Confucius would be so smug if he knew that filial piety, his favourite virtue, was enshrined in Singapore law.
The Singapore government expects children to fund the retirement of their elderly parents if the latter cannot support themselves. And, thanks to the Maintenance of Parents Act, parents can even sue their kids if they don’t do so.
What is the Maintenance of Parents Act?
The Maintenance of Parents Act (MPA) sets out laws requiring children to financially support their parents.
Under the Act, any resident of Singapore aged 60 years and above who is unable to financially support themselves may apply to the court for maintenance. One or more of their children can then be ordered by the court to offer financial support.
The parent can bring a claim against one or more of his or her children, taking resentment about the “favourite child” to a whole new level.
Who is covered by the Maintenance of Parents Act?
To apply for a court order for maintenance, a parent must be domiciled and resident in Singapore, and aged 60 and above. The minimum age might be lowered if the parent suffers from mental or physical conditions that make it difficult to support himself.
The parent must also show he is “unable to maintain” himself. That is, his total income must be inadequate to provide him with basic amenities and basic physical needs, such as shelter, food, medical costs and clothing.
What about the children then?
Well, you might be surprised to know that even illegitimate children, adopted children and step-children can be slapped with a court order under the Maintenance of Parents Act. Here’s hoping none of you have an evil stepmother who’s reading this….
Another interesting tidbit is that neither parent nor child needs to be a Singapore citizen, although the court order might not be enforceable if the child is living in Timbuktu.
How would parents file for maintenance?
Before filing a claim, the parent must first apply to the Commissioner for the Maintenance of Parents (CMP) to come to an agreement by conciliation with the child.
They will then have to attend consultations aimed at helping them reach an agreement, a process that is guaranteed to be extremely awkward if the parent/child relationship is already strained.
The Commissioner for the Maintenance of Parents can be contacted at 1800 111 2222 or [email protected]
If this avenue fails, the parent can then file for maintenance at the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents.
The Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents can be contacted at 1800 111 2222 or [email protected].
What if the child wants to dispute the claim?
If the child can prove that the parent abandoned, abused or neglected him, the court may dismiss the order or at least reduce the maintenance amount.
Otherwise, the child will need to convince the court that a maintenance order would be unjust based on factors considered by the court in its decision.
The court will decide based on what it thinks is fair based on a number of factors.
First of all, the court must first be satisfied that the parent is indeed unable to maintain himself through work or property from any other source.
The court will also consider whether the child is able to provide maintenance to the parent after taking care of his own, his spouse’s and his own children’s needs.
Other factors taken into consideration include the earning capacity, income, property and financial resources of the parent, the way in which the parent has spent his financial resources, and any physical or mental disability of the parent.
The child’s income, earning capacity, property and financial resources, any expenses the child must incur in supporting his spouse or own children, and any previous contributions or provisions (financial or otherwise) which the child has already given to the parent will be considered as well.
What does the Maintenance of Parents Act say about us?
Filial-support laws like the MPA are not new, and actually exist in some other jurisdictions including Bangladesh, India, China, Taiwan, Germany, France and some US states.
(That does not mean governments completely relinquish financial support of seniors — Western European countries, for instance, are likely to have a comprehensive pension system.)
In Singapore, the MPA indicates that the responsibility for looking after the elderly falls on their children, rather than the government.
This system worked just fine in the past when having 7 or 8 kids was the norm. But with fewer Singaporeans having kids and the number of children per family falling, provisions may eventually need to be made to accommodate those who fall through the cracks.
In practice, people tend to apply for MPA orders only when the familial relationship has broken down or ties are strained. In some cases, the parent has applied for financial aid and has been referred to the CMP.
In 2014, 213 seniors went to the CMP in search of conciliation. This number has been falling over time. Hopefully, with better financial education and a stronger safety net, we’ll be able to reduce even further the number of people who have to resort to the MPA.
If you’re a parent, here’s how to prepare for the future
The MPA exists as a safety net in the worst possible circumstances. But it’s safe to say that no parent brings a child into the world thinking that they’ll eventually have to sue them for maintenance.
Young people face a ton of financial pressure these days, so the kindest thing you can do is to make sure you are not only providing for your kids in their youth, but also for yourself in your old age.
Here are a few quick tips:
1. Start planning for retirement early
Come up with a retirement plan as early as possible, ideally once you start working. You should aim to save and invest for retirement at the same time as you raise kids, buy a home, etc, not after.
2. Rein in your spending
The years when your child is growing up tend to be the most financially onerous. As hard as it is, do your best to tighten your belt and review your spending on tuition, enrichment classes, family holidays and so on.
You’ll no doubt be tempted to spend on your child. But remember that the more money you spend now, the greater your child’s financial burden later on if they have to support you financially.
3. Automate your savings and investments
In between juggling work and housekeeping with ferrying the kids around and keeping them out of trouble, you might not have time to manage your savings and investments. So, make it as easy for yourself as possible.
Transferring a fixed amount of your salary out of your spending account at the beginning of the month, investing a fixed amount each month using the dollar cost averaging method, or signing up for a savings or retirement plan are some ways to make life easier for yourself.
4. Make sure you and your family are adequately insured
If you have kids, life insurance is a must to ensure your family is supported if you die or become disabled. You’ll also want to look into health insurance for you and your family to protect your finances from unexpected medical costs.
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