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‘Highly unusual’ marriage breakdown: Apex court grants husband 75% of S$13.6 million in matrimonial assets

SINGAPORE — It was a “long but unusual” marriage of more than two decades, during which a doctor’s wife failed twice in her divorce applications and filed multiple complaints against him.

‘Highly unusual’ marriage breakdown: Apex court grants husband 75% of S$13.6 million in matrimonial assets

A couple married in 1990, the marriage broke down in 2001, and an interim divorce judgement was finally granted in 2016.

SINGAPORE — It was a “long but unusual” marriage of more than two decades, during which a doctor’s wife failed twice in her divorce applications and filed several complaints against him.

One allegation, which she made when their marriage broke down in 2001, resulted in criminal charges against him.

He was eventually acquitted three years later after a trial, with a district judge noting that his wife was “most eager to concoct evidence calculated to cause damage to (him)”.

After an interim judgement of divorce was finally issued in 2016, a High Court judge awarded the husband 25 per cent of the matrimonial assets.

On Tuesday (Feb 25), however, the highest court of the land overturned that decision and increased his share to 75 per cent.

The assets — valued at about S$13.6 million in total — included nearly a dozen properties in Singapore, China and Malaysia, as well as shares in various listed companies.

A major point of contention was the source of the funds used to buy the properties. The wife alleged that they were acquired solely with income from a clinic her husband had opened, where she had helped out.

The couple, who have three children together, were not named in the Court of Appeal’s 60-page written judgement.

“Although this was a long marriage, the facts relating to the breakdown of the marriage were highly unusual… because of the sheer extent of conflict from 2001 onwards,” the three judges who heard the appeal wrote.

A BRIEF TIMELINE

  • 2001: The wife first files for divorce when their children are between three and eight years old.

  • Between 2001 and 2004: She files numerous complaints against her husband with the authorities. This includes allegations that he had unlawfully sold medicine and bribed patients, which eventually led to him being charged in court.

  • February to June 2004: The husband stands trial in a district court over 15 days. His wife accuses him of corruption and other regulatory offences, which contributed to the clinic’s closure, and she testifies as a prosecution witness. The district judge finds her evidence to be “absurd and ludicrous” and completely rejects it, acquitting the husband.

  • 2010: The wife files a second divorce action. In March, two of their children, who had been shuttled between their parents, move back to live with their father.

  • 2015: Her second divorce application is again dismissed. She files a third application less than two weeks later.

  • March 2016: She succeeds in getting an interim judgement of divorce. This means that the court has decided that the marriage should be dissolved; matters such as the division of matrimonial assets and custody of children will then be dealt with before the divorce is finalised.

‘NEGATIVE VALUE’ IN HER INDIRECT CONTRIBUTIONS

In the High Court, the husband had argued that the properties were paid for with money he received from his parents, and were thus not matrimonial assets.

The wife conversely claimed that they were acquired with income from the clinic, which her husband had opened in 1991. It closed down in 2003.

The High Court judge ruled in the wife’s favour and found that the clinic was a “joint matrimonial venture”, then split all of the assets equally between them.

However, the judge also drew an adverse inference against the husband for failing to shed light on the identities and values of the assets, and reduced his share to 25 per cent.

As the couple was unable to tell the court the value of the properties, the judge ordered them to be sold off, with the sales’ proceeds to be divided 75:25 in favour of the wife.

The husband then appealed against the decision.

In their judgement, the apex court — comprising Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash and Justices Belinda Ang and Woo Bih Li — found it necessary to determine the value of the properties, so that the family need not uproot their lives by selling them off.

They then ruled that the husband should get a “far larger share” for the properties that were bought after the clinic closed in 2003.

This was because his wife’s behaviour around that time would have “adversely affected” the clinic’s income.

The judges also found that there was a “negative value” in her indirect contributions due to her misconduct in making the complaints, including the one that resulted in the husband’s criminal trial.

“These acts of the wife amounted to harassment and undermined the co-operative partnership that marriage is intended to be,” the three judges said.

She further admitted to making no direct contributions to the family after March 2010, when two of their children moved back to her husband’s home.

As for the properties acquired when the clinic was operating, the judges found that the husband should get a larger share as well. This was because most of them were likely bought with a combination of clinic income and the husband’s gifts and inheritance from his parents.

While the Court of Appeal ruled that the husband should get 85 per cent of the matrimonial assets, they agreed with the district judge that he had not co-operated with court proceedings by providing more details of the assets or further valuations.

They reduced his share to 75 per cent, or about S$10.25 million, while his wife will get about S$3.4 million. The judges also ordered her to pay him S$20,000 in costs for the appeal.

While she had asked for help from the court to arrange a meeting with her children, the judges said that they were all adults now in their 20s “and can make their own decisions about meeting her”.

The judges added: “While we have said that marriage is an equal cooperative partnership of efforts, this does not mean that the contributions of both parties in a marriage are always equal.

“The court must have regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the extent of the contributions made by each party towards acquiring matrimonial assets and to the welfare of the family.”

Related topics

Divorce money court crime family property clinic

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