HOW DOES THE COURT DEAL WITH DIVISION OF MATRIMONIAL ASSETS IN A DIVORCE?
Division of matrimonial assets – Recently, our team led by Deputy Head Dorothy Tan won a significant and landmark case at the Court of Appeal for the husband (Twiss, Christopher James Hans v Twiss, Yvonne Prendergast  SGCA 52). This is a landmark case because the Court of Appeal reaffirmed and summarised the new Singapore law on division of matrimonial assets.
This case is crucial and significant because the Court of Appeal reaffirmed and clarified its recent decision in ANJ vs ANK that in determining what a fair and equitable division of matrimonial assets is, the court will follow a structured approach consisting of 3 broad steps. These 3 broad steps are:
(a) Express as a ratio the parties’ direct contributions relative to each other, having regard to the amount of financial contribution each party made towards the acquisition or improvement of the matrimonial assets;
(b) Express as a second ratio the parties’ indirect contributions relative to each other, having regard to both financial and non-financial contributions; and
(c) Derive the parties’ overall contributions relative to each other by taking an average of the two ratios above, keeping in mind that, depending on the circumstances of each case, the direct and indirect contributions may not be accorded equal weight and one of the two ratios may be accorded more significance than the other.
What Are Considered Matrimonial Assets?
Under section 112(10) Women’s Charter, matrimonial assets include any other assets of any nature acquired during the marriage, but may also include assets acquired before the marriage.
The cash balance in the parties’ respective Central Provident Fund Accounts, the family car, jewellery, shares and savings, all accumulated during the marriage are considered as matrimonial assets and therefore will be divided between the parties to the marriage upon the marriage being dissolved.
After a marriage has been dissolved, the Court would decide how the matrimonial assets are to be divided between the husband and the wife. The Court has to make an order as to the division between the parties of the matrimonial assets or the sale of any such assets and the division of the proceeds of such a sale in such proportions as the Court considers fair.
In deciding on the division of the matrimonial assets, the Court will take into account various set out in section 112(2) Women’s Charter:
- The extent of the contributions made by each party in money, property or work towards acquiring, improving or maintaining the matrimonial assets;
- The needs of the children of the marriage;
- The extent of the contributions made by each party to the welfare of the family, including looking after the home or caring for the family or any aged or infirm relative or dependant of either party;
- Any agreement between the parties with respect to the ownership and division of the matrimonial assets made in contemplation of divorce.
- The Court is directed to pool all the matrimonial assets together and give appropriate consideration to the above factors and then make a decision on a just and equitable division of the total value of this pool of matrimonial assets.
The Court may make any one or more of the following orders:-
- an order for the sale of any matrimonial asset or any part thereof and for the division of the proceeds;
- an order vesting any matrimonial asset owned by both parties jointly in both the parties in such shares as the Court considers just and equitable;
- an order vesting any matrimonial asset or any part thereof in either party;
- an order for any matrimonial asset or the sale proceeds thereof, to be vested in any person to be held on trust for such period and on such terms as may be specified in the order;
- an order postponing the sale or vesting of any share in any matrimonial asset, or any part of such share, until such future date or until the occurrence of such future event or until the fulfilment of such condition as may be specified in the order;
- an order granting to either party, for such period and on such terms as the court thinks fit, the right personally to occupy the matrimonial home to the exclusion of the other party; and
- an order for the payment of a sum of money by one party to the other.
How Does The Court Decide On Our Shares Of The Matrimonial Assets?
Under section 112(1) Women’s Charter, the court will try to divide matrimonial assets in a “just and equitable” manner.
The law on the division of matrimonial assets in Singapore is fairly entrenched and established. The Singapore courts have consistently opined that a ‘broad brush’ approach will be used in order to achieve a “just and equitable” division.
Under section 112(2) Women’s Charter, the Court will look at the following factors to help it achieve a “just and equitable” division:
- each spouse’s direct financial contributions, such as salary earnings;
- the children’s needs;
- each spouse’s non-financial contributions to the welfare of the family, including looking after the home and caring for the family; and
- any agreement that both of you may have made regarding the division of the matrimonial assets in case of a divorce.
- The length of the marriage.
Dorothy Tan wins important and landmark Court of Appeal decision on the division of matrimonial assets.
Twiss, Christopher James Hans v Twiss, Yvonne Prendergast SGCA 52
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