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Contribution to family a factor in awarding assets in divorce case

Court says it cannot overlook the fact that the woman took care of the household, even though the children were unhappy with how they were raised.

SINGAPORE: The court cannot overlook a dutiful mother’s contributions to the family simply because her husband and children are unhappy with how she ran the household. Otherwise, children with delinquent tendencies would have the power to convict their parents as bad parents when they were only trying to instil discipline.

A High Court judge made these remarks on Tuesday (June 10) in a divorce case when deciding on the share of matrimonial assets to award to a woman whose daughters had complained of “abusive, irresponsible and unreasonable behaviour”.

the “As far as I could tell, the daughters were unhappy with the way they were brought up, but that is not quite the same as saying that (she) did not take care of the family,” said Judicial Commissioner Lee Kim Shin. “She might not have been the mother her children wished her to be, but that is not the test; it would be dangerous if that were the test.”

The case, for which the grounds of decision were released on Tuesday, involved a dispute in the division of matrimonial assets after Madam Tan Yen Chuan, 59, and Mr Lim Theam Siew, 61, ended their 28-year marriage.

Mdm Tan wanted 70 per cent of the proceeds from the sale of their matrimonial home, a condominium along Pasir Panjang Road valued between S$1.6 million and S$2 million. Although she had paid for only about one-third of the apartment, she argued that she had helped look after their two daughters and that Mr Lim’s assets were actually S$1.5 million more than the amount he had declared.

The former business development manager of a furniture company also wanted S$5,000 per month in maintenance.

However, Mr Lim, who retired in 2012 from a senior position at the National Library Board, proposed that she should receive only 30 per cent of the proceeds because he had paid more for the apartment and would need enough money to buy another property for him and the daughters to live in.

But the judge found that the sum unaccounted for in Mr Lim’s accounts amounted to only a fifth of what Mdm Tan had alleged, or S$320,233. He also reduced her “unreasonably high” maintenance claim to S$2,205 per month, for a period of 14 years.

Mr Lim has appealed against the decision.

In determining the actual sum Mr Lim had under-declared, the judge found that Mdm Tan had double-counted.

He also explained that a 40 per cent share of the matrimonial assets awarded to Mdm Tan was fair, because she had through the years tried, albeit in vain, to salvage her increasingly fractured relationship with her husband.

While he accepted that Mdm Tan was “somewhat paranoid, controlling and possessive”, based on accounts given by her husband and daughters – no details of which were given in the judgment – the judge pointed out that she had tried to build a fruitful relationship with her daughters despite their different personalities.

Nevertheless, the judge said he would have awarded Mdm Tan a higher proportion of the matrimonial assets “if not for the daughters’ and the husband’s portrayal of her as someone who caused tension in the house”.

He added: “There are many different parenting styles and philosophies, and the court – at least, in this type of proceedings – does not sit as an arbiter of what is good parenting and what is not.”

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