Yow Mee Lan v Chen Kai Buan

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeJudith Prakash J
Judgment Date27 July 2000
Neutral Citation[2000] SGHC 152
Citation[2000] SGHC 152
Subject MatterQuantum of maintenance,Approach to equitable division of assets,Valuation of property,Whether adverse inferences should be drawn against parties,Matrimonial assets,Children,Wife,Maintenance,Division,s 112 Women's Charter (Cap 353, 1997 Rev Ed),Whether maintenance granted fair,Family Law
Defendant CounselSumitri M Menon (Jansen, Menon & Lee)
Date27 July 2000
Published date19 September 2003
Docket NumberDivorce Petition No 3103 of 1998
Plaintiff CounselGoh Aik Chew (Goh Aik Chew & Co)

: This appeal arises from the parties` dissatisfaction with the ancillary orders made by the Family Court in relation to division of matrimonial property. Both want the orders varied: in essence, the wife wants a greater share of the assets and more maintenance while the husband seeks to reduce the proportion of the assets which the wife has been awarded. It is a sad end for a matrimonial partnership which saw the parties become wealthy by dint of their own efforts and abilities. Indeed, had it not been for the breakdown of the marriage, theirs would have been a Singaporean success story worthy of being held up to young couples as an example of what one can achieve by virtue of hard work and the acquisition of technical knowledge.


The husband and wife met in 1970 when both became employees of a company called International Wood Products Ltd (`IWP`). The husband who had passed his `A` levels about a year earlier, joined IWP as a charge hand and was subsequently promoted through the ranks. By the time he left IWP in 1982, he was a production manager earning a salary of about $3,200 per month. The wife also started out as a charge hand but her qualifications were not as good and she was promoted only up to the level of quality control clerk level.

The parties married in December 1973. Their first child, a daughter, was born in January 1975 and the wife ceased work for a time. In August 1976, she resumed employment with IWP as an accounts clerk. She remained there until the birth of the couple`s son in August 1979. For some time thereafter, the wife was a full-time housewife.

In 1982, both parties went to work for a company called Plywood Engineering Consultants Pte Ltd. This company was also in the timber industry. The husband worked there for about two years. The wife maintained that he was a director of the company but the husband`s recall was that he was essentially an employee earning $3,500 per month plus commission. The wife`s work was administrative. She stated that she handled all the company`s administration matters but the husband thought she had been only a clerk.

While employed by Plywood Engineering, the husband travelled extensively in Indonesia and built up contacts there. When Plywood Engineering ceased operation sometime in 1985 due to the economic recession then prevailing, the husband decided to start his own business, Plymat Engineering Consultants (`Plymat`). The business was registered as a sole proprietorship with the husband being the proprietor. The wife`s contention throughout the proceedings, which the husband steadfastly denied, was that she was an undisclosed and equal partner in Plymat. It was undisputed, however, that from the time it was founded up to May 1996, the wife worked in Plymat and was in charge of its administration.

The business of Plymat was to sell spare parts and materials for the timber industry. In addition, the husband undertook management consultancy work to several companies in Indonesia. He advised his Indonesian clients on the plywood manufacturing and management process from the initial stage of processing the raw material right up to the end stage of exporting the end product. The wife`s position was that all services rendered by the husband were provided as part of Plymat`s business and that she had a share in all Plymat`s income from these services.

The husband admitted that he had used the name Plymat in connection with some aspects of the consultancy business since it was necessary to give people business cards and it was necessary to have an organisation for signing contracts. Notwithstanding that, he averred that Plymat was essentially a separate business and the wife had never had anything to do with it. Except for very minor matters, whatever he needed to do for the Indonesian consultancy business, was done with the assistance of Indonesian employees of Indonesian organisations with whom he had made arrangements in Indonesia.

After Plymat was established, the parties did extremely well financially. Plymat seems to have been a profitable business from the start even if only its trading transactions are considered. As for the consultancy business, that proved to be a money-spinner. By 1989, the husband, in order to avoid paying tax on earnings for work done outside Singapore, had taken the advice of his book-keeper and directed the Indonesian clients to send the consultancy fees to bank accounts in Hong Kong. These accounts were opened in the joint names of the husband and wife and it was the wife who was responsible for writing some of the letters directing the clients on payment procedures.

