Citation(1993) 5 SAcLJ 349
Published date01 December 1993
Date01 December 1993

Palvit Singh v Sarawan Kaur [1990] 1 MLJ lvii

Quek Soo Wah v Loke Sing Hin [1990] 1 MLJ xxii

PQR v STR [1993] 1 SLR 574

There have been three cases since 1990 about the new law of maintenance of a wife during marriage and maintenance of children.1

In Palvit Singh v Sarawan Kaur the District Court decided that, since the divorce law reform vide Women’s Charter Amendment Act 26 of 1980, the law of maintenance of a wife by her husband during the course of their marriage has become divested of the “culpability” factor. That this factor underlay the law was decided by the High Court (on appeal) in Quek Ah Chian v Ng Guan Chng.2 In this maintenance summons the husband conceded his failure to maintain his wife but contended that his failure was not “culpable” and, therefore, no maintenance order should be made against him.

In Palvit Singh the parties’ marriage in 1971 was an arranged marriage but there was much disagreement over the subsequent flow of events. The wife claimed that, because she had difficulty staying with the husband’s mother, he agreed to her leaving to stay with her own mother. The husband alleged he had never consented and, from this time onwards, his wife had deserted him without just cause. Later the husband rented and, then, purchased his own flat. The wife claimed to have lived in both with him but the husband denied this. In any case, the husband’s answer to the complaint of failure to provide reasonable maintenance was that, even if there were failure, it was not culpable failure as she was in desertion all along. The wife replied that, even if there were desertion, this is no longer material in a complaint of failure to provide reasonable maintenance.

Magistrate Daniel Koh decided that, as the new divorce law has removed fault from proceedings for matrimonial relief, it would be anomalous to continue to read fault into maintenance summons between spouses during the subsistence of the marriage. Quek Ah Chian, therefore, no longer represents the new law of spousal maintenance during marriage. The husband’s failure to maintain was a sufficient basis upon which to order against him. In deciding what would be a reasonable order, the Magistrate considered the wife’s needs and the husband’s capability. He found that the husband earned between $600 — $700 a month and had average expenses of some $478 a month.

“[H]aving examined all the assertions by both parties of their financial needs and income earning capacities and the potential means to financial resources” Magistrate Koh ordered that the husband should pay her a monthly sum of $200 “until such time when she could secure herself some form of employment and suitably adjusted herself to her situation….”

I had traced the history of our law of maintenance to suggest that the High Court could have been wrong in Quek Ah Chian and that, in any case, the present section 61 on maintenance of a wife would have been so affected by the 1980 reform of the divorce law to be, really, a new law of maintenance.3 The District Court has now provided authority for this view. Magistrate Koh traced the legislative history of our law of maintenance, noted that Quek Ah Chian is not without controversy and then said:4

With the 1980 amendment to the Women’s Charter, what then was the effect of an amended s 60(1) in relation to the existing principle of law governing maintenance of wife? … Could [the Legislature] have intended the same meaning … as …Quek Ah Chian? I did not think so …. Parliament could only have intended the ordinary or popular meaning for the word ‘neglect’ in the amended section. … [W]ith the apparent change in emphasis in the law … away from … the ‘fault’ theory … [i]t would be anomalous that the ‘guilty wife’ should be a complete defence to an application for maintenance when the commission of adultery or desertion without more would be rejected as a sufficient ground under...

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