UEV v UEW and UEX

CourtFamily Court (Singapore)
JudgeJoyce Low
Judgment Date08 September 2017
Neutral Citation[2017] SGFC 101
Citation[2017] SGFC 101
Hearing Date25 April 2017,26 May 2017,16 June 2017,04 August 2017
Published date16 September 2017
Docket NumberDivorce Suit No. 4505 OF 2015
Plaintiff CounselMr Max Chew (JLim Law Corporation)
Defendant CounselMs Kee Lay Lian and Ms Vidja (Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP)
Subject MatterFamily Law - Division of Matrimonial Assets - Short Single Income Marriage,Family Law - Maintenance,Former Wife and Child,Family Law - Access,Presence of Third Parties during Access - Parents' time with the Child during non-school days
District Judge Joyce Low: Introduction

The Plaintiff (‘the Wife’) and the Defendant (‘the Husband’) were married for about eight years from 2008 to 2016, when interim judgment for their divorce was granted. Throughout the marriage, the Husband was working as a pilot in the air force and is now a senior officer. The Wife was a senior leasing executive when she married the Husband. She resigned from her job within a month of the marriage to follow the Husband who was posted overseas. When the parties were staying together, the Wife was a full-time homemaker and primary caregiver to their only daughter (‘the Child’) who was born in September 2009.

In January 2013, the Wife moved out with the Child. The parties worked out arrangements for the Husband to access the Child which have largely been in place since then. The Husband continues to provide financially for the Wife and the Child. After the separation, the Wife took on some part-time work while continuing to care for the Child. In May 2016, she became a real estate agent which provided her with a flexible schedule as she continues to juggle her responsibilities at work and at home.

The parties have no matrimonial home and no assets in their joint names. They agreed that the pool of matrimonial assets comprises the following:

S/N Item Value
1 Assets in Joint names 0
2 Assets in the Wife’s name $94,074.19
Less Liabilities $16,624.13
Net assets in the Wife’s name $77,450.06
3 Assets in the Husband’s name $858,773
Less Liabilities 0
Net assets in the Husband’s name $858,773
Grand Total $936,223.06

With respect to the Child, the parties agreed to joint custody and for the Wife to have care and control with reasonable access to the Husband.

The outstanding issues before me were: The appropriate division of the matrimonial assets; The amount of maintenance for the Wife and Child; and The terms of access to the Child.

In brief, I ordered that the matrimonial assets be divided in the proportion of 70% to 30% in favour of the Husband. I ordered the Husband to pay maintenance of $300 per month for the Wife and $1,800 per month for the Child. I also made orders with respect to the terms of access to the Child.

Both parties have appealed against my decision and I now give my reasons.

Division of the Matrimonial Assets

As the parties agreed on the composition and net value of the matrimonial pool, the main area of contention between them was how the assets should be divided.

The parties’ arguments on the appropriate division

Ms Kee Lay Lian, counsel for the Husband argued that the structured approach to determining the appropriate division of matrimonial assets that was articulated in the Court of Appeal’s decision in ANJ v ANK [2015] SGCA 34 (ANJ v ANK) is applicable in the present case. The approach was summarised in the decision of the Court of Appeal in Twiss, Christopher James Hans v Twiss, Yvonne Prendergast [2015] SGCA 52 (at [17]) by Chao Hick Tin JA as follows: Express as a ratio the parties’ direct contributions relative to each other, having regard to the amount of financial contribution each party made towards the acquisition or improvement of the matrimonial assets; Express as a second ratio the parties’ indirect contributions relative to each other, having regard to both financial and non-financial contributions; and Derive the parties’ overall contributions relative to each other by taking an average of the two ratios above, keeping in mind that, depending on the circumstances of each case, the direct and indirect contributions may not be accorded equal weight and one of the two ratios may be accorded more significance than the other (the ANJ approach).

