NK v NL

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtCourt of Three Judges (Singapore)
JudgeAndrew Ang J
Judgment Date19 July 2007
Neutral Citation[2007] SGCA 35
Citation[2007] SGCA 35
Defendant CounselDeborah Barker SC, Anparasan s/o Kamachi (KhattarWong) and Sarbrinder Singh (Kertar & Co)
Published date24 July 2007
Date19 July 2007
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 86 of 2006
Plaintiff CounselYap Whye Tzu Luna (Luna Yap & Co) and Lee Mong Jen (M J Lee & Associates)

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The details of this judgment have been changed to comply with the Children and Young Persons Act and/or the Women's Charter]

19 July 2007

Judgment reserved.

Andrew Phang Boon Leong JA (delivering the judgment of the court):

Introduction

1 This is an appeal by the wife against the orders made by the trial judge (“the Judge”) in respect of division of matrimonial assets, maintenance and custody of the children (see NK v NL [2006] SGHC 204) (“the GD”)).

Background

2 The parties were married on 10 July 1982, when the wife and husband were 19 and 23 years old, respectively. There are four children to the marriage, two of whom, A and B, are under the age of majority. The marriage was dissolved on 3 May 2005 when a decree nisi was granted on an amended petition and cross-petition.

3 At the time of the marriage, the husband was a director of his family’s fish import and export business, TFA, in which the wife claimed to have helped since 1984. She was paid a token salary of $300. In 1985, the wife started a florist business with her sister-in-law in order to supplement the family’s income which suffered as a result of deterioration of the family business. In 1986, at the husband’s behest, the wife registered a sole proprietorship, EAF, to which the husband was added as a partner in the early 1990s. This business is still subsisting, although dormant. In 1994, the husband incorporated another company, TFI, and became the managing director. The wife was made a director of TFI on 1 January 1997 and was given 10% of the shareholdings in the company while the husband held the rest. Prior to the wife resigning from her job in November 2004, she was working as an administrative officer in TFI, for which she was paid a salary of $2,800. TFI is the sole proprietor of another business, SAN, which is alleged to have no value.

4 In 1993, the parties purchased a property (“the matrimonial home”) in their joint names at the price of $1.31m. At the time of the hearing of the ancillary matters (see [7] below), the matrimonial home was valued at $1.2m to $1.3m. The matrimonial home was financed partly by ploughing in profits made from the sale of two earlier properties the parties owned: a Housing and Development Board flat at Pasir Ris (“the first property”) and a terrace house at Elias Road (“the second property”). There is no documentary evidence regarding the quantum of profits made from the sale of the said two properties, although the wife contended that the total profits amounted to $400,000 ($100,000 from the first property and $300,000 from the second property). In addition, the husband contributed $440,332.55 (about 33.6% of the purchase price) from his Central Provident Fund (“CPF”) savings, whilst the wife contributed $94,200 (about 7.19% of the purchase price) from her CPF savings. The remainder of the purchase price was financed with a loan from the Standard Chartered Bank, which has since been fully paid off by the husband.

5 The husband had numerous bank accounts with amounts totalling $1,016,128.61 at the time of the decree nisi, and CPF savings of $57,590.19, $39,940.00 and $56,606.55 in his ordinary, Medisave and special accounts, respectively. The wife had cash in five bank accounts totalling $22,500.80 and CPF savings of $49,354.41, $60,500.00 and $24,067.55 in her ordinary, Medisave and special accounts, respectively. There was much dispute over the quantum of the husband’s personal cash assets available for distribution. In this regard, the wife tendered bank statements as of 2004, which revealed that the husband’s cash and time deposits with banks (in local and foreign currencies) totalled $5,065,299.29.

6 In addition, the husband has two life insurance policies for the benefit of his estate and family, two Mercedes Benz motor cars, and three club memberships (at Warren Country Club, Chinese Swimming Club and Raffles Town Club, respectively).

