Wong Kam Fong Anne v Ang Ann Liang

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Judgment Date22 December 1992
Date22 December 1992
Docket NumberDivorce Petition No 1257 of 1990

[1992] SGHC 322

High Court

Michael Hwang JC

Divorce Petition No 1257 of 1990

Wong Kam Fong Anne
Ang Ann Liang

Thomas Lei Chee Kong (Chor Pee & Co) for the petitioner

L F Violet Netto (L Pereira & Netto) for the respondent.

Hyman v Hyman [1929] AC 601 (refd)

Minton v Minton [1979] AC 593 (refd)

Neo Heok Kay v Seah Suan Chock [1992] 3 SLR (R) 390; [1993] 1 SLR 230 (refd)

Neo Tai Kim v Foo Stie Wah [1985-1986] SLR (R) 48 (refd)

Ng Kim Seng v Kok Mew Leng [1992] 2 SLR (R) 961; [1992] 2 SLR 872 (refd)

Rimmer v Rimmer [1953] 1 QB 63 (refd)

Tan Thiam Loke v Woon Swee Kheng Christina [1991] 2 SLR (R) 595; [1992] 1 SLR 232 (refd)

Wang Shi Huah Karen v Wong King Cheung Kevin [1992] 2 SLR (R) 172; [1992] 2 SLR 1025 (refd)

Wee Ah Lian v Teo Siak Weng [1992] 1 SLR (R) 347; [1992] 1 SLR 688 (folld)

Women's Charter (Cap 353, 1985Rev Ed)ss 106, 110 (consd);ss 51,113

Family Law–Matrimonial assets–Division–Agreement between parties on disposal of respective assets–Deed intended as comprehensive settlement–Whether court should exercise powers under s 106 of Women's Charter (Cap 353, 1985 Rev Ed)–Intention of parties in entering into agreement–Resulting trust–Presumption of advancement–Whether principle in Hyman v Hymanapplicable to division of assets acquired during marriage–Sections 106 and 110 Women's Charter (Cap 353, 1985 Rev Ed)

The parties were married in 1958 and the wife obtained an uncontested decree nisi on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. On 29 May 1984, they entered into a deed of separation which stated inter alia that the wife was the sole legal and beneficial owner of the matrimonial home and that the husband had no interest in it. The husband applied for an order under s 106 of the Women's Charter (Cap 353, 1985 Rev Ed) (“the Act”) for a share of all matrimonial assets held by the wife. The matrimonial home was purchased in 1966 in the sole name of the wife but both parties claimed to have financed the purchase out of their own funds. The main issue was whether the court should exercise its powers under s 106 of the Act where the parties had made an agreement after they had separated that was intended as comprehensive settlement of their respective assets.

Held, dismissing the husband's application:

(1) With respect to the matrimonial home, the presumption of advancement in favour of the wife applied and prevailed over the resulting trust. It was difficult, on the evidence, to find a common intention at the time of purchase with regard to the ownership of the property. However, the probabilities were that the husband was content to let legal and beneficial ownership vest in the wife. It was significant that the husband chose to put money into the wife's account to pay for the property, rather than make payment himself on her behalf. The deed suggested that both parties recognised the matrimonial home as the wife's property, not only legally but beneficially: at [13], [16], [18] and [19].

(2) A wife could not enter into a binding agreement to waive her rights to claim maintenance. Further, a comprehensive agreement in settlement of all future claims to maintenance was not effective unless and until it was approved by the court under s 110 of the Act. This was based on the public interest in the adequate maintenance of a wife: at [27].

(3) The courts could exercise its powers under s 106 of the Act notwithstanding any terms in the deed. Once the court had decided to do so, there was no room for giving effect to the intention of the parties as such; any agreed division of assets would have to be reconcilable with the principles set out in s 106: at [24] and [31].

(4) Spouses may invite the court not to exercise its powers under s 106 of the Act, as it was not mandatory that those powers must be exercised. The court may therefore decline to do so where a valid reason is given. One valid reason would be that the parties have made a fair settlement in relation to the division of their respective assets: at [31].

