WEK v WEL and other matters

CourtFamily Court (Singapore)
JudgePatrick Tay Wei Sheng
Judgment Date13 June 2022
Neutral Citation[2022] SGFC 52
Citation[2022] SGFC 52
Docket NumberMSS No 589 and 1037 of 2021
Hearing Date17 September 2021,20 October 2021,25 February 2022
Plaintiff CounselKulvinder Kaur (I.R.B. Law LLP)
Defendant CounselJeyabalen (Jeyabalen & Partners)
Subject MatterFamily Law,Orders of maintenance,Maintenance of wife,Maintenance of child
Published date17 June 2022
Magistrate Patrick Tay Wei Sheng:

The parties are husband and wife. The wife applies against the husband for maintenance for herself (vide MSS No 589 of 2021) and their 7-year-old child (vide MSS No 1037 of 2021) pending the determination of their divorce proceedings.1 I ordered the husband to maintain the wife and the child in the monthly sums of $1,315 and $1,184 respectively. I backdated the awards of maintenance to the date of the applications in the full quantum of these monthly sums for the wife and in half the quantum of these monthly sums for the child.

Both parties have filed appeals against these decisions. The husband challenges both the awards of spousal maintenance and child maintenance. The wife challenges only the award of child maintenance.

These applications were filed as maintenance summonses under s 69 of the Women’s Charter 1961 (2020 Rev Ed) (the “Charter”), which empowers the court to order a husband to maintain a wife and their children. In assessing such applications, the court will consider all the circumstances of the case, including the following factors (see s 69(4) of the Charter): 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 before her husband neglected or refused to provide reasonable maintenance for her or by the child before a parent neglected or refused to provide reasonable maintenance for the child; in the case of a child, the manner in which the child was being, and in which the parties to the marriage expected the child 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.

It is undisputed that the relief sought in these maintenance applications is interim in nature, pending the determination of the ongoing divorce proceedings between the parties. As the Court of Appeal observed in AXM v AXO [2014] 2 SLR 705 (“AXM”) at [16], such interim maintenance is designed to “tide the wife over whilst the divorce and/or ancillary proceedings are in progress”. Interim maintenance is assessed on a “necessary as well as practical” basis (AXM at [16]), with a full investigation of the financial positions of the parties left for their divorce proceedings. Interim awards are calculated on a “conservative basis” and are typically “modest” (UEC v UEB [2017] SGFC 92 (“UEC”) at [10]; VVQ v VVR [2021] SGFC 97 (“VVQ”) at [21]).

Accordingly, the primary considerations at this interim juncture are the “immediate financial needs” or the “household and living expenses” of the wife and the child (UEC at [10]; VVQ at [21]). A sum of maintenance that meets these needs and expenses would tide them through the pending divorce proceedings between the parties.

Financial resources of parties

I begin with the incomes and financial resources of the parties.

I find that the husband has an income of at least $16,500 per month (including Central Provident Fund contributions). His latest salary documents reflect a take-home salary (after deducting Central Provident Fund contributions) of $16,171. The wife submits that he has an income of over $30,000 per month based on his income tax assessment for 2021 that records an income of $382,988 in 2020. But the husband explains that this figure includes a one-off bonus paid in 2020 and that he did not receive a bonus in 2021. The husband adds that his monthly earnings total less than $200,000 per year. These explanations were not shaken in cross-examination, and I accept them.

I find that the wife has no income and limited financial resources. It is undisputed that she is currently unemployed, even if she had held a temporary employment from April to September 2021 at a remuneration of $2,393 per month. For most of the nine years that the parties have been married, the wife was a housewife who cared for the child and upkept the household while the husband was the sole breadwinner of the family. The wife also suffers from cancer and has received medical advice that she requires periodic treatment including radiation therapy and will not be able to return to work for the foreseeable future. There is also limited if any evidence before me on any financial resources available to the wife. At least until the conclusion of the divorce proceedings between the parties, the wife is unlikely to have access to income or financial resources of significance.

