Chi Ping Huey v Yeo Whye Siah

JudgeYarni Loi
Judgment Date04 May 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] SGFC 52
CourtFamily Court (Singapore)
Docket NumberDivorce No. 1276 of 2012C, HCF/DCA No. 38/2015
Published date21 May 2015
Hearing Date04 March 2015,20 January 2015,12 February 2015
Plaintiff CounselMs Wong Kai Yun (Chia Wong LLP)
Defendant CounselMs Rosina Lau (LA Law Chambers)
Subject MatterCatch words: Family Law - Ancillaries,Division of assets
Citation[2015] SGFC 52
District Judge Yarni Loi: Introduction

This is my judgment in respect of ancillary orders made in these divorce proceedings between the Plaintiff-wife and Defendant-husband who married on 4 October 1980. Interim Judgment for divorce was granted on 21 May 2012 on the basis of 4 years’ separation (“IJ”). The length of the marriage was therefore 32 years, although parties were together for 27 years, before they separated sometime in 2007. The Plaintiff is about 58 years old and the Defendant is 59. They have a daughter aged 27 (“Eldest Daughter”) and a son aged 18 (“Son”). Their second daughter passed away when she was 10 days’ old.

On 29 October 2014, parties entered into a Consent Order pursuant to which (1) the Plaintiff will have sole custody, care and control of their Son; (2) the Defendant will pay the Plaintiff $1 per month as maintenance; and (3) the Defendant will pay the Plaintiff $1,500 per month for the maintenance of their Son (“the Consent Order”).

The outstanding issue to be determined at the ancillaries hearing concerned the division of matrimonial assets which included the matrimonial flat at 13 Serangoon Avenue 3 #06-05 Chiltern Park Singapore 55614 (“Matrimonial Flat”). After hearing parties, I ordered that the total pool of matrimonial assets with a net value of $2,526,360 be divided in the proportion 75% to the Plaintiff and 25% to the Defendant. To effect the division: (a) the Matrimonial Flat shall be sold within 6 months of the date of the Order, with the Plaintiff to receive 86% of the net sale proceeds of the Matrimonial Flat, after repayment of the outstanding loan, as well as costs and expenses of the sale; and (b) parties shall retain the assets in their respective sole names.

The Defendant has appealed against my decision and I now set out my full reasons.

Brief background facts

The Plaintiff used to work as a dental therapist. She qualified as a lawyer in 1985 after landing a scholarship to read law at the National University of Singapore. She stopped working in or around January 2012 and is currently unemployed. Her last job before she stopped working was as General Counsel with SATS Ltd where she received an annual income of about $342,312.22.

The Defendant is a Higher Principal Engineering Officer, employed with the Land Transport Authority. He earns a gross monthly income of $6,425.00 per month and his assessable income for year 2011 was $102,174. He obtained his advance diploma from Ngee Ann Polytechnic in 1987.

Their first matrimonial home was a HDB flat at Ang Mo Kio (“AMK Flat”) which was purchased in 1980 at a price of $40,500 and sold for $110,000. At that time, the Plaintiff was studying for her law degree and the flat was purchased by the Defendant. In 1985, the AMK Flat was sold and parties purchased a private maisonette at Kovan Lodge (“KL Flat”).

In or around 1987, their Eldest Daughter was born. Subsequently, in or around 1988, parties purchased a property at 23A Yio Chu Kang Road (“YCK Property”), a landed property, at a purchase price of $510,000. This was their largest acquisition during the marriage. Through the efforts of the Plaintiff, parties managed to obtain a bridging loan, pending the sale of the KL Flat which was only sold in or around 1989.

During this period, the Plaintiff was doing well in her career and was Head Legal and Assistant Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Singapore Aerospace.

In or around 1994, the Plaintiff resigned from her job to stay at home and devote her time and energies in caring for their Eldest Daughter who was having difficulties adjusting to school. The Plaintiff was the primary care-giver and helped to oversee their daughter’s schoolwork and tuition. At the time when she resigned, she was also pregnant with their second daughter who passed away in November 1994 when she was only 10 days’ old.

A couple of years later, in 1996, the Son arrived. Their Son had several health complications in his younger years and required a lot of care and attention. The responsibility fell on the Plaintiff to look after him. She also arranged for his tuition and other activities. The Plaintiff only resumed part-time work in or around 2000 and returned to work full-time in 2004.

Meanwhile, in or around 1997, the YCK Property was sold and parties downgraded to the current Matrimonial Flat which was purchased in joint names, although at the time divorce proceedings were commenced, the Plaintiff had severed the joint tenancy and the property is now held as tenants in common with each party having a 50% share.

