Beware of the Top 6 ‘Dirty’ Divorce Tricks – by Lim Chong Boon and Dorothy Tan
A divorce can unfortunately bring out the worst in your spouse. He or she may be so aggrieved and resort to underhanded or undesirable conduct. If your spouse is bent on spoiling for a fight, here are the common dirty divorce ‘tricks’ that you should be aware of.
We do not recommend these tricks and some of them are illegal. However, you should be aware of them and get advice on how to protect yourself.
1. Dissipation of assets
Most spouses know they are going to get divorced long before proceedings are commenced. No matter how much or how little wealth and assets they have, it seems to be an instinctive reaction to downplay wealth and hide assets. They do this by putting assets in a relative’s account, or moving monies out, or claiming that they have lost money in bad investments.
However, everyone should be aware that in Singapore, parties have a legal obligation to make full and frank disclosure of their assets and means. If a spouse fails to do so, the court will draw an adverse inference against him/her which is usually far higher than the actually amount of wealth stashed away. As lawyers are first and foremost officers of the court, divorce lawyers have a duty to act honestly and not to participate in such dissipation. At PKWA Law, we insist that the client makes full and frank disclosures, otherwise we will not be able to act.
2. Cessation of maintenance
In cases where one spouse has significantly more financial resources than the other, it is not uncommon for money to be used as leverage. This usually takes the form of cessation of maintenance to cause litigation fatigue, ie. limit the funds available to the other spouse for legal representation.
However, as with everything else on this list, this strategy can possibly backfire. For instance, if the husband stops maintaining the wife even though that was the case throughout the marriage and this forces her to take out an application for maintenance. If the husband chooses to resist the application, not only will he likely be ordered to continue paying maintenance, but possible back-maintenance and costs as well – on top of his legal fees.
3. Cancelling the spouse’s Dependant Pass
Many expatriate spouses are in Singapore with a Dependant Pass (DP) pegged to the other spouse’s work pass (also known as a ‘trailing spouse’). Arguably, the trailing spouse cannot expect to be provided with a DP indefinitely as parties have to be married for the DP to be renewed.
However, a common tactic employed is the early cancellation of the DP before it expires. This will likely throw the trailing spouse off as he/she is forced to relocate almost-immediately. Upon cancellation of the DP, the trailing spouse will only be able to stay in Singapore for 30 to 90 days and he/she is not allowed to work during this period.
The stresses of relocation aside, the most onerous downside of this is that, more often than not, the trailing spouse will have to leave without his/her children. Under Singapore law, a parent cannot take the children out of the country without the consent of the other parent. Doing so will entitle the other parent to make an application for the leaving parent to bring the children back. Usually, the ones who really suffer are the children as they will lose daily contact with the parent who is left behind.
4. Secretly recording evidence and accessing personal information
When a spouse is suspected of having an affair, the other spouse may resort to a variety of surveillance techniques – secret recorders in the home, car, or office, or by hiring a private investigator. A client once told me that her husband bugged her car to log where she was going. She only found out when her car mechanic found the device in her car. Although it appeared to give the husband the satisfaction to catch her red-handed, there was no legal need to obtain this evidence.
The same goes for secretly recording information from a spouse’s computer and later feigning ignorance as to how the information was obtained. Methods include purchasing a piece a software or equipment to download the device’s hard drive, or an IT expert is secretly called in. These are common but almost always illegal methods that, if found out, will do more to harm than help the case as the spouse is left exposed to civil and criminal liabilities.
We do not advise clients to resort to secret recordings or illegal access to computers. It is usually the case anyway that a lot of information will not be useful. Clients are better off (and stay clear of illegal wrongdoing) by obtaining information that is relevant to their case via a court governed discovery process.
5. Divorce by ‘social media’
Some spouses may turn to social media or other public platforms to sling mud at the other spouse. This could be because the other spouse has abandoned the family, committed adultery or neglected to maintain the family. Nevertheless, this usually does nothing more than adds fuel to an already stressful situation.
Such actions can also have negative consequences, as it will reflect badly on that spouse’s case. The court also does not look too kindly on such behaviour where there are children involved, as children should be kept out of their parents’ divorce as much as possible.
Also, proceedings might be dragged out further as applications might be taken out to stop the harassment if it gets out-of-hand.
6. Using children as ‘weapons’ in divorce
How often have we seen one parent turn their children against the other parent? These parents are so hurt that they want to get back through the children. They are determined to punish the other parent by refusing contact with the children or ‘poisoning’ the minds of the children. We have come across cases where one parent calls the other “useless’, ‘ugly,” “good-for-nothing” in front of the children. Or, one parent repeatedly tells the children that the other parent does not love them. Or refuses to let the children see the other parent.
As lawyers, we end up making urgent applications to court to solve the problem. This is unnecessary and costly. The repeated episodes of using the children as weapons often leave a big emotional scar on the parents and the children.
Unfortunately, the real victims are the children. So, however you feel, do not use your children as ‘weapons’ in divorce.
It is better to conduct divorce in a proper and civil manner. The goal of a good divorce lawyer is to encourage settlements, not arguments. While emotions may run high in a divorce, conduct that is unreasonable, illogical or ‘dirty’ will only serve to prolong the litigation and hurt parties’ pockets or worse, adversely affect the children.
About PKWA Law
At PKWA Law, our team of Family Lawyers are consistently named as leading Singapore divorce lawyers by respected independent legal publications such as Asian Legal Business, Singapore Business Review, Global Law Experts and Doyle’s Guide to Singapore Family Lawyers. If you have any questions, please contact us at 6397-6100.