What happens when a party fails to make a required payment under a maintenance order? In this article, we will explore the different possible courses of action to take in such a situation.

First, what does ‘maintenance’ refer to?

Maintenance generally refers to the provision of money to ‘ensure a reasonable standard of living’ for the party’s family at all times. A maintenance order can be made for spouses, children, and even parents.

The law is especially strict when it comes to the maintenance of children, as Singapore law attempts to protect the welfare and interest of children at all times.

Effects of failure to maintain

Failure to maintain a family member can look like failure to make one or more payments under a maintenance order.

Under section 71(1) of the Women’s Charter 1961, an order for maintenance can be enforced through the following methods: –

  • For every breach of the order by warrant direct the amount due to be levied in the manner by law provided for levying fines imposed by the Magistrate’s Court;
  • Sentence the person to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month for each month’s allowance remaining unpaid;
  • Make a garnishee order in accordance with the Family Justice Rules made under section 79;
  • Order the person to furnish security against any future default in maintenance payments by means of a banker’s guarantee which –
  • Must be valid for such period (not exceeding 3 years) as the court may determine, starting from the date the order for security is made; and
  • Must be for an amount not exceeding 3 months of maintenance payable under the maintenance order;
  • If the court considers it in the interests of the parties in the maintenance proceedings or their children to do so, order the person to undergo financial counselling or such other similar or related programme as the court may direct;
  • Make a community service order requiring the person to perform any unpaid community service for up to 40 hours under the supervision of a community service offender.

Where a person fails to make one or more payments and an order is made by the court under subsection (1) stating the amount of arrears, an entitled party may lodge a report to a designated credit bureau regarding the unpaid arrears.

Amendments to Enforcement of Maintenance Payments (Enhanced Process)

In May 2023, the Parliament passed amendments to better improve the enforcement of maintenance payments. The Family Justice Reform Bill established a new enhanced Maintenance Enforcement Process to be carried out by Maintenance Enforcement Officers (“MEOs”).

With this new process, MEOs have the ability to directly obtain information about parties’ assets from entities and government agencies (for instance, banks, Central Provident Fund Board, and more). MEOs have “quasi-judicial powers” of Maintenance Record Officers from Family Justice Courts.

Through this change, the Court can “better distinguish between respondents who cannot pay and those who refuse(s) to pay”, says Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.

Where you might require more advice and consultancy about your case and the legal procedures, it is ideal to consult a lawyer for guidance and representation. Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu of Amarjit Sidhu Law Corporation has represented numerous clients in a wide variety of matters over the years from traffic offences, family disputes to high-profile criminal cases. With a vast knowledge of Singapore’s laws and a wealth of experience, Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu will be able to provide valuable and timely advice for your situation. For more information, feel free to contact us for a consultation.

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