Recipient of a Public Administration Medal during the National Day Awards this year, district judge Kevin Ng delivers peace along with justice.
Only friends of Kevin Ng, 43, refer to him as “Judge” (or sometimes, mockingly, “Your Honor”). When he introduces himself to new acquaintances, Ng usually refers to himself as a legal officer or a civil servant.
The National University of Singapore law graduate readily shares that his job is about pursuing peace, in as much as it is about administering justice. As the judge-in-charge of the Family Resolutions Chambers of the Singapore Family Court, Ng mediates divorcing couples to encourage them to settle their disputes amicably, instead of slugging out their divorce in court.
For his work in the Subordinate Courts, Ng has been made a recipient of a National Day Award this year. He receives his Public Administration Medal (Bronze) from President S.R. Nathan in November.
The Public Administration Medal is awarded yearly to individuals for outstanding efficiency, competence and industry. These individuals can be a public officer, an officer employed by a statutory authority, a person who has rendered services in the field of education through an organization, association and body, or any person who is employed by a Government-owned company that conducts business as an agent of the Government.
Ng credits this award to God. He joined the Legal Service in 1996, and was posted to Family Court in 2004. In 2005, he was part of the team that set up the FRC—a calling Ng says came from God.
“I had just started attending City Harvest Church,” he recalls. “One day Pastor Kong said, write down what God is saying to you about your life at the back of your offering envelope. As I prayed, God told me, ‘To set up a center for broken families.’ I had no idea what He meant, but I wrote it down on the envelope.
“A month later, an e-mail came from my boss asking for some Family Court judges and counselors to get together to set up a department in the family court to help divorcing couples. Although I wasn’t the primary candidate for this task, God said, ‘Here you are, this is what you’re supposed to do, so go do it.’ My boss already had someone else in mind to run the department, so I prayed for an opportunity to talk to my boss. God opened the doors and amazingly my boss agreed to let me run it. It became the Family Relations Centre (now renamed Family Resolutions Chambers).”
Ng drove the setup of the FRC in 2005. This branch of the Family Court was set up to help divorcing couples avoid adversarial litigation in court, and to help them to resolve issues of their divorce without resorting to court proceedings. This would be done through mediation and counseling at the FRC.
“Why is the FRC important? We realize that for couples, those with children especially, if they don’t resolve the conflict, the litigation tends to drag on for a period of time. This will cost them finances, time, health, and in particular, it will impact their children. We try to help them in this way so that it will lessen the impact of divorce on their children.
“The glory of battle is the hope of winning,” Ng explains, of divorce battles waged in court. “But obviously someone must be the loser. The glory of making peace is that it may produce two winners.”
Ng admits his work can be interesting, particularly when there are complex cases involving cultural issues among expatriate couples. “You’re trying to resolve things like ‘water rights through your land in Sweden,’ which is unheard of in Singapore!”
The kinds of people who pass through his doors are husbands, wives, children, mistresses, new spouses, grandparents and lawyers.
Ng shares that “the most heart-rending cases are when children try to take their own lives or harm themselves, because their parents are in conflict. I see a number of those.”
The truth of the matter, says Ng, is that when two parties do battle, there is never a winner. “Everybody loses in one way or another, not only husband and wife, but the children and the in-laws. There is a lot of collateral damage, including the children. But if the judge tries to resolve problems peaceably or amicably, and plant the seed of forgiveness in the divorcing couple, it’s a good thing. It’s a start.”
Litigation should be the last case scenario, says Ng, simply because “if you litigate, it’s the judge telling you when you can see your kids, how often you can take your children on holiday, which demeans you as a parent. You lose all control to the judge.”
When asked if there is a trend or a pattern of divorcing couples, Ng shakes his head. “People get divorced at all ages. If there is a ‘most common’ reason, it’s the lack of proper communication —men and women speak on different frequencies. The man might assume everything is okay, but the woman might not get through to the man. She files for divorce, and the husband feels like he’s done nothing wrong, so why is the wife breaking up the family? He goes into blame mode, which makes everything worse.”
Ng’s work day begins with quiet time and Bible reading at his desk. His first case begins at 9:30 a.m. and his last case usually ends around 6 p.m. after which he begins his paperwork. He sees six to eight couples every day, five days a week.
He admits that his work is very much a partnership with God. “I will usually pray before my day starts, and if I’m in a hard place during a session, I’ll pray for wisdom to answer certain things. God answers, and I usually find myself astounded with His answer!
“He has really given me the grace and strength to do this. As we have learned in church, we have to use our gifts wisely and use them well; do more with our gifts, try to do better every day.”
His being a high-stress job that takes a toll on his mental, physical and emotional faculties, Ng says he has learned to confine his work to the office. “You just have to consciously leave it at the office. I always look forward to coming home. I picture my wife and my lovely children and I thank God that I am so blessed.”
To relax, the judge gardens, keeps pet shrimp and plays Hungry Shark on his iPhone. He enjoys Aaron Sorkin’s TV series such as The West Wing and Studio 60. “I love to hang out with my wife, especially in temperate climates,” he quips, adding that trips to Australia are a surefire way for him to de-stress.
As for his award, “I think it came from God, so I believe I am basically on the right track in doing what I’m supposed to do. I see it as a sign of encouragement from Him.”
A Successful FRC Case
Father and mother are from different races. They have two young children. Prior to their divorce, the children were looked after by both paternal and maternal grandmothers.
When the divorce proceedings began, both grandmothers became alienated from each other and became embroiled in the conflict.
There was serious contention as to where the children should live after the divorce.
The couple was referred to mediation at the Family Court.
Both the father and mother were reasonable parents who could agree on many areas such as the education and discipline of their children. However, each parent had concerns that the other would bias the children against the cultural and religious practices of the other.
The Family Court mediation sessions are normally conducted with only the parents. However, it became obvious during the mediation session that the concerns about bias came from the grandmothers more than from the father and mother.
That being the case, the grandmothers were invited to participate in the mediation process.
At the family conference with the court mediator and court counselor, both grandmothers and the parents acknowledged that the children were really of two races at the same time. Both families were then able to acknowledge that it was a privilege for both children to be a part of a rich heritage from the two cultures.