The trial judge’s order

7 At the ancillary hearing on 20 July 2006, the Judge made the following orders:

(a) the wife was to execute a transfer of her interest in the matrimonial home in favour of the husband, who was to pay the wife a sum of $300,000 representing her share of the matrimonial property;

(b) the transfer of the matrimonial property was to be effected within 30 days from the date of the order of court;

(c) the husband was to transfer to the wife the title to a Mercedes Benz vehicle and pay off the outstanding hire purchase instalments;

(d) the husband was to pay the wife a sum of $515,000 in ten equal monthly instalments of $51,500 with effect from 1 October 2006 being the wife’s share of the other matrimonial assets;

(e) the husband and wife were to have joint custody of the two youngest children of the marriage, viz, A (aged 17) and B (aged 14) while the husband was to have care and control of B until she completed her “O” level examinations;

(f) the husband was to continue paying for the education and living expenses of A until she completed her tertiary education in the US, and B so long as she studied and completed her education in Singapore;

(g) the wife was to have reasonable access to B as long as she resided in Singapore;

(h) the husband was to pay a monthly maintenance sum of $3,600 to the wife to be credited directly into the wife’s bank account; and

(i) the wife was to be paid $50,000 of the husband’s CPF savings in his ordinary account when the husband attained 55 years of age pending which there would be a charge on the husband’s CPF account for the amount.

8 The wife was dissatisfied and appealed against all the orders made by the Judge. The parties’ arguments cover a wide spectrum of issues relating to the division of matrimonial assets, the maintenance of a former wife, as well as custody, care and control of the children. In the interests of clarity, each of these issues will be discussed separately.

Issues on appeal

9 The main focus in the present appeal related to the division of matrimonial assets as follows:

(a) whether the Judge erred by failing to take into account the profits from the sale proceeds of previous properties;

(b) whether the Judge erred in failing to include TFI and its related companies in the pool of matrimonial assets;

(c) whether the Judge erred in quantifying the cash assets available for distribution; and

(d) whether there should be a charge for the sum of $50,000 on the husband’s CPF accounts.

10 The remaining issues can be framed as follows:

(a) whether the Judge’s maintenance order of $3,600 was inadequate; and

(b) whether the Judge erred in awarding care and control of B to the husband until she completed her “O” level examinations, with reasonable access to the wife as long as the wife resided in Singapore.

Our decision

Introduction

11 We note that the proceedings below were chequered by a host of bitter allegations made by the parties against one another. Accusations of infidelity and irresponsibility were rampant as each tried to vilify the other while downplaying their personal indiscretions. In any event, as rightly noted by the Judge, the alleged adulterous behaviour of both parties, even if true, was irrelevant to the determination of the ancillaries.

12 In the light of our current “no fault” basis of divorce law, it would serve no purpose to dwell on the question of who did what, save where there might be a direct impact on the legal issues proper (such as a particular party’s capacity to contribute towards the matrimonial assets or to care for his or her children). Instead, the primary objective of the law is to facilitate this transitional period of emotional upheaval for all parties concerned, not least the children. The salutary objectives sought to be achieved by the ancillary orders of division of matrimonial assets, maintenance of a former wife and custody of the children remain paramount in guiding our review of the Judge’s ancillary orders.

Division of matrimonial assets

Methodology for division

(1) Introduction

13 Before proceeding to consider the specific issues arising in the present appeal, several clarifications relating to the appropriate methodology for the division of matrimonial assets would be pertinent.

14 By way of preliminary observation, it would be helpful to briefly highlight the legislative history of our current provisions, in order to obtain a glimpse into the rationale underlying the current statutory language and perhaps an insight into the current practices of our courts.

15 To begin with, the Women’s Charter (Cap 353, 1997 Rev Ed) (the “Act”), enacted in 1961, was (as the terminology suggests) designed to protect the rights and interests of women in Singapore. Over the years, the Act has evolved to protect various social interests, such as the welfare of children and the institution of marriage, and to regulate the legal effects of a dissolution of marriage. Recent amendments further extend protection to the family, define the equal status and obligations of the husband and wife, and give the court greater powers to deal with incidents of family violence.

16 The objective of the current provision for the division of matrimonial assets appears to be to strengthen its predecessor provision, to widen the court’s powers and to give it the flexibility to effect a more just and equitable division after taking into consideration all the circumstances of the case: see generally Report of the Select Committee on the Women’s Charter (Amendment) Bill [Bill No 5/96] (Parl 3 of 1996, presented to Parliament on 15 August 1996). Indeed, the current enactment was described by the Minister of Community Development (see Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (2 May 1996) vol 66 at col 91) thus:

[T]he new provisions will in fact benefit rather than put women at a disadvantage. The proposed provisions will not put a woman, who is a full-time home-maker or a working and contributing party, in a worse off position. It will not. In fact, a working and...

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