Chua Li Meng v How Choon Kuan

JudgeWong Keen Onn
Judgment Date12 June 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] SGFC 78
CourtFamily Court (Singapore)
Docket NumberDivorce Suit No 2943 of 2013
Published date23 June 2015
Hearing Date18 July 2014,05 September 2014
Plaintiff CounselMs Helen Chia and Ms Janani Nair (M/s Chia-Thomas Law Chambers LLC)
Defendant CounselMs A C Shone (M/s A C Shone & Co)
Subject MatterCatch words: Family Law,Matrimonial assets,division
Citation[2015] SGFC 78
District Judge Wong Keen Onn: Introduction

This is an appeal by the Defendant (also referred to as “the husband”) only against the orders made in respect of the division of the matrimonial home and other matrimonial assets.

Background Facts

The parties were married on 27 December 1979. They have one daughter born on 16 November 2002 who is 32 year of age. They were both 56 years old at the time of filing of the writ of divorce (“writ”). The Plaintiff (or “wife”) filed for divorce on 27 March 2010 on the basis the parties had lived apart since year 2006 for a continuous period of at least 4 years prior to the filing of the writ. Interim Judgment was granted on an uncontested basis on 24 September 2013. The ancillary matters were adjourned to Chambers.

In respect of the ancillary matters, the Plaintiff wife filed 3 Affidavit of Assets and Means (AOM). These affidavits were marked as P1, P2 and P3 (filed on 21 October 2013, 5 May and 3 June 2014 respectively). The wife’s written submission was marked as PS-1. The Defendant husband filed 3 Affidavits (AOMs) and 2 Affidavits in Response to Discovery and Interrogatories, which were subsequently marked as D1, D2, D3, D4 and D5 (filed on 6 January, 28 January 2014, 3 June 2014 and on 28 February, and 31 March 2014 respectively) and a written submission marked as DS-1i .

The Ancillary Orders

The ancillary matters came for hearing before me and after hearing the arguments and submissions, and I made the following orders: The Defendant shall transfer (otherwise than by way of sale) all his share, rights, interest and title in the matrimonial property known as Blk 853 Tampines Street 83 #10226 Singapore 520853 (“matrimonial flat”) to the Plaintiff within 6 months of the date of the Final Judgment upon the Plaintiff paying a sum equivalent to partially refunding to the Defendant’s CPF account a sum equal to 5% of the net value of the matrimonial flat (which is defined as the market valuation of the flat by an Approved HDB valuer less any outstanding housing loan). From her share of the proceeds of the transfer, the Plaintiff shall refund to their respective CPF accounts all the monies utilized for the purchase of the flat together with accrued interest. The costs and expenses of the said transfer are to be borne solely by the Plaintiff. If the matrimonial flat at Blk 853 Tampines Street 83 #10226 Singapore 520853 is not transferred within the stipulated time, it shall be sold in the open market within the next six (6) months and the net sale proceeds, after repayment of any outstanding mortgage and interest and deducting the costs and expenses relating to the sale including agent’s commission, shall be divided in proportion of 95% to the Plaintiff and 5% to the Defendant. From their share of the sale proceeds, both Parties shall refund to their respective CPF accounts all the monies utilized for the purchase of the flat together with accrued interest. There shall be joint conduct of the sale of the matrimonial flat. Save as above, Parties shall retain their assets in their respective sole names and there shall be no further claim against each other. The Registrar or Deputy Registrar of the State Courts, Singapore under section 45 of the State Courts Act (Cap 321) is empowered to execute, sign or indorse all documents necessary relating to the matters in this order with respect to all matters stated in this order on behalf of either party, should either party fail to do so within seven days of written request being made to the party. There shall be no maintenance for the Plaintiff. The Parties shall have liberty to apply. Each Party to bear his/her own costs

The Defendant husband has appealed against my decision on division of matrimonial assets and the matrimonial home. I now set out the reasons for my decision.

The division of the matrimonial flats and other assets The Plaintiff wife’s position The wife’s contributions to the matrimonial flat

The matrimonial home, a 3-room HDB flat, was owned by both parties. Parties had bought it for $166,000.00 on 1 April 1996. There was no outstanding mortgage loanii. The wife initially estimated the value of the matrimonial flat at $390,000.00iii. Later she indicated that she was prepared to use a lower value up to $370,000. She claimed that she contributed $418 per month up till December 2009 and thereafter she contributed $378 per month towards the acquisition of the matrimonial home. She had used $61,364.88 (with accrued interest if $27,688.34) for the purchase of the flat as at 31 October 2013iv. She also said she had utilised $20,000 in cash for the renovations for the flat.

