NMF v LTL

CourtDistrict Court (Singapore)
JudgeEugene Tay
Judgment Date05 September 2014
Neutral Citation[2014] SGDC 349
Citation[2014] SGDC 349
Hearing Date23 April 2014,02 July 2014,27 May 2014
Published date22 September 2014
Docket NumberMaintenance Summons No. MSS 6121 of 2013
Plaintiff CounselMs Lim Poh Choo (M/s Alan Shankar & Lim LLC)
Defendant CounselMr Koh Tien Hua and Ms Tan Poh Lin (M/s Harry Elias Partnership LLP)
District Judge: Introduction

This is the application by the complainant wife (“the Complainant”) against the respondent husband (“the Respondent”) for maintenance for herself under Section 69 of the Women’s Charter (Cap 353) (“the Women’s Charter”).

The wife took out the present application in Court on 24 December 2013 via Magistrate’s complaint (“the Complaint”)1. In the Complaint, the Complainant alleged that the Respondent had neglected or refused to provide her reasonable maintenance since October 2013, and she sought monthly maintenance of $5,550.00.

The matter proceeded for hearing on 23 April 2014 and 27 May 2014. At the conclusion of the hearing, I directed parties to prepare written submissions. The Complainant subsequently in her submissions revised her claim for maintenance to $5,700.00 a month2.

On 2 July 2014, having considered the evidence before me and parties’ submissions, I made the following orders: The Respondent to pay the Complainant the monthly sum of $800.00 as maintenance of the Complainant with effect from 15 July 2014 and thereafter by the 15th day of each subsequent month. Payments to be made into the Complainant’s designated bank account. Each party to bear his or her own costs.

Dissatisfied with the orders made, both parties appealed against the whole of my decision. The Complainant filed her appeal (DCA 42/2014) on 11 July 2014. The Respondent filed his appeal (DCA 44/2014) on 15 July 2014.

Background facts

The Complainant is 36 years old and the Respondent is 46 years old. Parties were married on 20 November 2011 at the Registry of Marriages, Singapore. Before the marriage, parties had a daughter born in September 2011 (“the Child”). The Respondent had earlier divorced his former wife via Interim Judgment (Divorce) on 14 October 20113 which was made final on 19 October 2011.

After parties got married, the Complainant stayed with the Respondent and the Child at the Respondent’s residence at 27 Eng Kong Gardens, Singapore (“the matrimonial home”). It was not disputed that during the course of the marriage, the Respondent, a lawyer, was the sole breadwinner, and that the Complainant, a former air stewardess at Singapore Airlines (“SIA”), was not required to work to supplement the household income.

On 17 June 2013, the Complainant left the matrimonial home and had not returned to stay at the matrimonial home since. The Child was left in the care of the Respondent.

Prior to taking out the present application, the Complainant had on 20 August 2013 taken out a similar application under Section 69 of the Women’s Charter for maintenance for herself against the Respondent, namely MSS 4050/20134. However, MSS 4050/2013 was struck out on 18 September 2013 after the Complainant failed to turn up for a Court mention. The Complainant subsequently filed the present application on 24 December 2013.

The law

Section 69(1) of the Women’s Charter provides that:

“Any married woman whose husband neglects or refuses to provide her reasonable maintenance may apply to a District Court or a Magistrate’s Court and that Court may, on due proof thereof, order the husband to pay a monthly allowance or a lump sum for her maintenance.”

Under Section 69(4) of the Women’s Charter, the Court when ordering maintenance for a wife or child shall have regard to all the circumstances of the case including the following matters: the financial needs of the wife or child; the income, earning capacity (if any), property and other financial resources of the wife or child; any physical or mental disability of the wife or child; the age of each party to the marriage and the duration of the marriage; the contributions made by each of the parties to the marriage to the welfare of the family, including any contribution made by looking after the home or caring for the family; the standard of living enjoyed by the wife or child before the husband or parent, as the case may be, neglected or refused to provide reasonable maintenance for the wife or child; in the case of a child, the manner in which he was being, and in which the parties to the marriage expected him to be, educated or trained; and the conduct of each of the parties to the marriage, if the conduct is such that it would in the opinion of the court be inequitable to disregard it.

