Variation of Maintenance Orders in Singapore
What Happens if You Want to Vary the Amount of Maintenance Ordered?
Your ex-spouse may have been ordered by the Judge to pay you and/or your children maintenance at the ancillary matters proceedings. What happens if you or your children now require a larger maintenance? Conversely, you may have been ordered to pay maintenance for your ex-spouse and/or children. What can you do if you are now unable to pay the amount ordered by the judge?
Apply to the Court to Vary the Amount of Maintenance Ordered
Both you and your ex-spouse, whether you are the paying or the receiving party, may at any time apply to the court to vary the maintenance sum under Section 118 of the Women’s Charter. Additionally, if your children have been ordered to receive maintenance, they may also apply in their own capacity.
Before applying to the court, you must first consider this very basic question – is there an existing maintenance order? The court can only order your ex-spouse to give you more after the divorce if he or she had been ordered to give you at least $1 in monthly maintenance. If there was no order for maintenance given, you no longer have the right to seek maintenance post-divorce.
Procedure and Required Documents
An application should be made by summons with supporting affidavit filed in the original suit under which the order was made. The supporting affidavit should indicate why you are seeking to vary the maintenance order (e.g. you have lost your job). You should also include evidence to support your reason (e.g. letter of termination of employment, pay slips, expenses).
When will the Court Grant a Variation of the Maintenance Sum?
After you have made your application, how does the court come to a decision? The Court will vary the maintenance order if:
- the maintenance order was based on a misrepresentation or mistake of fact; or
- there has been a material change in circumstances;
When it comes to a variation of maintenance for the child, the court is less restrictive and may do so if:
- there is a change in circumstances;
- there is a good cause; or
- it is reasonable and for the welfare of the child to do so.
The amount of maintenance can be varied by the court even if the amount was previously agreed upon by the parties or was granted by the court pursuant to a consent order.
The principles guiding a court in deciding whether to vary the maintenance order is essentially the same as when the court decides on a new maintenance application. The court has a wide discretion to take into account all the circumstances of the case, and consider the reasonableness of the claims. The only difference is the court will now look at your new circumstances, and compare it with what your circumstances were when the original maintenance order was made.
Material Change in Circumstances
Most applications for a variation of maintenance will be based on the ground that there has been a material change in circumstances since the maintenance order was made. Generally, this refers to a material change in the Husband or Wife’s financial ability, or a material change in the needs of the recipient ex-spouse or children.
What then is a material change in circumstances? The courts have increased the amount of maintenance in the following cases:
- The Husband, who was unemployed when the original maintenance order was made, subsequently found employment;
- Wife lost her job, and thus her ability to meet her and her children’s expenses.
Conversely, the courts have ordered a decrease in the quantum of maintenance in the following situations:
- The Husband lost his job;
- Failure of Husband’s business;
- Husband became bankrupt;
- Wife’s cost of living decreased after she relocated;
- The Wife inherited a sum of money;
- The Husband remarries and takes on additional responsibilities to his new family;
- Wife commences co-habitation with boyfriend, who pays for expenses of the household which the Wife was previously responsible for.
Material Change Cannot be Self-Inflicted
Parties cannot, however, rely on a material adverse change which is self-inflicted. An ex-spouse cannot be allowed to purposely reduce his own income or financial health to escape his obligation to pay maintenance. Similarly, the beneficiary of the maintenance order cannot be allowed to rely on his or her own lavish spending to apply for an upward variation. An example of this is where an ex-wife goes into financial difficulties due to spending on lawyers beyond her means for the divorce proceedings.
If you require legal advice for your maintenance claim, you may want to use our Find a Lawyer service to get quotations from multiple lawyers.
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