relevant facts. Should you have any enquiries, do feel free to approach our lawyers at Emerald Law who would be happy to help you. They can be contacted at +65 622 0439 or you may choose to email us at email@example.com.