VJL v VGM

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeTan Shin Yi
Judgment Date19 June 2020
Neutral Citation[2020] SGFC 59
CourtFamily Court (Singapore)
Hearing Date19 June 2020,19 May 2020
Docket NumberFC/D 3091/2018
Plaintiff CounselSusan Tay, Isabel Chew-Lau and Emelia Kwa (OTP Law Corporation))
Defendant CounselKanya Kumari, Leonard Loh and Michael Chan (Tan Kok Quan Partnership)
Subject MatterFamily law,Matrimonial assets,Division,Maintenance - Family law,Relocation,Custody,Care and control,Pre-marital assets
Published date03 July 2020
District Judge Tan Shin Yi: BACKGROUND

The majority of divorce proceedings in Singapore are uncontested. Nevertheless, a minority of contested cases are extremely acrimonious and take up a large part of the Court’s time and resources. This was one such case.

The parties in the proceedings were married on 3 November 2012 in the United States of America. At the time, the Plaintiff husband (referred to as “the Father”), a British citizen, was living and working in Singapore. The Defendant wife (referred to as “the Mother”), an American citizen, was living and working in the US. The Mother subsequently moved to Singapore to join the Father sometime in August 2013, and started working in Singapore. The Mother underwent In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatments and eventually became pregnant with their child, a boy, who was born in March 2017 (referred to as “N”). N is an American citizen and, at the time of hearing, is 3 years old.

Sometime in late 2017, the Mother discovered that the Father had engaged in a string of sustained sexual encounters, with both men and women, throughout the marriage. Despite this, the parties attempted to reconcile and the Mother went through two further unsuccessful IVF treatments. The marriage eventually broke down irretrievably and the Father moved out of their shared home in May 2018. He also commenced divorce proceedings against the Mother on 5 July 2018. The Mother filed her Counterclaim for divorce on 15 August 2018.

On 7 August 2018, the Mother filed a Summons application for care and control of N, as well as for leave to relocate N to the US. On 21 September 2018, the Father filed a cross-application for care and control of N. Thereafter, the Father also filed an application against the Mother under the Protection from Harassment Act (“POHA”), and the Mother applied for a Personal Protection Order (“PPO”) against the Father. During the proceedings, the Mother also filed several Summons applications for permission to take various overseas trips with N.

The case was docketed to me in late 2018 and the parties were strongly encouraged to resolve their issues for the sake of their young child. After the parties completed compulsory counselling and mediation at the Child Focused Resolution Centre (“CFRC”) and no resolution was reached, they attended private mediation before Ms Angelina Hing on 2 occasions in February and March 2019. Pursuant to the private mediation, the parties managed to reach a partial agreement regarding interim arrangements for N. This led to the withdrawal of the parties’ respective applications for an order under the POHA and for a PPO. In February, the parties also agreed that the Mother would hold off her relocation plans with N for 2 years, provided that she continued to remain employed in Singapore.

On 12 April 2019, a consent order was recorded wherein N would reside with the Mother in the interim and the Father would have access to N 3 times a week (with no overnight access), pending further order. The order also provided for the Father to continue paying for certain expenses for the Mother and N, including interim maintenance of $3,400 per month, the monthly rental for the River Valley apartment where N and the Mother reside, the utilities and services for the said apartment, and N’s school fees.

Unfortunately, the Mother was made redundant and was terminated from her job. Given the change in the Mother’s employment status, she resurrected her application for leave to relocate to the US with N. The Mother’s application for leave to relocate with N and for the Father to pay maintenance for both herself and N was filed on 3 May 2019 (SUM No. 1496/2019). The Father responded by filing an application to strike out or stay the Mother’s application for relocation (SUM No. 1807/2019), on the basis that there was “no urgency” for any relocation and that the Mother’s application was taken out “in bad faith” in an attempt to block access between the Father and N.

The parties eventually agreed that the divorce would proceed uncontested and on 29 April 2019, the Interim Judgment was granted based on the Mother’s Counterclaim. Both parties then filed their Affidavits of Assets and Means in June 2019 for the ancillary matters. Sometime in June 2019, the Father also lost his job in Singapore and became unemployed. In December 2019, the Father obtained a 3-month contract job with a consultancy firm. This was followed by a permanent job with an American bank in Singapore, which commenced sometime in December 2019. At the time of hearing, the Mother is still unemployed although she had previously been in talks with some potential employers located in the US.

