Yesterday the Singapore Parliament passed a number of amendments to the Maintenance of Parents Act (MPA). Under that Act, even prior to the amendments, parents could seek legal enforcement of their children’s obligations to maintain the parents. On the one hand, this is nothing new in that a number of jurisdictions have legislation providing for family support and maintenance. On the other, it has been the subject of sustained commentary here given the assumption that the core principles of filial piety meant that legally enforceable obligations were unnecessary . . . or that this was merely an affirmation of those obligations.
The particular amendments of interest to mediators are:
- the requirement of mandatory mediation before parents can seek judicial intervention and enforcement; and
- the expanded role of the “Commissioner” who will undertake not only the mediation but also the investigation (and has powers of investigation that include access to the financial records of the kids, to determine their capacity to support the parents).
The mandatory mediation element is in turn interesting for two reasons – first, it expands the field of such mediation, as we see increasing examples of mandated processes; and second, at least in Singapore, there’s a likelihood that where there is a resolution in mandatory mediation is will be regarded as enforceable sui generis and not, as in ‘normal’ mediations, where the agreement is at best a contract and not per se enforceable, but only on pursuit of a separate action in contract.
And the expanded investigatory role is interesting as it continues the blurring of lines between mediation and what might be bureaucratic action; and between a ‘common law’ notion of neutral hearing and a ‘civil law’ notion of more active investigation.
The latter is scarcely surprising: as an anecdotal aside I was interested to hear in conversation with a Malaysian colleague a couple of days ago that mediators in the family context (in Malaysia) exercise “judicial” functions.