The issues

There were essentially two (2) main issues that had to be determined in this case. The first main issue was whether the Complainant had proven on balance of probabilities that the Respondent had neglected or refused to provide reasonable maintenance for her as a wife. If the first main issue was decided in the affirmative, the second main issue would then be what would amount to reasonable maintenance for the Complainant, taking into account the relevant factors under Section 69(4) of the Women’s Charter.

There was also a related issue raised by the Respondent, which was whether the Court should allow the Complainant to rely on matters and events prior to the marriage to determine the alleged standard of living provided by the Respondent.

The Complainant’s case

The Complainant’s case was basically that the Respondent had refused to provide her with reasonable maintenance since she left the matrimonial home on 17 June 2013, which necessitated the present application.

According to the Complainant, she left the matrimonial home on 17 June 2013 after a heated argument with the Respondent, as she could not tolerate his threats and bullying any longer and because living with him became a “living hell” and it was worsening5. She also alleged that the Respondent did not allow her to return home, whether to live or to collect her belongings. In addition, after she left the matrimonial home, she practically had to beg the Respondent to give her allowances, which the Respondent finally did on three occasions where he gave her $2,000.00 on each occasion.

The Complainant’s evidence was essentially that throughout her relationship with the Respondent from September 2010 through till June 2013, she was totally dependent on him financially, and she had led the “high-life”6 or a life of the “high society”7. As the Respondent was giving her full financial support, she did not have to work. She also did not have to do any housework as the Respondent had provided her with a maid, as well as subsequently a second maid to help with the Child shortly after the Child’s arrival. In addition, the Respondent had provided her with a regular monthly allowance as well as a credit card, the bills of which were paid by him.

Complainant also took the position that the lifestyle which she was given by Respondent prior to the marriage was relevant to the present application, as it showed consistency in what the Respondent had promised to give and did give her which carried on into the marriage8.

Finally, the Complainant submitted that the Respondent could well afford to pay her maintenance of at least $5,000.00 a month which was far below what he was spending on her during the course of the marriage9.

The Respondent’s case

The Respondent from the onset took the position that the Court could only take into account events or matters which took place during the course of the marriage, and not before, in determining the standard of living provided by the Respondent10. Following from this position taken, the Respondent submitted that all allegations and documentary evidence by the Complainant prior to the date of marriage, i.e. 20 November 2011, should be disregarded in their entirety.

In contrast to the Complainant, the Respondent alleged that the Complainant had abandoned the marriage when she left the matrimonial home on 17 June 2013, after having committed a latest act of violence against him where he suffered injuries11.

The Respondent’s case was that prior to the Complainant unilaterally leaving him and the family, his conduct in relation to providing for her was “entirely blameless”12. He had not neglected to maintain the Complainant during the marriage before its breakdown, and had not unreasonably refused to maintain her. According to the Respondent, the Complainant had represented to him that she did not want any money from him, and she had also not asked him for any financial assistance during the period from October 2013 to December 2013. Further, after the Complainant left the matrimonial home on 17 June 2013, he had come to her aid each time she requested for financial assistance, and had out of goodwill given her $2,000.00 on each occasion on 7 July 2013, 20 August 2013 and 9 October 2013.

The Respondent also alleged, inter alia, that the Complainant’s present application was not out of a genuine sense of need, but rather for the collateral purpose of having more access to the Child whom she had left behind on 17 June 2013. The Respondent further alleged that the Complainant’s repeated vacillations on her maintenance claim, in that she had sought a different monthly maintenance sum within a short span of a few months, showed that her claim was not bona fide.

Grounds of decision First main issue: whether there has been neglect or refusal to provide reasonable maintenance

The first main issue was whether the Respondent had neglected or refused to provide reasonable maintenance for the Complainant.

For a start, there were conflicting accounts as to the exact reasons why the Complainant had left the matrimonial home on 17 June 2013. In my view, neither party had produced compelling enough evidence for me to make a conclusive finding in favour of one party over the other. Nonetheless, the fact remained it was not disputed that the Complainant had left the matrimonial home on 17 June 2013 and had been living apart from the Respondent since.

The Respondent had, inter alia, raised and submitted that there were inconsistencies in the Complainant’s evidence on the amount of monthly allowance she had...

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