THE APPOINTMENT OF AN EXPERT PSYCHOLOGIST

The child-related issues, the Mother’s application for leave to relocate (SUM No. 1496/2019) and the Father’s application to strike out or stay the Mother’s application (SUM No. 1807/2019) were first heard by me on 3 October 2019. On 28 February 2020, as the issue of relocation was already being heard with the ancillary matters, I made no orders on the Father’s application to strike out or stay the Mother’s application (SUM No. 1807/2019) and adjourned the issue of costs to the hearing of the Mother’s application and the ancillary matters.

At the hearing on 3 October 2019, both parties advanced arguments regarding the other party’s alleged mental and emotional condition. The Father claimed that the Mother was abusive and violent, and the Mother claimed that the Father was a sex addict and a sexual deviant. Both alleged that the other’s “condition” would have a negative impact on the child and the child would be placed at risk; and sought that the other party be examined by a psychologist.

The Father even saw a clinical psychologist, one Dr A. Ng, and obtained a report from her, dated 10 April 2018, which stated that the Mother “appears to suffer from emotional dysregulation, where there is marked emotional reactivity to triggers”1 and suggested that the Mother undergo a psychological assessment, even though the psychologist had never met nor examined the Mother. The Father informed the Court that he was willing to submit himself for assessment by a medical professional to prove that he was not a sexual deviant, as alleged by the Mother.

I ordered an expert report to be prepared by a psychologist, to be agreed/nominated by both parties, on the specific issue of whether the Father’s sexual habits/lifestyle would affect his ability to be N’s caregiver and whether it would have any adverse effect on N in the time spent with the Father. The evidence submitted on the Father’s preferred sexual lifestyle was graphic and voluminous, spanning the period 2013-2017, and included evidence of what the Mother considered to be “sexually deviant” behaviour including “fisting”, “anal sex”, bisexual sex and “voyeurism sex” which suggested a compulsive sexual addiction. Although the Father is a grown adult who is free to make his own choices, I was concerned about the negative impact of his lifestyle on N, should N be in the care of the Father.

I did not order that the Mother be examined by a psychologist as I was of the view that the allegations regarding the Mother did not indicate any threat or danger to N. There was also no allegation that the Mother had ever been violent or abusive towards N. I was satisfied that the Mother’s behaviour was situational and caused by the Mother’s emotional state upon discovery of the Father’s various sexual liaisons over a sustained and extended period of time, the hormonal imbalances caused by the IVF procedures and her father’s deterioration in health and subsequent death. I was also satisfied that the Mother’s conduct was not indicative of any serious mental condition or disorder which may impact N. Further, most of the Father’s complaints regarding incidents of violence by the Mother towards him began only after the discovery of his infidelities and lasted until he moved out of their home some 8 months later. This suggested that the Mother’s “violent” reactions towards the Father were a result of the extreme emotional stresses she was under.

The Father also sought overnight access to N in the interim, and I ordered that the Father have overnight access to N once a week for 4 weeks starting 7 October 2019, with certain measures in place, for example: (i) that the Father was to be with N at all times; and (ii) no third party was to be present during the access. At the Mother’s request, the Father also agreed to purchase a web camera, to be placed in the room where N slept, and the Mother was given access to the web feed.

Subsequently, as the parties could not agree on the psychologist to be appointed and the terms of reference, they wrote in to Court and I convened a case conference on 30 October 2019. I appointed a psychologist chosen from the parties’ seven nominations, Dr M. Woo (“Dr Woo”). Dr Woo’s curriculum vitae showed that he had over 19 years’ professional experience and he specialised in treating addictions. He also had experience testifying in court as an expert witness.

On 21 November 2019, I heard the parties on the Father’s request for continued overnight access to N. The Mother objected to any further overnight access, pending the submission of Dr Woo’s report. I ordered that pending the submission of the report, the Father was to continue to have overnight access once a week and day access twice a week. I also ordered the Mother to select and make an appointment with a psychologist or counsellor who specialised in co-parenting issues. The Mother eventually saw Ms J. Koh, a counsellor from REACH Community Services, for one session.

The psychologist’s report dated 11 February 2020

Dr Woo’s report was furnished to the Court and to parties on 11 February 2020. The report indicated that the Father’s assessment suggested a “schizoid and turbulent”2 personality style, and that...

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