CASE – MATRIMONIAL ASSETS & MAINTENANCE
PKWA Family Law Head Mr Lim Chong Boon discusses what the latest Court of Appeal ruling means for you.
On 3rd March 2017, the Court of Appeal announced a series of decisions in TNL v TNK  SGCA 15 that have substantial implications for divorce in Singapore.
Every family law litigant should be aware of the latest decisions. PKWA Family Law Head Mr Lim Chong Boon discusses what the latest Court of Appeal ruling means for you.
1. The Court of Appeal has ruled that that any spouse that spends (without the other spouse’s approval) substantial sums during the period when divorce proceedings are imminent or before ancillaries are concluded must return that money to the asset pool for division. It would not matter if the spending was a gift or for the benefit of the children. What this means is that any spouse who spends substantial sums will now have to account and return the money for division.
2. The Court of Appeal has limited the ANJ and Chris Twiss approach. The ANJ approach will continue to apply to Dual Income Marriages. It will no longer apply to Single Income Marriages. This is because the ANJ approach tends to unduly favour the working spouse over the non-working spouse. This has huge implications for calculating division of assets.
3. Even when ANJ approach does apply (ie, to Dual Income Marriage cases), step 2 in that approach should not be further broken down into 2 sub-steps such that separate ratios are assigned to indirect financial contributions, on the one hand, and non-financial contributions, on the other.
4. The Court of Appeal confirmed that for long Single-Income Marriages, our courts will lean towards an equal division of the matrimonial assets. Therefore, for long marriages where only one party was working, division is very likely to be equal.
5. The Court of Appeal said different considerations will play when it is a short marriage but declined to go into specifics.
6. The Court of Appeal also repeated that the court’s power to order maintenance is supplementary to its power to order a division of matrimonial assets. So, in this case, where the CA awarded half of assets to the wife, she did not get a hefty maintenance (a multiplier of 3 years was applied instead).
7. The Court of Appeal also encouraged divorced couples to move on to face the future instead of re-fighting old battles. Therefore, spouses would now have to think very hard about appealing if the potential adjustment of the sums awarded works out to less than 10%. The courts will now award costs against the successful party if the adjustment is less than 10% as this does not justify the amount of time, effort and anxiety that went into mounting the appeal. They will also award costs if the arguments are nit-picking.
8. The courts’ philosophy of marriage is that it is an equal partnership. It recognises that a marriage is not a business where, generally, parties receive an economic reward commensurate with their economic input. It is a union in which the husband and wife work together for their common good and the good of their children. Each of them uses (or should use) his or her abilities and efforts for the welfare of the family and contributes whatever he or she is able to. The partners often have unequal abilities whether as parents or as income earners but, as between them, this disparity of roles and talent should not result in unequal rewards where the contributions are made consistently and over a long period of time.
9. The courts will use the ‘broad-brush approach’ in division of assets by highlighting that mutual respect must be accorded for spousal contributions, whether in the economic or homemaking spheres, as both roles are equally fundamental to the well-being of a marital partnership.