As someone who has dealt with ― in her own words ― “too many” divorce cases, Carolyn Bava understands this too well.
Bava, a family lawyer and partner in litigation and dispute resolution at the law firm of Lee & Lee, and has 20 years of legal experience, notes that common reasons for divorce in Singapore are financial issues, infidelity, not talking candidly about each other’s feelings or unhappiness which strains the marital relationship.
According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, there were 7,344 divorces and annulments in 2018, a drop from the previous year’s 7,578. Bava explains, “This is because more measures have been put in place for couples to seek counselling and therapy on a nation-wide level in order to save marriages. The results are hopeful.”
Happily married to engineer Giovanni Rinaldi and the mother of two sons aged 16 and 18, says that her job has taught her to better treasure relationships with her family and friends.
SmartParents speaks to Bava, who also sits on the Family Panel at Singapore Mediation Centre and serves as an associate mediator, about her experiences as a family lawyer, her most memorable cases, plus, how divorce impacts children.
“More measures have been put in place for couples to seek counselling and therapy on a nation-wide level in order to save marriages. The results are hopeful.”
Growing up, did you always want to be a lawyer?
I had no specific ambitions to be a lawyer growing up. In fact, no one in my family was a lawyer, and I did not know what a lawyer did!
What drew you to family law?
I did not start out as a family lawyer but as a civil litigator. I was drawn to family law as each case has a unique factual matrix and requires a personal touch. Every family’s situation is different. As a family lawyer, you need to be able to understand your client’s needs on a personal level to provide a solution.
Could you briefly describe what your job entails?
In addition to divorce proceedings and custody of children, my practice includes probate, adoption, estate planning and appointments of deputy(s) as a mental incapacity. My day-to-day work involves meetings with clients to listen and understand their needs from a legal perspective, looking through documents, preparing court papers or documents for clients, team meetings, discussing solutions for the various cases and mentoring younger colleagues.
Do people have misconceptions people about family lawyers?
That family lawyers are expensive, increase acrimony or that we can get the court to make orders to compel the other party to do everything and anything the client wants.
In contrast, we try our best to suggest alternatives like mediation instead of litigation. We also work with the client and opposing counsel, so that all parties can reach a workable solution.
What motivates you as a family lawyer?
In family practice, there is the reward of actually having helped that particular individual or family and on some level, society. It is a privilege that the client trusts me enough to confide in me, and I want to do my best to help them reach a workable solution. I also get to see the results of the solutions being implemented.
What are your most memorable divorce cases?
Every case is memorable. One of the saddest cases was where one parent was incarcerated and the child was taken away and placed in a home. Another one was where the teenage child was trapped in the middle of feuding parents and attempted suicide.
There are many happy cases, too, where the child finally gets to spend time with the estranged parent. Or where post-divorce, the health issues the client suffered during the duration of the marriage became better such that medication was no longer required.
In your opinion, what are the biggest ways divorce impacts children?
Divorce emotionally destabilises children and sometimes, the effects are not immediately apparent but show up later. So, the children act up some time after the divorce has taken place, or their academic performance is affected. Financially, it affects children too because the household income has now shrunk. In cases where one parent relocates after the divorce, the effects on the child are magnified because they have to go through many changes.
“Divorce emotionally destabilises children and sometimes, the effects are not immediately apparent but show up later. So, the children act up some time after the divorce has taken place, or their academic performance is affected.”
Does Singapore’s legal system do enough to protect children?
Singapore laws are family-centric and the welfare of the child is paramount. My view is that increasingly we are all becoming more proactive and preventive. Take for example the Mandatory Parenting Programme, which came into effect in 2016. It was implemented so that parties who are contemplating a divorce can attend a counselling session, which is designed such that the individual really thinks about how divorce is going to impact the children in the marriage. Post-divorce, there is the Child Focused Resolution Conference, vwhich is yet another opportunity for parties to talk about how their actions are impacting the children of their marriage.
As time passes, I anticipate more and more measures will be put in place to protect our children.
You’ve also dealt with cases of child abuse. Any changes you would like to see regarding legal measures to protect children?
Instead of always taking the cue from the government, as a community we can try to look out for signs and learn what the best ways to intervene are. The signs include physical markings, repeated injuries or certain types of behaviour in particular situations. It is usually quite difficult to spot these signs, and you’d probably have to come into contact with such cases previously to have an awareness.
As a community we can be more empathetic, observant and willing to talk and listen. Persons who are in regular contact with the family such as teachers or church members may be in a better position to observe and be aware of how the children behave with their parents or caregivers. If there is suspicion that some form of abuse is taking place, the police or child protection services could be contacted for guidance as to how to help the individual or the family.
Having seen so much animosity between spouses and families in your career, how do you not bring the bitterness home?
It is especially difficult to compartmentalise and not take my work home, because I care about my clients and can see how the divorce impacts them. When things get rough, a run, hot yoga session and turning to my faith usually sorts me out.
What do you like to do when you're not at work?
Yoga, meeting up with my friends and family over a meal and planning (or daydreaming) which country I am going to travel to next.
Please fill in the blanks:
Something I always want to tell my clients… This, too, shall pass.
My ideal superpower would be… To read minds.
If I had to eat one food for the rest of my life, I would eat… Rice.
My favourite vacation involves… Visiting my mother-in-law and extended family in Italy.
If I weren’t a lawyer, I would be… Running a bed and breakfast.
A secret talent of mine is… I speak Teochew.
The last song I listened to was… BTS’ Boy with Luv on the radio.
The motto I live by is… No regrets.
The best nights are spent… With my husband.
Photos: Carolyn Bava
You may like…