Ong Kok Kuen v Zhuo Jingting

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeLee Li Choon
Judgment Date29 December 2014
Neutral Citation[2014] SGDC 473
CourtFamily Court (Singapore)
Docket NumberDivorce No. 5449 of 2011
Published date09 January 2015
Year2014
Hearing Date29 October 2014
Plaintiff CounselP/C: Mr Sunil Singh Panoo (M/s Dhillon & Partners)
Defendant CounselD/C: Ms Diana Foo (M/s Tan See Swan & Co)
Subject MatterCatchwords: Family Law,division of matrimonial assets,Family Law,maintenance for wife
Citation[2014] SGDC 473
District Judge Lee Li Choon: Introduction

This is an appeal against my decision on ancillary matters subsequent to a divorce given on 29 October 2014. The Plaintiff-husband and the Defendant-wife were married in Singapore on 4th May 2005. This is a childless marriage. The husband filed his writ of divorce on 14 November 2011 based on the ground that the parties have lived apart for a continuous period of 4 years preceding the writ of divorce. Interim Judgment pronouncing the dissolution of the marriage on the ground filed by the husband was granted on 22 June 2012.

It deserves mention here that after the Interim Judgment, a considerable amount of time was expended through the exchange of 4 rounds of affidavits from the husband, 5 rounds of affidavits from the wife, 4 and 2 rounds of discovery affidavits from the husband and wife respectively, and there were also affidavits from 2 and 4 witnesses on behalf of the husband and wife respectively. I would just like to say that some of the affidavits would not have been necessary if the parties had been upfront with their evidence and had focussed their minds on the essential, relevant details.

The order that I gave on ancillary matters is as follows: The Defendant shall transfer her right, title and interest in the matrimonial flat within 6 months of the Final Judgment upon the Plaintiff refunding to her CPF account CPF monies utilized towards the acquisition of the said flat including accrued interest and paying to the Defendant in cash the balance of 23% of the net value of the said matrimonial flat with the net value to be determined through a HDB valuation report and deducting the outstanding mortgage loan therefrom. The cost of obtaining a HDB valuation report shall be borne equally by both parties. In the event that the Plaintiff is unable to effect the transfer, the said matrimonial flat shall be sold in the open market within 3 months from the date thereafter and the net sale proceeds after deducting the outstanding mortgage loan and costs and expenses related to the sale including agent’s commission shall be divided 77% to the Plaintiff and 23% to the Defendant. Each party shall refund to his or her CPF account CPF monies utilized towards the acquisition of the said flat including accrued interest from his or her share of the net sale proceeds. The Registrar of the Family Justice Courts under Section 31 of the Family Justice is empowered to execute, sign or indorse all necessary documents relating to matters contained in this Order on behalf of either party failing to do so within 7 days of written request being made to the party. There shall be no maintenance for the Defendant. Each party shall bear his or her own costs. Liberty to apply.

The husband filed his appeal against my decision on 12 November 2014 and the wife followed with her cross appeal on the same date.

My Decision Background Facts

The period from the date of the marriage to the grant of the Interim Judgment is 7 years. At the time of the marriage, the wife had just turned 21 years old and the husband was 29 years old. Both parties are joint owners of a HDB executive flat in Hougang. The main contest in this case is over this HDB flat as neither party has other assets of value that are subjected to a division by this court.

The husband has been in the retail business of costume jewellery since 2000. He runs his business through a few shop outlets. It is not disputed that even before the marriage, since June 2004, the wife had worked at the husband’s retail outlets. The husband’s version is that she worked at one of his retail outlets as a sales assistant. The wife’s version is that she was managing all of the husband’s 3 shop outlets. According to the wife, as the husband travelled overseas frequently to purchase the goods for the retail business, she was entrusted with the management of the 3 shop outlets which were opened from 10am to 10pm daily and she worked from morning till past 12 midnight several times a week and beyond the official opening hours daily from before the marriage till May 2007.

An important event took place in May 2007. In May 2007, the wife decided to seize control of the shop outlet in Hougang Mall. She also left the matrimonial home on that day and since then, the wife has been living on her own. Since May 2007, the wife has been running her own retail business in costume jewellery through the said shop outlet in Hougang Mall. The husband continued to live in the matrimonial flat and is now living there with his aged parents.

