Tan Hwee Lee v Tan Cheng Guan and another appeal and another matter

JudgeChao Hick Tin JA
Judgment Date30 August 2012
Neutral Citation[2012] SGCA 50
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Docket NumberCivil Appeals Nos 135 and 136 of 2011, and Summons No 266 of 2012
Published date17 September 2012
Hearing Date19 March 2012
Plaintiff CounselLim Puay Chong Vincent and Sim Chong (JLC Advisors LLP)
Defendant CounselBernice Loo and Magdelene Sim (Allen & Gledhill LLP)
Subject MatterFamily Law,Division of Matrimonial Assets,Maintenance
Citation[2012] SGCA 50
Andrew Phang Boon Leong JA (delivering the judgment of the court): Introduction

These are two related appeals filed by the husband, Tan Cheng Guan (“the Husband”) and the wife, Tan Hwee Lee (“the Wife”) against the decision of the High Court judge (“the Judge”) in Tan Cheng Guan v Tan Hwee Lee [2011] 4 SLR 1148 (“the Judgment”) with regard to the division of matrimonial assets and the order of maintenance. Civil Appeal No 135 of 2011 (“CA 135/2011”) is filed by the Wife, and Civil Appeal No 136 of 2011 (“CA 136/2011”) is filed by the Husband. Summons No 266 of 2012 (“SUM 266/2012”) is an application taken out by the Wife in relation to CA 135/2011.

The main issue which arises in this appeal is whether an inter-spousal gift is a matrimonial asset for the purposes of s 112(10) of the Women’s Charter (Cap 353, 2009 Rev Ed) (“the Act”). Notably, the Judge held that an inter-spousal gift is a matrimonial asset for the purposes of s 112(10) of the Act (“s 112(10)”), expressly disagreeing with the views of the High Court in Wan Lai Cheng v Quek Seok Kee [2011] 2 SLR 814 (“Wan Lai Cheng (HC)”).


The Husband is an Executive Vice-President at Sembcorp Industries Ltd (“Sembcorp”) while the Wife is a homemaker. Both parties are in their mid-50s. The parties married on 9 October 1982 and have two daughters, respectively aged 23 and 21 years (collectively referred to as “the Children”), who are both pursuing their tertiary education in the United States of America (“USA”). During the 28-year marriage, the Husband was the sole breadwinner while the Wife looked after the household and the Children.

The parties owned three properties: (a) 32 Seletar Hills Drive Singapore 807047 (“32 SHD”); (b) 34 Seletar Hills Drive Singapore 807049 (“34 SHD”) and (c) 36E La Salle Street Singapore 454936 (“the La Salle Property”).

From 1988 to 1999, the parties lived in 32 SHD. From 1999 onwards, the parties resided in 34 SHD. The parties’ relationship deteriorated through the years and, in 1999, they entered into a Deed of Separation (“the 1999 Deed”). The Wife claimed that it was the result of the Husband having committed adultery, while the Husband blamed it on the Wife behaving intolerably. The parties nonetheless remained under the same roof for the sake of the Children but effectively lived separate lives.

From about 1990 to 2004, the Husband worked at Sembcorp. In 2004, he accepted a job in Shanghai with Vopak China and the family uprooted themselves and followed him there. In April 2006, the Husband moved out of the family home in Shanghai, but the Wife and the Children continued living there because of the Children’s education. On 24 August 2006, the parties executed a deed (“the 2006 Deed”) although neither party acted on it.

Between late 2006 and early 2007, the Husband agreed to sever the joint tenancy in 32 SHD and gave 40% of 32 SHD from his share to the Wife with the result that she held 90% of that property. This was first given effect to by a sale and purchase agreement dated 29 January 2007,1 followed by a title deed transfer dated 10 April 2007.2 The purported effect of the Husband’s act is hotly disputed between the parties, and forms the subject matter of the inter-spousal gift issue. It is the Wife’s case that the Husband had given her 32 SHD (with the balance 10% kept by him merely to continue servicing the mortgage) after he committed adultery, in order to persuade her not to end the marriage and as compensation.3 The Husband, however, argued that he had not made a gift of his share in 32 SHD to the Wife, but that he had severed his share without the intention of giving any part of 32 SHD to the Wife, only to make her feel more secure as she had continually harassed him when he told her that he wanted to set up his own business.4

In April 2007, the Husband decided to rejoin Sembcorp in Singapore. The Wife and the younger daughter, however, remained in Shanghai until June 2009 because of the latter’s studies in Shanghai, while the elder daughter was due to go to the USA for undergraduate studies.

On 7 May 2007, the Husband wrote, by hand, a letter which set out certain financial provisions on maintenance for the Wife and the Children whilst they remained in Shanghai. On 23 May 2007, a formal deed was executed which echoed the terms in the letter but which also made further financial provisions for the Wife and the Children upon their return to Singapore (“the 2007 Deed”).