Sometime in or around 1998, the Defendant was retrenched. He found a new job thereafter, but resigned as he found it stressful. The Plaintiff therefore had to look for a job to supplement the family income. She managed to find a part-time consultancy role in 2000 with Singapore Aerospace Limited. Subsequently, in or around May 2000, the Defendant himself found employment with the Land Transport Authority.

Early in 2004, the Plaintiff was approached to head up a full-time legal position with a Government-linked Corporation. The Defendant, who was unhappy with his own job, encouraged the Plaintiff to accept the position. Parties agreed that the Plaintiff would be sold breadwinner, whilst the Defendant would retire from his job and be a house-husband. He would look after the children with the assistance of a domestic helper.

Sometime in or around June 2007, the Defendant went for a secret vacation. The Plaintiff discovered that he would be going on this illicit trip sometime in April 2007. This led to a quarrel during which the Defendant turned violent. Later, the Plaintiff and their daughter discovered that the Defendant had an affair with their own Filipino domestic helper when he was a house-husband. According to the Plaintiff, after parties separated, he committed bigamy by marrying another Filipino whilst still married to the Plaintiff.

Meanwhile, on or about 21 June 2007, the Plaintiff and the children left the Matrimonial Flat, leaving behind financial bank documents relating to parties’ joint accounts which the Plaintiff had kept during the marriage. The Plaintiff also withdrew monies in their joint accounts to safeguard the interests of the family and children. In addition, she retained several fixed deposits held in her name upon their maturity in or around May/June 2007. She would otherwise have deposited these monies into parties’ joint accounts upon maturity, in line with their past practice. In the event, the monies the Plaintiff withdrew were used to set up home for the Plaintiff and the children after they left the Matrimonial Flat, as they had to live out of their suitcases in various rented accommodation.

It is undisputed that throughout the marriage (until they separated), parties mingled their finances and operated several joint accounts. This arrangement started as early as 1975, even before their marriage in 1980. They would deposit their monthly salaries into joint accounts and withdraw monies from those accounts to pay for their family expenses. They also arranged their financial affairs such that the Defendant paid more for the Matrimonial Flat using his CPF funds, whilst the Plaintiff’s income was used primarily to pay for family expenses and their overseas holidays.

It is also undisputed that after the Plaintiff and the children left the Matrimonial Flat in 2007, the Defendant has not had contact with the children and did not pay any maintenance (until 2012). Meanwhile, the Defendant continued to reside in the Matrimonial Flat, to the exclusion of the Plaintiff and the children who have had to move homes several times. The Defendant only started paying maintenance for their Son after the Plaintiff obtained an Order of Court dated 7 August 2012 pursuant to an interim maintenance application (“2012 IM Application”). On 29 October 2014, parties entered into the Consent Order resolving custody and maintenance issues.

Division of assets – the legal principles

Under section 112(1) of the Women’s Charter, the Court has the power to order a division or sale of matrimonial assets as the court thinks just and equitable. Section 112(2) provides that it is the duty of the court to have regard to all the circumstances of the case including the extent of the contributions made by the parties towards acquiring, improving or maintaining the asset; any debt owed or obligation incurred by either party for the joint benefit or for the benefit of any child of the marriage; the needs of the children; the extent of contributions made by each party to the welfare of the family; any agreement between the parties with respect to the ownership and division of the matrimonial assets; any period of rent-free occupation or other benefit enjoyed by one party in the matrimonial home to the exclusion of the other party; and the giving of assistance or support by one party to the other party which aids the other party in the carrying on of his occupation or business.

In exercising its powers, the court is to adopt a broad-brush approach and “it is essential that courts resist the temptation to lapse into a minute scrutiny of the conduct and efforts of both spouses” (NK v NL [2007] 3 SLR (R) 743). In ZO v ZP [2011] 3 SLR 647, the Court of Appeal further emphasized that direct and indirect contributions are to be given due weight and no single factor is determinative of the outcome. The court is also not expected to make an exact calculation of each spouse’s contribution, whether financial or non-financial; and the exercise is to be done “based on feel and the court’s sense of justice in arriving at a just and equitable division.” (Yeo Chong Lin v Tay Ang Choo Nancy [2011] 2 SLR 1157). See also ATT v ATS [2012] 2 SLR 859 at [15] and BCB v BCC [2013] 2 SLR 324.

A structured approach however is not inconsistent with the broad-brush approach and in ARL v ARM [2015] SGHC 61...

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