Applying the ANJ approach, she submitted that the ratio of the parties’ direct contributions should be 100% in favour of the Husband as he was the sole breadwinner during the marriage and the Wife “made no financial contributions whatsoever in the course of the marriage”1 . As for indirect contributions, she argued that a 50:50 ratio was appropriate since both parties contributed what they could in indirect financial or non-financial contributions. The Husband made all the indirect financial contributions and helped out in the home front when his work schedule permitted while the Wife took on a larger share of the homemaking and child-rearing responsibilities as she was not working. Ms Kee submitted that the court should put more weight on the parties’ direct contributions given that this was a short marriage. She proposed that the weightage of direct contributions to indirect contributions should be 75% in favour of direct contributions. In summary, she submitted as follows:

Husband Wife
Ratio of Direct Contributions 100% 0%
Ratio of Indirect Contributions 50% 50%
Overall Contributions 87.5% 12.5%

Ms Kee referred to the decision of the Court of Appeal in TNL v TNK and another appeal and another matter [2017] SGCA 15 (‘TNL v TNK’). The case involved parties who had a long marriage of 35 years where the husband was the breadwinner and the wife was a homemaker and the primary caregiver to their three children who were raised to adulthood. The court reconsidered the ANJ approach and held that the approach continues to apply to dual-income marriages but should not apply to single-income marriages. The court reviewed the precedent cases for long single-income marriage and concluded that in such cases courts tended towards an equal division of matrimonial assets, ordering the same in the case before it.

She interpreted the decision as one which excludes the ANJ approach for long single-income marriages while reserving the position on short single-income marriages. She argued that the ANJ approach is applicable in the present case as TNL v TNK is distinguishable. First, TNL v TNK involved a long single-income marriage and the court acknowledged that different considerations may attach in short single-income marriages. Secondly, counsel highlighted that the Wife did work after the parties separated, although it is not disputed that the Husband continued to maintain the Wife and Child.

Alternatively, if the ANJ approach is not applicable, Ms Kee contended that an award of 12.5% to the Wife was reasonable and in excess of the trend in previous cases. She cited four cases to support this proposition. In BG v BF [2007] 3 SLR(R) 233, the parties were married for six years and nine months and had two children aged eight and ten. The wife gave up her career after the birth of her first child and was a full time homemaker and caregiver thereafter. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court to award 40% of the matrimonial assets to the wife, giving her an unspecified increase in her percentage share for the husband’s failure to make full and frank disclosure.

Secondly, in APA v APB [2014] SGHC 275, the parties were married for seven years with two children aged eight and six years old. The wife made direct contributions to the matrimonial home. She also worked part-time and made significant contributions in taking care of the home and children. The High Court awarded the wife 34% of the matrimonial home, recognising that her indirect contributions should amount to about 15%, on top of her direct contributions.

In ACU v ACR [2011] 1 SLR 1235, the parties were married for seven years with two children aged three and five. However, the court found that the wife was not a full-time homemaker for a significant period of three years as she was engaged in studying. As she received other benefits from the marriage, e.g. the finance of her education and remittance of a sum of money to her family in China to purchase a home, she was awarded a 6% share of the proceeds of the sale of the matrimonial home.

Lastly, in the case of AQB v AQC [2015] SGHC 29, the parties were married for seven years and were separated for three of those years. They had one child to the marriage. The wife’s overall share of the three matrimonial properties was increased by 10% above her direct contributions to take into account her greater contributions to homemaking and caregiving.

Mr. Max Chew, counsel for the Wife, however, submitted that TNL v TNK stood for the proposition that the ANJ approach is not applicable to all cases involving single-income marriages, including the present case. Consequently, the court should consider the division made in other cases with similar facts to decide the appropriate division.

He cited three decisions to support his argument that “whenever the Court of Appeal had the opportunity to exercise the power to divide matrimonial assets between former spouses, it made orders that, more often than not, approach equal division of the matrimonial assets”2 . The first was the decision in BG v BF, which was also cited by Ms Kee, where the court awarded the wife 40% of the matrimonial assets. Secondly, in ET v ES, an unreported decision of the Court of Appeal3, the parties were married for a period of about eight years during which the wife was a homemaker, raising their two children, and the husband was the sole breadwinner. The court awarded the wife 48% of the matrimonial assets. Lastly, in TCN v TCO [2015] SGFC 55, the parties were married for a period of about eight years and have one child. The wife was a homemaker for the first four years of marriage while the husband had worked throughout the marriage. After considering the various contributions of the parties, catering for a lump sum maintenance for the wife and the need of the wife to provide accommodation for the child whom she had care and control of, the court awarded 35% of the...

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