As for her indirect contributions, she claimed that she was the main caregiver for the child and took care of the needs of her daughterv. She had single-handedly maintained the household and handled all the household chores as well as raised their child and worked fulltime to support the family financially. She said she had paid for the daughter’s expenses including her textbooks tuition fees and music lessons. She had also taken care of the household chores such as the laundry and the meals and had handled home maintenance and paid for the household expenses without much contribution from the husband. The wife contended that she had been paying for the utilities bills for the home and that the husband incurred the debts and loans for his own benefit to the tune of over $330,000 by 2008 and which she had to help to repay for himvi. She also said that the husband had abandoned the home in the year 2006 and went in hiding in Indonesia to avoid his creditors to whom he had owed large amounts tovii. As a result, she had to face these creditors who would harass her at the matrimonial home for repayment towards the debts. According to her, the husband was declared a bankrupt twice during their marriage and it was through her sheer hard work that she managed to discharge him from bankruptcy. She tendered in some bills at pages 36 to 48 of her First Affidavit (P1) to show that she paid for the fixtures and appliances in the flat from 2007 to 2012.

As for their daughter’s e-mails that were made in support of the Defendant, the wife urged the Court to scrutinise with care and not to heavily rely upon them as they were not on affidavit but were adduced by way of unsigned emails and statement. She explained that due to the difficulties she had to endure, that she was the one with the unenviable task of finding ways to stretch their little monies they had. The wife said she had to try to teach the daughter a good sense of money management and financial prudence keeping in mind the best interests of the daughter and the family while the husband would freely spend and indulge their daughter, ignoring the reality when the parties did not have such means to do so. This made her the more unpopular parent in the eyes of her daughter.

Based in her contributions, she asked for the husband to transfer all his share and rights and interest in the matrimonial flat (estimated at about 55.1 %) to her without any refund to the husband’s CPF accounts. This was to take into account the wife had repaid on the behalf of the Defendant husband the debts that he had incurred from the banks, licensed moneylender and unlicensed moneylender. She alleged that that amounted to nearly $330,000 by 2008.viii

As for the parties’ other assets, she wanted the Court to order that each party were to retain their own assets held in their respective names. The Wife estimated her total assets were in the region of $410,575.89. For completeness, the Plaintiff wife wanted a nominal maintenance of $1.00 per month.

Defendant husband’s position Husband’s contributions to the Matrimonial Flat and Other assets

The Defendant (“Husband”) wanted the flat to be sold in the open market and the net sales proceeds be divided in the ratio of 70 % in the husband’s favour with the remaining 30 % to the Plaintiff. According to the Defendant, that would amount to granting him about 31 % of the total matrimonial assets of about $769,026.80 (being $393,853.15 for the Plaintiff, $35,173.65 for the Defendant and $340,000 for the net value of the flat)ix.

The husband estimated the flat to be valued at $375,000.00 in his First Affidavit filed on 6 January 2014. But in his submissions DS-1 at paragraph 10, his counsel proposed a figure of $340,000.00 in his written submission. According to the Defendant, he had paid $101,500 of his CPF monies towards the purchase of the flat. The husband claimed that based on his CPF contributions he would have contributed 62 % (out of a total of $162,864.88) whereas the wife’s would have contributed only 38 %.x.

The husband also submitted that he had made indirect financial contributions by taking care of the daughter financially for her studies and helped her pet shop business when the daughter was about 23 years old. Although he did not contribute financially towards purchase of furniture for the matrimonial flat, he helped to decorate the flatxi.

The husband claimed that his other assets amounted to $35,173.65 (including $35,172.41 in his CPF accounts and his CPF Retirement accounts).

My Decision The law

Section 112(1) of the Act empowers the Court to make a division of the matrimonial assets in such proportion as the courts deems as “just and equitable”. In ZO v ZP and another appeal [2011] SGCA 25, the Court of Appeal emphasised that direct and indirect contributions are to be given due weight and no single factor is determinative of the outcome. A spouse’s direct financial contribution must be only one among many factors for consideration, and due weight had to be given to all indirect contributions of the other party which by their nature are not reducible to monetary terms.

Ultimately, the court is to adopt a “broad-brush” approach to the division of the matrimonial assets by resisting the...

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