Family and money can be tricky issues. When the Maintenance of Parents Act was first introduced and passed in 1995, it was met with mixed reception by the public and the Members of Parliament. After all, this is an Act that intervenes at the very tricky space between families, individuals and filial piety. The Act was subsequently amended in 2010 to prioritise conciliation over legal action, in the spirit of preserving family ties.
While we all don’t want to be caught in a situation where we are in need of the Maintenance of Parents Act or be the recipient of its legal action, this is an Act that we cannot ignore (or pretend that it doesn’t exist).
Here’s what Singaporeans need to know about your legal obligations to care for your parents.
What Is The Maintenance of Parents Act?
The Maintenance of Parents Act (MPA) allows elderly parents in Singapore to claim maintenance from their children who are capable of supporting them but are not doing so. Parents can claim maintenance, in the form of monthly or periodic allowances or a lump-sum payment.
The Maintenance of Parents Act is not a substitute for filial piety, nor does it set out in absolute dollar terms what constitutes maintenance.
To claim maintenances, parents must be:
- 60 years of age and above
- Residing and domiciled in Singapore; and
- Unable to maintain himself adequately, including medical costs.
If they are below 60 years of age are also eligible to file for maintenance, provided that they:
- Suffer from infirmity of mind or body (i.e. mental or physical illness), that prevents them from maintaining themselves, or makes it difficult for them to maintain themselves; or
- Have some other special reason for requiring maintenance.
Are You Liable If You Or Your Parent Live Overseas?
The act defines the eligible parent as residing and domiciled in Singapore. This means that if your parent(s) live outside of Singapore, you are not liable for their maintenance.
However, you are still liable even if you are residing overseas. Maintenance orders made under the Maintenance of Parents Act (MPA) are deemed as orders made by the Family Court and enforced in the same manner as maintenance orders for wives and children under the Women’s Charter. Singapore does have reciprocal enforcement agreements with reciprocating countries, which includes Malaysia and many states of Canada.
When Is A Parent Unable To Maintain Himself Or Herself?
If your parents are able to maintain themselves, you are also not liable for their maintenance.
According to the Maintenance of Parents Act (MPA), a parent is unable to maintain himself if “his total or expected income and other financial resources are inadequate to provide him with basic amenities and basic physical needs including (but not limited to) shelter, food, medical costs and clothing.
These needs include but are not limited to, shelter, food, medical costs and clothing.”
This means the maintenance is tied to basic needs and not to their previous standard of living. Parents cannot file for a maintenance order, to sustain a more luxurious lifestyle at the children’s expense.
According to a 2015 interview with the Commissioner for the Maintenance of Parents (CMP), about 8 in 10 cases are resolved successfully through conciliation and the amount children usually give is between $100 and $300 a month.
What About Siblings And Step-Parents?
Parents cannot use the MPA selectively to claim from one child and not the other(s). While the Maintenance of Parents Act (MPA) allows the parent to name the child(ren) they want to claim a maintenance order from, the named child can also include other siblings in the liability to maintain the parent. Instead, the Tribunal will apportion the liability accordingly.
The MPA also recognises step-parents as being conferred legal rights and responsibilities over the step-child through adoption or the assumption of legal guardianship. Accordingly, the step-child may be required to maintain their step-parent as if the step-parent was their biological parent.
What If You Are On Bad Terms With Your Parents?
In most cases, the reason for children not to support their parents in their old age is because of poor childhood history. The Maintenance of Parents Act (MPA) recognises this, and the parent’s application can be dismissed if the parent is proved to have abandoned, abused or neglected the child.
However, the onus of proving abandonment, abuse or neglect is on the child. If you are in such an unfortunate situation, it may be prudent to collect the necessary proof, before your parents reach the age that they are eligible to file against you.
The Process Of Filing For A Maintenance Order Must Go Through Conciliation
After the amendment of the MPA in 2010, the process now prioritises conciliation instead of legal action. Parents cannot unilaterally bring their children to court and file for maintenance.
Instead, the first step is to seek conciliation at the Commissioner for the Maintenance of Parents (CMP). This is not a legal platform but is a necessary step that allows all parties (parent and children) to be heard by an objective party (the Commissioner). Only if the conciliation is unsuccessful would the case be brought to the Tribunal.
In addition to conducting conciliation sessions, the Commissioner may also refer the parents and children to a Family Service Centre for conflict resolution or counselling, or a Community Mediation Centre for mediation. The objective is to work out their issues and come to an agreement acceptable to both sides. The Commissioner may also refer the parents to other community resources for help.
Maintenance Is Not Reconciliation
According to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), 221 cases came to the CMP in 2015. Many of these parents were living in 1 or 2-room HDB flats (45%), with other family members (52%), divorced (39%) and fathers (62%). In 2016, 70 cases eventually went to the Tribunal and 45 orders were eventually made.
For parents, do think twice before filing for a maintenance order because the outcome may not be what you expect.
For children, do keep in mind that the onus is on the child to prove abandonment, abuse or neglect. These can be hard to prove especially if the abandonment, abuse or neglect was committed early in childhood.
Instead, the Maintenance of Parents Act (MPA) strives to be fair to all parties by taking into account the financial means of all parties as well as the basic needs.
As noted in the 2015 interview with the Commissioner, maintenance does not mean reconciliation. For cases that are resolved, children end up paying between $100 and $300 a month as maintenance. However, this is often at the expense of further straining an already strained relationship.
DollarsAndSense.sg aims to provide interesting, bite-sized and relevant financial articles.
Learn together with like-minded Singaporeans at the Personal Finance Discussion SG Facebook Group by discussing a range of personal finance topics.
If you have not done so, subscribe to our free e-newsletter to receive exclusive content not available anywhere else.