BF v BG

CourtDistrict Court (Singapore)
JudgeLim Hui Min
Judgment Date12 May 2004
Neutral Citation[2004] SGDC 115
Citation[2004] SGDC 115
Published date27 May 2004
Plaintiff CounselFoo Siew Fong (Harry Elias Partnership)
Defendant CounselSuresh Damodara and K Sureshan (David Lim and Partners) and Koh Geok Jen (Koh Ong and Partners)

12 May 2004

Judgment reserved

District Judge Lim Hui Min:

Introduction

1 The parties in this case were married on 17 March 1995. Divorce proceedings were commenced on 17 December 2002, and the Decree Nisi was granted on 11 March 2003. The ancillary matters have been adjourned to chambers, and are pending hearing. Several rounds of ancillary matters affidavits have been filed thus far.

2 The parties have two sons, aged 6 and 8 years respectively (who shall be known as “the younger boy” and “the elder boy” in this judgment). The petitioner mother and the respondent father are both expatriates, and both boys attend the [xxx] school, which is an educational institution for the children of expatriate families. The father is working in Singapore. The mother is a housewife, who does occasional part-time work.

3 On 23 December 2003, a court order was made, granting the mother interim care and control of the two boys, with access to the father, inter alia, during the school term, as follows:

(a) Telephone access from 7 pm to 7:45 pm each day;

(b) Every Wednesday from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm; and

(c) Every Saturday from 10:00 am to 7:30 pm

(“the access order”)

4 There is a separate court order governing school holiday and public holiday access, which in effect gives the father access to the boys for about half of all the holidays—but this is not really relevant for the purposes of the application before me.

The application

5 The mother in this case has taken out an application by way of Summons-in-Chambers No. 650585 of 2004 (“the SIC”), praying as follows:

(1) The Respondent is not to have any access to the children during the children’s school hours, including the children’s lunch hours.

(2) The Petitioner being the primary care giver of the children, continue with her involvement in volunteer activities at the children’s school.

6 The matter first came up for hearing before me on 19 April 2004. It was adjourned to 10 May 2004 for the mother to file a reply affidavit to the father’s affidavit, which had been filed on 19 April 2004 itself.

7 Prayer (1) of the SIC is widely drafted, and, if ordered, would prevent the father from seeing the children in school even for parent-teacher meetings, and events to which all parents are invited, such as sports’ days, concerts and prize-giving ceremonies. However, the text of the mother’s first affidavit in support of the SIC filed on 29 March 2004 (“the mother’s 1st affidavit”) makes it quite clear that she did not intend to prevent the father from seeing the children at such events. (See paragraphs 8, 14 and 17 of the mother’s 1st affidavit.) In particular, paragraph 17 of the mother’s 1st affidavit lists a string of events which the mother has stated that the father could attend, namely:

(a) Parent curriculum information evenings;

(b) Parent/teacher interviews;

(c) Class open days;

(d) Sports days;

(e) Concerts in which the children are performing; and

(f) Special assemblies at which the children are performing.

8 At the hearing on 19 April 2004, the mother’s counsel also clarified that prayer (1) of the SIC was not intended to prevent the father from attending the above events. Thus, it appears that the wife’s intention in respect of prayer (1) is to prevent the father from visiting the school to see the children outside the special occasions and appointments listed in paragraph 7 (a)-(f) above.

9 The father’s counsel has dwelt at great length on the mother’s alleged shift of position in this matter. The father’s counsel has submitted that the mother’s SIC contradicts her position in her solicitors’ letters and in her communications with the school. He submitted that the mother originally intended to prevent the father from visiting the school at all, but had changed her mind when faced with the strength of his evidence tendered in support of his case in resisting this application. With respect, I am not of this view. The mother’s position on the father’s school access was clear to me from reading her 1st affidavit, and her counsel had confirmed that position at the 19 April 2004 hearing. The fact that the mother may have taken a different position in various letters sent by her solicitors or herself before the filing of the SIC is, in my view, irrelevant. Anyway, even if she had indeed shifted her position in respect of the SIC, we can just deal with matters on the basis of her current position. The real point is what access arrangements are in the best interests of the boys. Quibbling on peripheral issues such as these is not productive.

