Maintenance of Parents Act
The Act provides for Singapore residents aged 60 years old and above, who are unable to subsist on their own, to claim maintenance from their children who are capable of supporting him but are not doing so. Parents can sue their children for maintenance, in the form of monthly allowances or a lump-sum payment. The Act also establishes the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents to decide on applications made under the Act.
On 23 May 1994, then Nominated Member of Parliament Associate Professor Walter Woon introduced a Bill in Parliament to legislate for the maintenance of parents. He highlighted that the purpose of the Bill is to provide a safety net for needy and neglected parents who had no other recourse and although there were no urgent need at the time, the nation needed to prepare to cope with an increasingly aging population.
Before the Bill, there was no legal requirement that an adult child must support the parents, no matter how needy the parents are or how well off the children may be. Although there were calls in Parliament in the early 80s to have a similar legislation, it was deemed as unnecessary by the government then. The main welfare scheme provided by the State for a needy person was the Public Assistance Scheme, which has stringent qualifying criteria.
The Bill sparked debates and criticisms among the public and the Members of Parliament (MPs). Those who opposed it voiced fears that the Bill would substitute moral obligation with legal duty and widened the relationship gap between the children and parents. They also felt that in Asian values, children are committed to taking care of their parents and there was no necessity for legislation. Those who agreed with the Bill, however, felt that while the number of abandoned parents was small, it was a social safeguard against rise in the aging population and against a possible trend of young Singaporeans with the mindset that individuals should be allowed to do as they pleased.
The Bill had its second reading in July 1994 with 50 MPs voting for it and 13 MPs, including two opposition MPs, voted against or abstained. It was sent to a Select Committee for further consideration. The 11-member Select Committee submitted its findings and amended Bill, with key recommendation to set up a Tribunal to administer the law. The Bill was passed in Parliament on 2 November, 1995.
The Maintenance of Parents Act (Cap 167B) states that any Singapore resident, 60 years old and above, who is unable to maintain himself adequately, is entitled to claim maintenance from their children, either in a lump-sum payment, or in the form of monthly allowances. Relatives or caregivers may apply for court action on a parent's behalf, with the parent’s consent.
In recognition that family disputes may not be handled effectively by the existing court structure, the Act put in place a Tribunal for the maintenance of parents (Tribunal). The Tribunal will comprise a minimum of three members, including a president with the qualifications of a district judge and is empowered to make and review maintenance orders. It will be administered by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, with conciliation officers reviewing every case and take on the role to mediate between the parties. If mediation fails, then the case will be heard at the Tribunal.
The amount of maintenance to be paid is decided by the Tribunal based on a set of criteria including: financial needs, earning capacity, expenses incurred as well as physical health of the parent and children. The maintenance claim may be dismissed if the children can prove that they were abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents when they were young.
Other provisions of the Act include:
-The child being sued has the right to make his siblings joint respondents even if they were not named in the parent's original claim.
- Any person who is found to be in contempt of the Tribunal will be liable on conviction to a fine not more than S$5000 or an imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.
- Maintenance orders issued under the Act are to be enforced in the same manner that maintenance orders for wives and children are enforced under the Women’s Charter (Cap. 353).
- Only the basic amenities and physical needs of the applicant including shelter, food and clothing are provided for. The maintenance should not be linked to the applicant’s previous standard of living.
- Definition of children includes Illegitimate, adopted and step-children.
Tribunal for the maintenance of parents
The Tribunal started its operations on 1 June, 1996 to address problems of refusal of children to maintain their aged, ill or needy parents. Eleven members were nominated, and its first president was the former director of Legal Aid Bureau, K. S. Rajah.
People who are eligible can file the application at the Tribunal. A date for the applicant to appear before the Tribunal will be fixed three weeks after the application, and a decision will be made as to whether the claim should continue or be dismissed. If the case is to be continued, the parties will set a date to meet a conciliation officer to see if the case can be settled. If it fails, a date will be set for a hearing before a tribunal. In line with the non-adversarial approach, lawyers are not allowed to represent the parties, except when appeals are made to the High Court. The hearings will also not be heard in public unless the parties request to do so.