In the meantime, the parties` third child, another daughter, had been born. The wife appears to have been the main caregiver for the children as the husband travelled extensively in order to provide his consultancy services to the Indonesian clients. The wife remained in Singapore running the home and the Plymat office.

This successful edifice started to crumble in 1993 when the wife found out that the husband not only had a mistress but also two children by her. This second family lived in Johor and the husband also maintained a joint bank account there with his mistress. The marriage limped along for some time but in August or September 1994 according to the wife there was a big quarrel between the parties over the husband`s failure to keep an earlier promise to break up with his mistress. The wife became convinced that he would not give up the other woman and in October 1994, she withdrew an aggregate amount of HK$9,683,827.96 (about S$1.8m) from two of the Hong Kong accounts and put them in accounts in her own name. It is established that she made these withdrawals without the husband`s prior knowledge and consent but she averred that when she informed him later of what she had done, the husband raised no objection to her actions. The husband, on the other hand, stated that he had been very angry and had asked the wife to add his name to the bank account that now held the moneys. She did not do so.

The next crisis in the marriage related to a flat purchased in 1994 in the joint names of the parties. This was located at a development called Astor Green. The husband paid the downpayment, all expenses in connection with the purchase, all outgoings and all repayments due on the mortgage loan. Although the wife made no financial contribution to the acquisition, she was included as a joint owner. The husband explained that he did this to give the wife and the children some security and because he wanted the family to move there.

Subsequently, when the wife proved unwilling to move into the Astor Green flat, the husband decided to sell it. He found a buyer willing to pay $1.05m for the flat but as the parties` relationship was bad at the time, the wife refused to co-operate in the sale. In March 1996, the husband forged her name on the option to purchase the flat thinking that the wife might change her mind about the sale. This the wife refused to do and the sale had to be aborted. The flat was subsequently sold at a much lower price pursuant to a court order obtained by the husband. In the meantime, the wife had made a police complaint against the husband and charges were brought against him. In July 1998, the husband pleaded guilty to a charge of simple forgery and was fined.

In May 1996, the wife ceased to work at Plymat. The circumstances in which she left caused her aggravation. She said it was because the husband had decided to reduce her position to that of a part-time clerk earning only $600 a month and had left a notice to that effect in the office for all to see. The husband complained the wife had been offered the part-time position because he needed to reduce Plymat`s overheads since its income had fallen and that she had not been willing to work on that basis. He did not dispute the wife`s account of how he had notified her of the new position.

In mid-1996, the husband instructed solicitors in Hong Kong to look into recovering the moneys that the wife had removed from the Hong Kong accounts. He commenced legal proceedings against the wife in Hong Kong in October 1996 and was able to recover HK$2,741,779.14 by garnishee action in those proceedings. In July 1998, he began an action in this court in Suit 1180/98 against the wife for the recovery of the balance of those moneys. That same month, he moved out of the matrimonial home.

For the wife, the husband`s action against her in Singapore was the last straw. In August 1998, she commenced these divorce proceedings against the husband on the grounds of adultery and unreasonable behaviour. The decree nisi was granted in June 1999. The husband`s suit to recover the Hong Kong money was discontinued (with liberty to restore) pending the outcome of the ancillary matters herein.

Decision at first instance on the ancillary matters


The parties` success in business was reflected in the number of assets that the District Judge had to consider for division between them. These assets can be listed briefly as follows:

(1) the matrimonial home, a flat at Pandan Gardens which is held in the joint names of the parties;

(2) an office unit at the building called The Plaza in Beach Road, also held jointly by the parties;

(3) moneys in Singapore bank accounts;

(4) the husband`s Singapore listed shares;

(5) the husband`s Singapore car;

(6) three houses in Johor Bahru, owned solely by the husband;

(7) moneys in the husband`s foreign bank accounts in Johor and Hong Kong;

(8) moneys withdrawn by the wife from the Hong Kong bank accounts;

(9) Plymat;

(10) CPF savings of both parties;

(11) club memberships;

(12) proceeds of sale of the flat in Astor Green and a refund from the cancelled purchase of a property in Malaysia that had been bought in joint names;

(13) moneys in the wife`s bank accounts.

In coming to her decision, the District Judge made findings on various areas of dispute...

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