Neo Heok Kay v Seah Suan Chock

Judgment Date03 November 1992
Date03 November 1992
Docket NumberDivorce Petition No 2905 of 1991
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Neo Heok Kay
Seah Suan Chock

[1992] SGHC 283

P Coomaraswamy J

Divorce Petition No 2905 of 1991

High Court

Family Law–Matrimonial assets–Central Provident Fund–Husband paid for purchase of matrimonial flat with moneys in CPF account–Sale of matrimonial flat–Whether sale proceeds to be refunded to husband's CPF account constitute asset available for division–Section 106 Women's Charter (Cap 353, 1985 Rev Ed)

The petitioner/husband obtained a decree nisi for dissolution of the marriage and the ancillary matters were adjourned for the court's division. A Housing and Development Board (“HDB”) flat was bought in the joint names of the petitioner and the respondent. The initial downpayment of $14,000 was paid by the husband and the entire balance of the purchase price was paid exclusively by the husband from his Central Provident Fund (“CPF”) account.

The husband asked for sale of the flat in the open market and that the proceeds be divided 50-50 after payment of the vendor's fees and costs and the refund of his withdrawals and lost interest to the CPF. On the other hand, the wife asked that the flat be sold within six months and the proceeds of sale after payment of the vendor's costs be divided equally between her and her husband; further, that the husband reimburse his CPF account out of his 50% of the proceeds.

The issue was whether CPF moneys withdrawn for purchase of the flat constituted assets available for distribution under s 106 of the Women's Charter (Cap 353, 1985 Rev Ed) (“the Charter”). Related to this issue was the determination of what the assets that were acquired during the marriage were.

Held, granting an order in favour of the petitioner:

(1) Under s 106 of the Charter, the assets available for division were “assets acquired during the marriage” and it did not introduce, in Singapore, the concept of matrimonial assets or family assets as understood in English law. The term “assets” in the context of this case must mean the value of the flat less the liabilities that have to be met from the proceeds of that flat if the flat were sold, the sale of the flat being something on which the two parties were agreed: at [17] and [18].

(2) The obligation for the CPF account of the member to be refunded the withdrawals and interest that would have accrued was something over which the court had no control. Moneys due under these provisions to the fund upon the sale of the flat for the purchase of which the funds were withdrawn could not by reason of these provisions of the Central Provident Fund Act (Cap 36, 1991 Rev Ed) (“the Act”) be regarded as an asset acquired during marriage and one that was available for division between the parties in an ancillary matter in a divorce proceeding: at [24].

(3) Assets acquired during a marriage did not include moneys standing to a person's credit in his CPF account. The Act had by express provisions treated a member's moneys in the fund as a species of property distinct and separate from assets available for division under s 106 of the Charter. Statutory liabilities that had to be met from the net proceeds of sale did not constitute an asset available for immediate division between the parties: at [29]and [37].

(4) Although there was no dispute that the interest the parties had in the flat was acquired by the sole effort of the husband, there was no bar to consent in ancillary matters. The court made an order for sale of the flat in the open market with payment of the vendor's costs and the usual refund to the CPF of the husband's withdrawals from the fund for purchase of the flat and interest lost. After taking into account the considerations in s 106 (4) of the Charter, the court ordered 37.5% to the husband/petitioner and 62.5% to the wife/respondent: at [30], [34]and [35].

[Observation: There was no conflict between the Act and the Charter. Even if there was in fact a conflict, the court's view was that the Act should prevail. The Act provided for members to nominate persons who were to receive that member's entitlement from the fund upon his death. However, there was nothing to prevent a member of the fund after his or her marriage nominating any person other than his wife or her husband to receive benefits from the fund in the event of that member's death. Further, no matter what the marital status of a person upon his reaching the relevant age, the moneys in the fund were paid to him personally. Lastly, and most importantly, all moneys to the credit of a person in the fund could not be assigned, transferred, be liable to be attached, sequestered or levied upon for or in respect of any claim: at [27] and [28].

The assets in the fund, subject to the obligation to refund to the fund, might well be assets acquired during a marriage but they must in addition by law be available for division between the parties under the express words of s 106 by the provisions of the Act. Even if the court was wrong and there were statutory obligations which led to make that asset not available for division, these assets could not be the subject of an order under s 106 of the Charter: at [39].]

Ong Chin Ngoh v Lam Chih Kian [1992] 1 SLR (R) 574; [1992] 2 SLR 414 (distd)

Saniah bte Ali v Abdullah bin Ali [1990] 1 SLR (R) 555; [1990] SLR 584 (folld)

Administration of Muslim Law Act (Cap 3, 1985 Rev Ed)

Central Provident Fund Act (Cap 36, 1991 Rev Ed)ss 15, 21,28, 77

Central Provident Fund (Approved Housing Schemes) Regulations 1986 (S335/1986)reg 9

Women's Charter (Cap 353, 1985 Rev Ed)s 106 (consd);s 88 (3) (d)

Belinda Ang (Belinda...

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    • 22 December 1992 the deed: [49] and [50]. Hyman v Hyman [1929] AC 601 (refd) Minton v Minton [1979] AC 593 (refd) Neo Heok Kay v Seah Suan Chock [1992] 3 SLR (R) 390; [1993] 1 SLR 230 (refd) Neo Tai Kim v Foo Stie Wah [1985-1986] SLR (R) 48 (refd) Ng Kim Seng v Kok Mew Leng [1992] 2 SLR (R) 961; [1992] 2......
1 books & journal articles
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 1995, December 1995
    • 1 December 1995 longer any jurisdiction to make any order after the death of the respondent. 16 Supra, note 7. 17 See Neo Heok Kay v Seah Suan Chock[1993] 1 SLR 230 at 235—236. 18 In Shirley Koo v Kenneth Mok Kong Chua[1989] 2 MLJ 264, Thean J “approached the problem in a broad manner” and ordered the h......

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