Since its first year of inception in 1996, 1,411 applications for maintenance has been filed at the Tribunal, and 1,047 maintenance orders made. The applicants tend to be fathers, Chinese, and likely to be single parents, either widowed or divorced. There is an upward rising trend on the number of applications recently, with 172 applications received in 2008, an increase from the usual annual rate of 100.
The Tribunal is slated to play a more proactive role in facilitating mediation and providing information and assistance to the elderly so that they are aware of options other than pursuing legal action against their children.
23 May 1994: First reading of Bill at Parliament.
25–27 July 1994: Second reading of Bill; referred to Select Committee on 27 July.
20 October 1995: Select Committee’s report presented to Parliament.
2 November 1995: Bill passed on third reading.
1 June 1996: Act in Operation [refer to Commencement Notification, S248/1996].
Operation of the Tribunal
Subsidiary legislation enacted
§ Maintenance of Parents Rules Notification 1, S241/1996.
§ Appointment of Commissioner, deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners for the maintenance of parents, S242/1996.
10 June 2000: Appointment of Commissioner, deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner for the maintenance of parents, S265/2000.
Lim Puay Ling
Chong, A. (2009, August 20). MCYS aims to do more to protect elderly parents. The Straits Times. Retrieved October 21, 2009 from Factiva database.
Chua, M.H. (1995, October 26). Call to derive clear formula to establish maintenance amount. The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Govt gives backing to Parents Bill. (1994, July 27). The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Mathi, B. (1999, April 4). Over 400 parents turned to tribunal. The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
More elderly apply to Tribunal for maintenance of parents for financial support. (2009, July 20). The Straits Times, Retrieved October 21, 2009 from Factiva database.
No maintenance for irresponsible parents. (1996, September 19). The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
No need yet for law to look after parents. (1982, March 17) The Straits Times, p.1. Retrieved 12 November 2009 from NewspaperSG.
Parents’ claims tribunal starts work on Saturday. (1996, May 28). The Straits Times. Retrieved September 30, 2009 from Factiva database.
Parliament of Singapore (1994, July 25). Maintenance of Parents Bill – Second Reading. Parliamentary Debates Singapore: Official Report. Singapore: Singapore National Printers. (Call no.: RSEA 325.5957 SIN v.63)
Parliament of Singapore. (1995, November 2). Maintenance of Parents Bill – Third Reading. Parliamentary Debates Singapore: Official Report. Singapore: Singapore National Printers. (Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN, v.65)
Parliament of Singapore (1995). Report of the Select Committee on the Maintenance of Parents Bill. Bill No. 13/94. Singapore: Singapore National Printers. (Call no: RSING 346.5957017 SIN)
Parliament of Singapore. (2009, August 19). Children not supporting elderly parents. Retrieved November 16, 2009, from http://www.parliament.gov.sg/Publications/sprs.htm
Ibrahim, Z. (1994, July 28). Overwhelming support for Parents Bill. The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Chung,T.M. (1994, May 27). Parents to sue? ‘Better to let authorities recover money from children’. The Straits Times. Retrieved 30 September 2009 from Factiva database.
Differing views: the two sides of the debate. (1994, July 28). The Straits Times. Retrieved 30 September 2009 from Factiva database.
More parents seeking support from grown-up children who refuse to help. (2005, February 17). The New Paper. Retreived 30 September 2009 from Factiva database.
Ng, W.J., Snodgrass,S. and Sim,D. (1994, May 27). Singaporeans young and old split over Bill to support parents. The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Singapore parents can now sue children for maintenance. (1996, May 28). Agence France-Presse. Retrieved October 2, 2009 from Factiva database.
Wang, H.L. (1994, June 4). Countries which have maintenance laws for parents. The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.