Spousal maintenance

The claims of the wife as to her monthly maintenance evolved over the proceedings. In her affidavit of evidence-in-chief, she put forward monthly expenses of $9,082 and initially claimed $5,626 of these in monthly maintenance. During her oral examination-in-chief, she reduced her claim to $4,986 after dropping her claim for a $678 expense on the domestic helper. During her cross-examination, she reduced her claim further to $2,984. Finally, in her closing submissions, she claims monthly maintenance of only $2,457.

The husband submits that these fluctuations cast doubt on the credibility of the wife and suggest that her application for spousal maintenance is a “money grabbing exercise”. I agree that the wife could have been more forthcoming in her approach to her application for spousal maintenance. But the evidence ultimately shows that the wife is unlikely to have access to income or financial resources of significance for the near future. Further, the items of expenses that go into the monthly figure of $2,457 that she now claims are objectively reasonable and unextraordinary at least in type, even if not always in quantum. In the words of the Family Court in UEC and VVQ, these types of expenses go to the “immediate financial needs” or “household and living expenses” of the wife.

I set out the items of monthly expenses that the wife claims to incur and my decisions on them.

Item Claim ($) Decision ($)
Home insurance 54 5
Utilities and internet 503 300
Food and groceries 250 250
Eating out 239 239
Medical expenses 200 200
Transport 301 150
Clothes, grooming, toiletries 400 50
Personal insurance 22 22
Miscellaneous 488 50
Total 2,457 1,266
Home insurance

The wife claims that she spends $53.50 on this item. But her evidence on this item was not consistent. She stated variously that the $53.50 had been a one-off payment and that the $53.50 had been paid in twelve equal instalments. The husband submits that there is no documentary evidence provided by the wife to bear this claim out. But it is undisputed that the home insurance was paid in the sum of $53.50 and that the husband did not pay this sum. I thus assess the monthly expenses of the wife on this item at $5 (rounded up to the nearest dollar). In my oral judgment, I had mistakenly used a figure of $53.50 monthly. The figure should be $5 monthly.

Utilities and internet

The wife claims that she spends a total of $503 on this item. She bases this sum on her bills in March and April 2021 for utilities, telecommunications, and internet services. The husband offers no evidence or arguments on this item. In my view, $503 monthly on this item is objectively high given that the only persons in the residence are the wife, the child, her son from a previous marriage, and the domestic helper. I assess the monthly expenses of the wife on this item at $300.

Food and groceries

The wife claims that she spends $250 on this item, as set out in her closing submissions. She had initially claimed to have spent $995 on this item, which figure the husband argues is unsupported by any documentary evidence, “inflated and just plucked from the air”. I agree with the husband about the $995 figure but find the $250 figure to be reasonable and broadly borne out in the receipts exhibited by the wife. The husband acknowledges that “it is not disputed that the [wife] would have incurred this expense”, ie, food and groceries, even as he disputes the quantum of $995 initially put forward by the wife. I assess the monthly expenses of the wife on this item at $250.

Eating out

The wife claims that she spends $239 on this item. The husband submits that the wife has offered no documents to support such a figure. The husband adds, by way of an example, that even as the wife had spent $1,235 on this item in March 2021, that figure does not represent her expenses on eating out for two reasons. First, that figure includes her expenses on eating out for the whole family (and not just the wife). Second, that figure includes her expenses on eating out with her friends, who would have reimbursed her for their shares of the meals. In my view, the recurring and informal nature of expenses on eating out, makes it unrealistic to expect each dollar claimed to be supported by detailed documentary evidence. Further, the $239 is approximately a fifth of the $1,235 that the wife ostensibly spent on eating out with her family and her friends. It is a fair reflection of her share of those expenses. I assess the monthly expenses of the wife on this item at $239.

Medical expenses

The wife claims that she spends $200 on this item, which comprises the costs of oral medication and radiation therapy sessions. The husband submits that the wife has been unable to give a breakdown of this $200 sum and suggests that it is not credible because the wife had initially claimed $2,000 for...

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