Dividing Matrimonial Assets in a Singapore Divorce
How matrimonial assets will be divided in a divorce in Singapore is often a hotly contested issue, given that it can affect one’s standard of living materially afterwards.
In this article, we will explore what matrimonial assets can be divided and the general guidelines courts adopt in coming to a definite percentage ratio for parties. If you want to have a good estimate of how your assets will be divided specifically in your divorce, you may want to seek the advice of a divorce lawyer.
What are Matrimonial Assets?
Under section 112(10) of the Women’s Charter, matrimonial assets include:
- Assets acquired by one or both parties during the marriage
- Assets used by one or both parties or their children for various purposes
- Assets acquired before the marriage but substantially improved in quality during the marriage
Assets that are excluded from the definition of matrimonial assets are:
- Assets received as gifts or inheritance
- Gifts or inheritance that has not been substantially improved during the marriage
Common examples of matrimonial assets include the family car, shares, savings, the cash balance in the couple’s Central Provident Fund accounts, businesses and jewellery.
Another type of matrimonial asset is the matrimonial home, in which the couple and their children live in during the marriage.
The court has also held that lottery winnings (e.g. from 4D or TOTO) obtained during the marriage are also considered matrimonial assets.
Finally, gifts between spouses may be considered matrimonial assets depending on the background behind the giving of the gift. Read our other article for more information on what happens to gifts between spouses when they divorce.
How are Matrimonial Assets Divided?
During the ancillary matters hearings, the court will take into account various factors, listed in section 112(2) of the Women’s Charter, to achieve a fair result whilst dividing contested assets. They are:
1. The extent of financial contributions towards these assets
The court will consider the extent of the contributions made by each party towards obtaining, maintaining and improving the asset.
2. The extent of non-financial contributions towards the welfare of the family
These include looking after the household and caring for any elderly or infirmed family members. The extent which support is given to allow the other party to pursue his/her career is also considered.
3. Debt owed
The court will look into whether the debt was taken for the joint benefit of both parties, for individual benefit, or for the child’s benefit.
4. The needs of the child
In determining the child’s needs, the courts will take into account the party whom care and control over the child has been given.
5. Any agreements on the divisions of assets between the parties
6. The financial independence of each party after divorce
The courts will consider the working abilities and qualifications of both parties.
7. The needs of each party after divorce
Nonetheless, it should be noted that the proportions for the division of matrimonial assets are determined on a case-by-case basis. There is no default position with regard to this issue.
Structured Approach to Deciding Proportions
While the court generally has wide discretion in determining a proportion that would be fair and equitable, there has been a more “structured” approach set out by the courts in the case of ANJ v ANK.
First, the court will ascribe a preliminary ratio to the parties based on the parties’ direct financial contributions to the matrimonial assets. Next, the court will prescribe another ratio based on the parties’ indirect contributions to the family’s well-being.
Using these two percentage ratios, the court will take an average to form the basis of the proportions. Nonetheless, this serves as no more than a guide for the court to reach a just outcome. With such an approach, both financial and non-financial contributions start off on an equal footing, instead of the conventional approach of giving financial contributions more prominence.
In some circumstances, the facts of the case may call for the court to then weigh the financial and non-financial contributions and tilt the average ratio in one party’s favour. The court has given some broad factors which may affect such a balancing exercise:
The length of the marriage
Indirect contributions are generally more prominent in longer marriages. In contrast, indirect contributions are more insignificant in short marriages that do not involve children.
The size of the matrimonial assets
If the accumulated matrimonial assets are of a very large size and were likely accumulated by a sole party, direct contributions would likely be given more weight.
The extent and nature of the indirect contributions
It has been held that not all indirect contributions hold equal leverage. For example, should a household have employed a domestic helper to help with household affairs, the indirect contributions by one or both parties would have been less significant.
The courts also tend to attach more weight where the homemaker has taken great pains to raise the children to adulthood, or has sacrificed significant career advancements to stay home.
With these considerations in mind, further adjustments may then be made. Various other factors listed above, such as the needs of the child, will be taken into account before reaching a final proportion.
It should be highlighted that this structured approach does not mean that the determination of division of matrimonial assets is reduced to a mere arithmetic exercise. This is because there may be unrecorded or dishonest contributions, or conflicting evidence given by the parties. Hence the unique facts and circumstances of each case must be considered. The judge must also exercise sound judgement in assessing the credibility of each party’s documentary evidence.
What If I Suspect My Spouse Didn’t Disclose All of His/Her Assets?
In a divorce hearing on matrimonial assets, both parties have agreed to frank and full disclosure of all known assets they possess. If you have reasonable grounds for suspecting that your spouse did not do so, you may rely on court procedures such as discovery to request for a full disclosure.
You may possibly obtain more information from your spouse during the interrogatory process. Should your spouse be found to have hidden evidence of other assets, the courts may grant you a higher proportion of the matrimonial assets.
Read our other article for more information on what to do if you suspect your spouse is hiding assets from you in a divorce.
Misconduct of a Spouse
Misconduct of a spouse is another factor that can affect the division of matrimonial assets.
For example, in Chan Tin Sun v Fong Quay Sim, the Court of Appeal took into consideration the wife’s misconduct of poisoning the husband in the just and equitable division of matrimonial assets.
In this case, the wife had systematically poisoned her husband by adding arsenic into his food between 2004 and 2005. As a result, the husband was diagnosed with chronic arsenic poisoning and the wife served 1 year in prison for causing hurt by means of poison.
Hence, in determining its ruling, the Court of Appeal gave more weight to the husband’s needs as they largely stemmed from the wife’s misconduct. It also found that the wife’s misconduct of poisoning was one that:
- Makes no contribution to the welfare of the family;
- Undermines the co-operative partnership of the spouses; and
- Harms the welfare of the other spouse.
Based on these reasons, the Court of Appeal ordered that the wife’s share of the matrimonial assets be reduced from 35% to 28%.
Procedure for Division of Assets
After an interim judgment for divorce is granted, the court will fix a date for an Ancillary Matters Pre-Trial Conference (APTC). The APTC is a prelude to hearings on how to divide matrimonial assets, and is conducted by a Deputy Registrar. The APTC is attended in chambers, which means that the hearing is closed to the public.
Following which, if the Registrar deems that there is possibility for an out-of-court settlement, he/she may refer the case for counselling or mediation. If settlement is not possible, the Deputy Registrar will ask both parties to proceed to file an Affidavit of Assets and Means.
If there is no settlement reached, a contested ancillary matters hearings will be held. Ancillary matters such as the division of matrimonial assets are decided here. If the net value of matrimonial assets is less than S$5 million, it will be held in the Family Justice Courts. Any case involving a larger value of assets will be heard in the Family Division of the High Court.
You may wish to engage an experienced divorce lawyer to assist you with the ancillary matters pursuant to a divorce, which includes the division of matrimonial assets.
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