In April 2008, the Husband commenced divorce proceedings in Singapore. On 17 March 2010, the District Judge (“the DJ”) made an interim maintenance order requiring the Husband to pay maintenance of $6,000 a month for the Wife and the Children as well as requiring that he continue to pay for the Children’s school fees and all education related expenses (“the DJ’s Maintenance Order”).5 A decree nisi was subsequently granted on 6 May 2010.

Before the Judge, the parties’ claims were widely divergent. The Husband sought 80% of 32 SHD, 90% of all other assets and reimbursement for various items of expenditure. The Wife, on the other hand, asked for the whole of 32 SHD (on the basis that it should not be part of the pool of matrimonial assets), 80% of 34 SHD, 35% of the Husband’s other assets and for her to retain the assets in her name (see the Judgment at [2]).

Decision below

The Judge first laid out (at [3] of the Judgment) a three-stage methodological framework for dividing matrimonial assets: first, the pooling of the assets and the ascertainment of the value of the pool (“the first stage”); second, deciding the “fair and equitable” division between the parties (“the second stage”); and, finally, making the actual division (“the third stage”).

The Judge then justified the inclusion of an inter-spousal gift in the pool of matrimonial assets on the ground that such a gift was “purchased with a pre-existing matrimonial asset” and therefore “does not lose its nature as a matrimonial asset”. The Judge attempted to reconcile the law on matrimonial assets and the law of property on gifts by holding that “the concept of gift remains valid … only at the third stage”, where a court can “order that the gift forms part of the percentage share awarded to the party” (see the Judgment at [3]).

The Judge offered three reasons why he disagreed with Wan Lai Cheng (HC), a High Court decision which had earlier established that an inter-spousal gift fell within the proviso to s 112(10) (referred to as the “Exclusion Clause” in the decision of this court in Wan Lai Cheng v Quek Seow Kee [2012] SGCA 40 (“Wan Lai Cheng (CA)”)) and was therefore not a matrimonial asset, as follows: Firstly, the Judge repeated his earlier justification that an inter-spousal gift does not change its nature as a matrimonial asset, and that holding otherwise runs contrary to the concept of joint property in marriage (see the Judgment at [4]). Secondly, the Judge held that Parliament’s intention in not explicitly distinguishing between third-party and inter-spousal gifts in s 112(10) (even though recommendations were made to that effect to the predecessor to s 112(10)) could simply be that the amendments were unnecessary because the distinction was clear (see the Judgment at [5]). Thirdly, the Judge reasoned that regarding an inter-spousal gift as a matrimonial asset provides better justification as to why the courts take it into consideration at the second stage, as opposed to relying on ss 112(2)(h) and 114(1) of the Act instead (see the Judgment at [6]).

Having pooled and valued the respective assets (including 32 SHD) at an amount totalling $6,794,973.09, the Judge awarded a 50:50 division of the matrimonial assets. Consistent with his earlier view that “the concept of gift remains valid … at the third stage”, the Judge awarded 32 SHD to the Wife (as part of her 50% share), together with various other assets (see the Judgment at [8]).

In so far as the maintenance of the Wife was concerned, the Judge took cognisance of the DJ’s Maintenance Order (that the Husband pay the Wife $6,000 a month for herself and the Children) but varied it to discount the older daughter’s share since the latter was above 21 years of age. The Judge accepted the Husband’s submission that the Wife should be given $2,000 a month for maintenance, but ordered that the Husband pay the Wife a lump sum of $288,000 ($2,000 x 12 months x 12 years). He also ordered that the Husband pay the younger daughter $2,000 a month directly, as well as her education expenses and fees, until she has graduated from university (see the Judgment at [9]).


The following issues arise in the present appeals: Should the Wife be granted leave to adduce fresh evidence for her appeal (in CA 135/2011) (“Issue 1”)? Should the purported inter-spousal gift, viz, 32 SHD, be excluded from the pool of matrimonial assets (“Issue 2”)? Did the Judge err in the process of pooling and valuing the respective matrimonial assets (“Issue 3”)? Did the Judge err in apportioning the matrimonial assets on a 50:50 basis between the parties (“Issue 4”)? Did the Judge err in ordering the Husband to pay the Wife a lump sum of $288,000 ($2,000 x 12 months x 12 years) as maintenance (“Issue 5”)?

Our decision Issue 1 The Wife’s application to adduce further evidence

On 18 January 2012, the Wife applied via SUM 266/2012 (see [1] above) to seek this court’s approval to adduce further evidence for her appeal (“the Further Evidence”), which consists of: a valuation report of the La Salle Property dated 22 December 2011 ( “the Valuation Report”); a print-out from the website of the Urban Redevelopment Authority showing the sale price of a similar property in May 2011 (“the URA Print-out”); and three excerpts from the Annual Reports of the Husband’s employer for the years 2008, 2009 and 2010 (“the Annual Reports”).

The Wife sought leave to adduce the Valuation Report and...

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24 cases
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