Maintenance of Parents Act



The Maintenance of Parents 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 lack of maintenance, in the form of monthly allowances or a lump-sum payment. The Act also constituted the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents to review applications brought by parents.

Background
On 23 May 1994, then Nominated Member of Parliament Associate Professor Walter Woon introduced the Maintenance of Parents Bill in Parliament to legislate for the maintenance of parents.1 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 was no urgent need at the time, the nation needed to prepare to cope with an increasingly aging population.2


Prior to this bill, there was no legal requirement for an adult child to support the parents, no matter how needy the parents are or how well-off the children may be. The bill sparked debate and criticism among the public and members of Parliament (MPs). Those who opposed it voiced fears that the bill would replace moral obligation with legal duty and widen 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, opined that, while the number of abandoned parents was small, it was a social safeguard against pitfalls that came with an aging population and against a trend of individualistic young Singaporeans who think that they should be allowed to do as they please.3

The bill had its second reading in Parliament on 27 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.4 The 11-member select committee submitted its findings and amended bill, with the key recommendation to set up a tribunal to administer the law. The bill was passed in Parliament on 2 November, 1995,5 and the legislation came into operation on 24 November that year.6

Description
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.7

In recognition that family disputes may not be handled effectively by the existing court structure, the Act constituted the tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents.8 Under the Act, the tribunal comprises a minimum of three members, including a president with the qualifications of a district judge and is empowered to make and review maintenance orders. Conciliation officers review every case and mediate between the parties. If mediation fails, the case will be heard at the tribunal.9 The tribunal is under the administration of the Ministry of Social and Family Development.10

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 the 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.11

Other provisions of the Act include:12

– 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 may be fined not more than S$5,000 or face an imprisonment 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.

– Only the basic amenities and physical needs of the applicant, such as 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 began operations on 1 June 1996 to address problems of children refusing 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.13


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 by mediation. 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.14

Within its first three years of operation, over 400 elderly people have approached the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents for help. The applicants tended to be fathers, Chinese and single parents, either widowed or divorced.15 In 2015, there were 36 new applications.16



Author
Lim Puay Ling




References
1. Singapore. Parliament. Official reports – Parliamentary debates (Hansard). (1994, May 23). First reading of Maintenance of Parents Bill (Vol. 63, col. 37). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00064150-ZZ&currentPubID=00069719-ZZ&topicKey=00069719-ZZ.00064150-ZZ_1%2Bid025_19940523_S0003_T00061-bill%2B
2. Singapore. Parliament. Official reports – Parliamentary debates (Hansard). (1994, July 27). Second reading of Maintenance of Parents Bill (Vol. 63, cols. 318–361). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00064294-ZZ&currentPubID=00069722-ZZ&topicKey=00069722-ZZ.00064294-ZZ_1%2Bid008_19940727_S0002_T00021-bill%2B; Law can be used as bargaining chip to threaten the recalcitrant. (1994, July 28). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Singapore. Parliament. Official reports – Parliamentary debates (Hansard). (1994, July 27). Second reading of Maintenance of Parents Bill (Vol. 63, cols. 318–361). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00064294-ZZ&currentPubID=00069722-ZZ&topicKey=00069722-ZZ.00064294-ZZ_1%2Bid008_19940727_S0002_T00021-bill%2B; Spirited debate on Parents’ Bill. (1995, October 26). The New Paper, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Singapore. Parliament. Official reports – Parliamentary debates (Hansard). (1994, July 25). Second reading of Maintenance of Parents Bill (Vol. 63, cols. 362–364. Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00064294-ZZ&currentPubID=00069722-ZZ&topicKey=00069722-ZZ.00064294-ZZ_1%2Bid008_19940727_S0002_T00021-bill%2B
5. Singapore. Parliament. Official reports – Parliamentary debates (Hansard). (1995, November 2). Considered in Committee, reported and third reading of Maintenance of Parents Bill (Vol. 65, cols. 210–213). Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00064934-ZZ&currentPubID=00069746-ZZ&topicKey=00069746-ZZ.00064934-ZZ_1%2Bid009_19951102_S0002_T00031-bill%2B
6. Attorney-General’s Chamber. (n.d.). Legislative history: Maintenance of Parents Act. Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;ident=ce097c60-15dc-47a8-a558-aa78903a775c;page=0;query=DocId%3A1ce29500-b64a-4000-b8ae-120e507c04e8%20Depth%3A0%20ValidTime%3A07%2F11%2F2016%20TransactionTime%3A07%2F11%2F2016%20Status%3Ainforce;rec=0
7. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. Acts supplement. (1996, June 1). Maintenance of Parents Act (Cap. 167B). Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=DocId%3A1ce29500-b64a-4000-b8ae-120e507c04e8%20Depth%3A0%20ValidTime%3A07%2F11%2F2016%20TransactionTime%3A07%2F11%2F2016%20Status%3Ainforce;rec=0
8. Maintenance of Parents Act 1995. (1995, November 2). Tribunal to hear and determine claims. Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/
9. Tribunal to be set up by mid-year. (1996, February 14). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Ministry of Social and Family Development. (2015, December 21). Our people: Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents. Retrieved 2016, November 7 from Ministry of Social and Family Development website: https://app.msf.gov.sg/About-MSF/Our-People/Divisions-at-MSF/Family-Development-and-Support/Family-Services-Division/Tribunal-for-the-Maintenance-of-Parents
11. The report. (1995, October 26). The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. Acts supplement. (1996, June 1). Maintenance of Parents Act (Cap. 167B). Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=DocId%3A1ce29500-b64a-4000-b8ae-120e507c04e8%20Depth%3A0%20ValidTime%3A07%2F11%2F2016%20TransactionTime%3A07%2F11%2F2016%20Status%3Ainforce;rec=0
13. Suressh, S. (2010, September). In memoriam: KS Rajah. Law Gazette. Retrieved 2016, November 7 from Law Gazette website: http://www.lawgazette.com.sg/2010-09/Notices1.htm
14. Maintenance of Parents. (2014, December 1). Process: Overview. Retrieved 2016, November 7 from Maintenance of Parents website: https://app.maintenanceofparents.gov.sg/Pages/Overview.aspx; Kee, J. (1996, June 2). Tribunal for Maintenance of Parents 11 file claims on registry’s first day. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Over 400 parents turned to tribunal. (1999, April 4). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Ministry of Social and Family Development. (2015, January 22). Family services: Statistics on Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents. Retrieved 2016, August 8 from Ministry of Social and Family Development website: https://app.msf.gov.sg/Research-Room/Research-Statistics/Family-Services-Tribunal-Maintenance-of-Parent



Further resources
Chia, D. (2005, February 17). More parents seeking support from grown-up children who refuse to help. The New Paper, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


Chung, T. M. (1994, May 27). Parents to sue? ‘Better to let authorities recover money from children’. The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Ng, W. J., Snodgrass, S., & Sim, D. (1994, May 27). Singaporeans young and old split over Bill to support parents. The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Wang, H. L. (1994, June 4). Countries which have maintenance laws for parents. The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Wang, H. L. (1994, July 18). Maintenance of Parents Bill finds little favour with Zaobao letter-writers. The Straits Times, p. 29. Retrieved 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.

Subject
Parents--Legal status, laws, etc.--Singapore
Politics and Government>>Law
Law and government>>Private law>>Domestic relations
Parent and adult child--Singapore
Law

All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2009.