(5) The deed was intended as a comprehensive financial and property settlement between the parties and made at a time when the parties had already been separated. Most important, the husband was at that time a man of more than mature age and experience, he spoke English well and appeared willing to sign the deed without persuasion or influence. The deed was meant to close the ledger on the financial union of the parties which at that time subsisted in name only. The onus was, therefore, on the husband to justify why the court should proceed to exercise its powers under s 106 in disregard of the express intention of the parties. The husband's grounds were weak. There was no reason for the court to exercise its powers under s 106 and re-open the spouses' fair settlement in respect of the matrimonial home: at [36], [37] and [42].

(6) The court would not exercise its powers under s 106 in respect of the moneys in the wife's POSB account as the husband had waived his rights to the same under the general release clause in the deed: [49] and [50].

Michael Hwang JC

1 Should a court exercise its powers under s 106 of the Women's Charter (Cap 353) where the parties have made an agreement prior to their divorce relating to disposal of their respective assets? (I deliberately avoid the use of the term “matrimonial assets” for the reasons given by Punch Coomaraswamy J in Neo Heok Kay v Seah Suan Chock [1992] 3 SLR (R) 390 at [16]- [17]).

2 The petitioner (whom I will call “the wife”) obtained an uncontested decree nisiagainst the respondent (whom I will call “the husband”) on the grounds of the husband's unreasonable behaviour. Subsequently, the husband applied for an order under s 106, seeking a share in the matrimonial home at 33 Jedburgh Gardens, Singapore (which I will call “the matrimonial home”). He later amended his application to ask for a share of all other “matrimonial assets” held by the wife.

3 I dismissed the husband's applications and now give my grounds.

The matrimonial home

4 The matrimonial home was purchased in 1966 in the sole name of the wife. The husband alleged that the entire purchase price and the other expenses of the purchase were paid by him. This was disputed by the wife, who claimed that she financed the entire purchase out of her own funds. This was therefore the first issue I had to examine.

5 The evidence of the husband was that he was the sole breadwinner of the marriage since their marriage in 1958. He claimed that, throughout the marriage until his retirement in 1983, he provided for both the wife and their two children. The purchase price was $24,000, and a loan of $10,000 was taken from a building society to help finance the purchase. There were also legal and other incidental expenses amounting to just over $1,000. As the wife never worked after the marriage, he argued that the funds for the purchase had clearly come from him, although paid through the wife. However, he was unable to produce any documentary evidence to prove his contributions because, throughout the marriage, most of his earnings had been given to the wife for the maintenance of the household and to build up their savings for the future. In his last job in 1980, he was earning $1,500 a month, and was provided with an entertainment allowance and a company car.

6 The evidence of the wife was that, prior to her marriage, she had worked as a salesgirl for about six or seven years. She also worked as a part-time seamstress both before and after her marriage. Her last drawn salary as a salesgirl was $130 per month plus commissions and a transport allowance. She also had rental income of $90 a month from a house which she had owned before her marriage. Payments for the matrimonial home had been made from her own current account, into which she had transferred the necessary funds from her savings account. Copies of her current account statements for the relevant period were exhibited to show payments out of the current account, but her savings account records had been destroyed.

7 The husband's account was supported by affidavits from his daughter, who deposed that:

(a) the wife never worked at all after her marriage;

(b) the whole family was maintained by the husband, who left the wife in charge of all financial matters; and

(c) from the housekeeping and maintenance moneys given by the husband, the wife saved a considerable sum of money.

8 There was further evidence from the daughter of her personal knowledge of the substantial funds held by the wife. In a telephone conversation, the wife had in effect admitted to the daughter that the purchase price of the matrimonial home had been provided by the husband, and that the money in her various accounts had been saved over the years from the moneys given to her by the husband. These conversations were not specifically refuted by the wife.

9 I had to discount the so-called direct evidence of the daughter in so far as it related to the purchase of the house because, as she was only six years old at the time the house was purchased, she could not have had personal knowledge of the events of that period. However, on an analysis of the other evidence, I decided, on a balance of probabilities, that the account of the husband was more credible than that of the wife.

10 The wife did not condescend to particulars of how much money she had when she married her husband in 1958. Based on the figures given by her, she could not have saved very much prior to her marriage. While she may have earned some money from part-time work after her marriage, it was difficult to believe that she could have accumulated sufficient funds for the purchase of the house in 1966, even with the assistance of the $10,000 loan. While the documents showed that cheques for a substantial part of the purchase price had been issued from her current account, her bank statements also indicated...

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