Length of the marriage

Section 112(2)(h) read with section 114(1)(d) of the Women’s Charter (Chapter 353) provides that the duration of the marriage is one of the relevant matters for the court’s consideration in deciding the issue of the just and equitable division of matrimonial assets between parties subsequent to a divorce. As this is a childless marriage, the length of the marriage becomes an important issue.

The husband’s position is that the length of the marriage is effectively only 2 years as the undisputed fact is that the wife left the matrimonial home in May 2007, 2 years after the marriage and the parties have lived apart since.

On this issue, throughout her affidavits, the wife has harped on the fact that parties met in October 2002 when she was just about 18 years old and he was 9 years older, at 27 years and that thereafter, parties had co-habited in the husband’s parents’ home for about 2 years before tying the knot. The wife also pointed to the fact that she was forced by the husband to abort the couple’s baby when she became pregnant in 2003 in support of her evidence that parties had cohabited prior to the marriage. The husband denied this and said that the wife had merely stayed over with him at his parents’ home occasionally.

In this case, the question is how much weight I should put on the duration of the marriage and whether I should consider this to be a marriage of effectively 2 years or a marriage of a longer period. On this issue, I am clear that it is not relevant for me to consider the period of cohabitation prior to the marriage. Thus, what happened between the parties before the solemnisation of the marriage is irrelevant as regards the issue of a just and equitable division of the matrimonial assets between the parties.

The undisputed fact is that the wife left the matrimonial flat in May 2007, 2 years after the marriage and the husband has been living in the flat since then. After the wife’s departure, the husband’s parents moved in to live with him. The wife said that she left the matrimonial flat because she could not tolerate the husband’s abusive ways and violence anymore. The husband however alleged that the wife was having an affair with a third party.

The other undisputed fact is that in May 2007, the wife seized control of one of the husband’s businesses conducted through the retail outlet in Hougang Mall. This business was registered by the husband under the wife’s name. This incident led to the husband suing the wife in a civil suit which ended with a settlement agreement between them that the wife would take over the shop by paying the husband $50,000 and would change the name of the shop. There was a considerable amount of evidence exchanged between the parties concerning the civil suit. In particular, the husband had provided details on the amount of money he had spent in setting up the business. This has been totally unnecessary as the parties’ dispute on this has been settled through the civil suit. Suffice to say that the account of the husband shows that he was having a tight control on the parties’ finances, even to the extent of holding the ATM card and the cheque book of all bank accounts opened for the purpose of carrying out the business that was, for whatever reasons, registered under the wife’s name.

The husband’s allegation is that as part of the settlement of the civil suit, the parties also agreed that the husband could file for divorce on any ground he wished and that the wife agreed not to make any claim against the husband and that she would transfer her title in the flat to the husband and would not make any claim for maintenance.

The wife strongly denied that there was any such agreement between them on the divorce as part of the civil suit settlement. The wife’s account is that the wife was the one who wanted to file a divorce against the husband. She said she did not do so because the husband had threatened that if she were to do so, they would have had to surrender the flat to HDB as they had not fulfilled the requirement of a minimum occupancy period of 5 years under HDB’s regulations and that they would each have had to cough out the HDB grant of $15,000 given to them as well as pay the huge monetary difference between the surrender value and the purchase price which would have to be borne equally. She said she was thus persuaded by the husband to wait till after the 5 year minimum occupancy period to file a divorce.

On the negotiations concerning the divorce after the incident in May 2007, the wife gave a detailed account of the to-ing and fro-ing between the parties. The wife said that after the parties were about to settle the issue of the shop in Hougang Mall, the husband again brought up the issue of the transfer of her name in the matrimonial flat to him with return to her CPF account of her CPF contributions only. The wife said she called the husband and informed him that since he had reneged on their agreement to sit out the 5 years’ minimum occupancy period, she had no reason to stay married to him a day longer than necessary and threatened to commence divorce proceedings straight away. The wife said the husband eventually relented and agreed to settle the Hougang shop issue first. According to her account, both parties had agreed to address the issue of the matrimonial flat at a later...

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