Foreign spouses, sandwich class get legal aid in new scheme

SINGAPORE – May May (not her real name) was at her wits’ end after her husband racked up more than $1 million in debts, resulting in their two children being harassed by loan sharks on social media.

The 40-year-old Malaysian wanted to divorce her Singaporean husband of more than 10 years but could not afford the fees. She had consulted a lawyer and was told it would cost between $3,000 and $5,000.

Due to her immigration status, the long-term visit pass holder did not qualify for assistance from the Legal Aid Bureau, which is available only to Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs).

She was eventually referred by a social worker to a pilot scheme run by the Law Society’s charity arm, and a volunteer lawyer, Ms Wong Soo Chih, helped her go through an uncontested divorce.

“I am very moved by what (Ms Wong) did for me… I hope to repay her some day,” said May May, who has custody of her 14-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.

She is among 58 foreign spouses with Singaporean children who have received help under the pilot Family Justice Support Scheme (FJSS) since December 2020. Another 52 beneficiaries are individuals in the “sandwich class” who marginally fail the Legal Aid Bureau’s means test but are unable to afford a lawyer at regular rates.

The scheme aims to plug existing gaps and enhance access to justice by providing assistance in family law matters to these two groups who are unable to get help from existing legal aid mechanisms.

It is run by Law Society Pro Bono Services (LSPBS), which will be renamed Pro Bono SG by the end of 2022.

On Wednesday, the scheme was officially launched at an event held at the State Courts that was attended by Family Justice Courts judges, family lawyers,

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