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You want a divorce - division of assets

A case

The parties were married in 1974. The wife stayed at home to look after the three children of the marriage. The marriage began to fail and the parties executed a deed of separation in 1990. The wife petitioned for divorce.

The court ordered
(a) Dissolution of the marriage to be made absolute in three months.
(b) Maintenance of $2,000 per month for the three children.
(c) Maintenance of $500 per month for the maid to be paid to the wife.
(d) Custody of the children of the marriage to the wife with reasonable access to the husband.
(e) Transfer to the wife of the husband's interest in the HDB flat upon the wife reimbursing the husband's CPF account, without interest.

The court in making a division of matrimonial assets may order that a matrimonial home be transferred to the other party or be sold within any future time. In one case, the court ordered a husband to transfer the HDB flat to his wife when he attained the age of 55 years. The court took into consideration that when the husband reaches the age of 55, there will be no need to repay to the CPF all the moneys which he had taken out to pay for the property.

In another case, the marriage between the parties was dissolved in 1987. The younger daughter was born in 1982. The court ordered that the matrimonial home be not sold until the younger daughter reaches the age of 21 years, the effect of which was that the wife and her children had exclusive possession and enjoyment of the matrimonial home until 2003.

 

In a recent case, the parties were married in 1982. The wife was 23 years old at the time. Prior to the marriage she had worked as a model. After the marriage she gave up her job to help in the husband's business. There are no children to the marriage.

In 1987 the wife filed a petition for divorce. With regard to division of matrimonial assets, the court takes into consideration

(1) those assets the husband possessed prior to the marriage, which are governed by section 106(5) of the Women's Charter; and

(2) assets acquired during the marriage, which are governed by section 106(1) or ( 3).

Assets acquired during the marriage include assets owned before the marriage by one party, which have been substantially improved during the marriage by the other party or by the joint efforts of the husband and wife. If there has been substantial improvement by the joint efforts of the husband and wife, the actual extent of the wife's efforts can be reflected in the quantum and the percentage of the asset she is awarded.

There is difficulty in assessing the husband's true worth, as he has been less than candid. The court however is not powerless against a party's absence of full and frank disclosure. It is entitled to draw adverse inferences against the husband.

Assessment of the wife's share of the assets

To assess her share, regard must be had to her role. Owing to the fact that the couple lived in the husband's father's family home, the wife's home-making efforts were not phenomenal: she did the marketing at times and she made an effort to keep her father-in-law company at dinner when his son was not at home. However, this was not her only contribution to the marriage. After the marriage, she gave up her modeling job to help out in the family business. The fact that she drew a salary is not important, as, in the circumstances, the salary would not reflect the true worth of her services rendered to her husband or his family. At trial, the husband's father admitted that she helped to run one of the boutiques. During cross-examination when asked whether the wife rendered him any aid, the husband replied "Yes, of course." He also accepted that she accompanied him to social functions and on selling trips. A customer testified that he had attended fashion shows where the wife appeared to be in charge. She also helped in advertising and publicity matters. All this should be taken into account for the purposes of considering the quantum of her share.

The court awarded to the wife,15% of the assets of the husband, assessed at $2,529,608 and 15% of of this amount was $379,000, rounded off to the nearest thousand. This sum was payable in eight equal instalments of $47,375 each at intervals of four months, commencing from the fourth month of the date of this judgment.

The order for maintenance

In determining the amount of any maintenance to be paid by a man to his wife, the court takes into consideration:

(a) the earning capacity and other financial resources of each of the parties;
(b) the financial needs of the parties;
(c) the standard of living before the breakdown of the marriage;
(d) the age of each party and the duration of the marriage;
(e) any physical or mental disability of the parties;
(f) the contributions made by each of the parties; and
(g) any benefit (for example, a pension) which a party will lose.

The court shall endeavour so to place the parties, so far as it is practicable and, having regard to their conduct, in the financial position in which they would have been if the marriage had not broken down. The wife was young and not under any physical disabilities. It was a short and childless marriage, and in fact that she had already received maintenance for four years.

The wife testified that her total monthly expenses came to $6,580. The following is a breakdown:

Rental of a flat $2,000
Dental bills $2,000
Food $ 750
Clothing $ 500
Transport $ 300
Grooming $ 130
Make-up $ 500
General expenses $ 400

At the trial, husband had suggested maintenance of $3,000 per month for one year, or a lump sum of $50,000 in lieu. The court ordered a lump sum payment of $72,000. Where a husband has adequate cash or other capital assets, the courts prefer to make a lump sum payment, to achieve a clean break between the parties.

In another case, the husband's share in a restaurant had been a gift from his parents prior to his marriage. The court held that the gift was an interest acquired prior to the marriage and the wife did not have any interest in it as she could not prove that she, either alone or jointly with her husband, had contributed to the substantial improvement of the asset. There has been no evidence to show that the wife's efforts at domestic chores and as a cashier at an unrelated business contributed to an increase in the profits of the restaurant. This was not a case where the wife's efforts in the home frees the husband to devote his energies to the running of the restaurant; her husband had not worked at the restaurant she could not be said to have aided him in any way.

Section 106(1) and (3) of the Women's Charter provide:

(1) The court shall have power, when granting a decree of divorce, judicial separation or nullity of marriage, to order the division of any assets acquired by them during the marriage by their joint efforts

(3) The court shall have power, when granting a decree of divorce, judicial separation or nullity of marriage, to order the division of any assets acquired during the marriage by the sole effort of one party to the marriage

There is nothing in the law which makes it mandatory that the court's power shall be exercised on granting a divorce. That being so and by virtue of section 27(1) of the Interpretation Act, the court may defer the exercise of such power to divide the property to a later date, if the circumstances warrant it.

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