The interim order

10 I had made an interim order on 19 April 2004 regarding the parties’ volunteer work with the school, as the school had requested both parties not to enter the school premises unless it was for a public event to which all parents were invited, pending the parties’ agreement on the access arrangements. I ordered that both parents be allowed to do volunteer work with the school, pending the hearing of this SIC, but on condition that:

(a) The parents may only take part in the said volunteer activities upon the invitation of the school; and

(b) The father’s volunteer activities should be confined to those events in which the mother was not involved.

Volunteer work in the school

11 The father’s position is that he has no objection to the wife continuing her school volunteer activities, so long as he is allowed to do volunteer work in the school also, without any restrictions. The mother’s position, which counsel submitted at the hearing on 10 May 2004, is that she is agreeable to letting the interim order I have made in this matter to stand.

12 I have decided to continue that order, i.e. that both parents should be allowed to do volunteer work with the school, provided that it is by the invitation and agreement of the school, but have refined the wording of the accompanying conditions. I have ordered that the father’s volunteer activities with the school should be confined to those events and activities in respect of which:

(a) he will not have to be physically present with the mother in the same room, same trip or same outing; and

(b) he will not have to work together with the mother in the same team or committee.

(This order is an interim one, pending the determination of the ancillary matters court on the custody and access issues.)

13 My reasons for the latter order are that it may be potentially awkward for both parties, given their ongoing divorce proceedings, to have to work together and communicate on the same project, or even to be in close proximity physically. I have decided that the mother’s volunteer work should take priority in the event of any clash with the father’s volunteer work, as, firstly, she has the longer history of volunteering regularly at the school, and is part of the network of volunteers, which is composed mainly of mothers (the reality of expatriate life being that more expatriate fathers than mothers have a full time job). Secondly, the father would have to travel for business, as well as work. The mother, however, does not have a regular job, and therefore, she would be, and is, more involved in school volunteer work in terms of the time she can spend in volunteering, as well as the variety of volunteer activities she can take part in. I am sure that if there is any clash in the mother’s and father’s volunteer activities, the father should have no problem asking the school to find him an alternative volunteer activity in which he can take part.

14 I have also tried to word my interim order to make it possible for the father to take part as a volunteer in a big event (such as a funfair or sports day) in which the mother is a volunteer, but where there would be many sub-committees, each in charge of a different aspect of the event—so long as the father does not have to work together with the mother in the same team or committee. There may also be projects in which both parents may be volunteers, but do not have to work together or be in close physical proximity—for example, a programme for different classes to visit art museums, where volunteer parents can come along to help supervise the children. Both the father and mother could take part in the programme—but go long as helpers on different trips.

Some preliminary issues

Without Prejudice Correspondence

15 The father’s counsel, incidentally, had made an oral application at the 10 May 2004 hearing for the expunging of certain “without prejudice” correspondence exhibited by the mother in her second affidavit filed on 5 May 2004 (“the mother’s 2nd affidavit”) (page 36 of the mother’s 2nd affidavit), as well as the reference to the said correspondence in paragraph 39 of the said affidavit. I have made no order on this application because the “without prejudice” correspondence which had been exhibited was the mother’s solicitors’ letter to the father’s solicitors dated 20 April 2004, stating her position that she would be agreeable for the interim order I had made regarding the volunteer work issue to continue. No reply was ever received from the father or the father’s solicitors. There was therefore no negotiation in progress on the matter. Before a statement can be “without prejudice”, a negotiation must have been in progress. (See Evidence, Chin Tet Yung, (1988 Edition), at page 185) In exhibiting the letter, the mother was merely setting out her position, which she is entitled to do at the hearing, in any event. Nothing was revealed of the father’s position in the letter. There was therefore no prejudice to the father as a result of the exhibition of the letter.

Expunging of paragraph in wife’s affidavit

16 The father’s counsel had also made an oral application for a certain paragraph in the mother’s 2nd affidavit to be expunged, on the basis that it referred to an extract from a letter, which extract did not exist, and the mother had therefore lied in stating that there was such an extract. The extract, according to the mother, stated: “...

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