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Singapore

Court grants man divorce from wife who was obsessed with pet dogs, refused to look for job

The court found that the marriage had broken down irretrievably.

Court grants man divorce from wife who was obsessed with pet dogs, refused to look for job

File photo of the Family Justice Courts (Photo: CNA/Lydia Lam)

SINGAPORE: A family court has granted a man a divorce from his wife, who displayed "unreasonable behaviour" including treating her pet dogs like children and refusing to look for a job.

According to grounds published on Tuesday (Nov 15), District Judge Michelle Elias Solomon granted an interim judgment in the husband's favour after determining that the marriage had broken down irretrievably.

The man, whose age and name were not revealed in court documents, was married to his wife in November 2008. They had no children, and the man commenced divorce proceedings in July 2020, citing the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

The couple had lived apart continuously for at least four years before that, but the wife said there had been no separation. Both sides were unable to reach an amicable resolution on the grounds of divorce, so the case was heard by the judge in a contested divorce hearing.

The man's case was that the marriage had broken down because of the wife's unreasonable behaviour, and he was no longer able to continue living with her.

He raised five aspects of his wife's behaviour to support his case: Her obsessive behaviour with her pet dogs, her anger management issues and unreasonable demands, her refusal to look for a job and refusal to be financially independent, her compulsive hoarding behaviour and her refusal to change and let her husband move on.

The couple had stopped living together as husband and wife since January 2013, drifting apart because of poor living conditions in the wife's parents' home and her behaviour.

Their quarrels had led to a strained relationship, causing the man to move back to his parents' place, after which he said his wife never visited him.

After this, he said his contact was confined to assisting his wife with getting food and essentials "purely out pity", with his wife treating him as her "ATM".

He said he had done his best to discuss a cordial dissolution of the marriage to no avail, and no longer wished to be "tied down to a loveless union". He said he had given his wife several chances but she had not changed for the better.

He wanted to start his life afresh.

The wife denied that she had behaved unreasonably and said the marriage had not broken down irretrievably. She said they carried on their routine as usual and continued to associate as husband and wife despite living apart.

In support of her case, she said her husband had continued to care for her and their pets. He paid for her expenses and offered to buy her food without prompting or demand from her, she claimed.

The man had produced about 300 pages of text messages with his wife that occurred over about two years before proceedings. 

THE WIFE'S UNREASONABLE BEHAVIOUR OVER THE PET DOGS

Several of the texts were from the wife, demanding that her husband care for the pet dogs, which she referred to as "kids". This was when the couple was already living apart.

In an excerpt, the wife said: "My kids are ill. Please help them on Sunday."

The man replied that he was not free on Sunday, but the woman replied: "I have to see to doggie. Make time for kids on Sunday." 

The man again said he had "no time", but his wife replied: "You will have to make time, the kids need you. I have to see to doggie. He's not doing well."

The man repeatedly tells his wife that he had no time, but she was undeterred and kept texting him instructions on what to do with the dogs.

In another exchange in August 2019, the woman texted her husband: "Doggie needs his injection on Sat will arrange taxi."

He told her that he was not taking the dog as he was not free, but the woman replied: "You will have to take him in for injection." and "Be responsible and bring him in".

Her husband replied: "I said NO and I am not going to repeat myself. You can ask your sisters or nephews or nieces or whoever to help you."

The woman answered: "I have been battling termites and handling kids I am tired please be practical and bring doggie in for his injection".

Despite the man's repeated rejections, the next day the wife continued sending him messages: "Benji is standing at gate waiting for his walk", "Benji has been waiting for you and taxi will be here soon" and "Trust you will be here to take doggie don't let him down".

The man replied: "I said I am not free and yet you insist on making the arrangements. You are so used to bullying me. I say this for one last time. I am not free."

The woman answered: "Doggie needs you. What bully nonsense."

Despite the man's rejections, his wife continued to give him instructions on what to do with the dogs.

Two hours after he said goodbye, she texted him: "Need Pizza hut sweet potato crust Hawaiian + cold drink" and "need food", "I need food", "I need food".

Finally, the man ordered food delivery for her and told her so.

THE JUDGE'S FINDINGS

The judge found that the man had proven that his wife has overly concerned and fixated on the care of the dogs, making unreasonable demands of the man. She would also threaten to kill herself and the dogs if her husband refused to take leave from work to care for the dogs or order food for her.

On one occasion, the woman refused to leave the house for about three months and did not wash her hair during this time because she refused to leave the dogs unsupervised.

"The wife had essentially put her life on hold since 2013 due to her care for the dogs and had unreasonably harassed the husband to help her," said the judge. 

"She had also unreasonably refused to take steps that could have eased the situation and her obsession with the dogs made it unbearable for the husband to continue in the marriage."

She found that the wife's behaviour over the dogs was sufficiently grave for the judge to conclude that the husband could not be reasonably expected to live with her.

The judge also found that the wife would insist her husband pay for her expenses and purchase items for her. If he refused or ignored her, she would harass him with text messages until he gave in.

If the husband refused to buy meals for her, she would starve herself instead of buying her own food and the man would eventually be guilted into buying food for her.

The woman was previously a practising lawyer but refused to return to work and relied on her husband for money.

The judge found that the husband was unable to prove that his wife was a "compulsive hoarder", but found that the wife's housekeeping habits had caused much unhappiness to the husband.

She kept items on their bed that she did not allow her husband to throw away, and this led them to sleep on the floor when they were still living together.

Over time, items piled up throughout the house such that there were only small areas of space to manoeuvre through, the judge noted.

The husband realised that his wife was taking advantage of his kindness and compassion after many years of trying to discuss matters with her.

The man reached his breaking point and contacted lawyers about divorce in 2017, but did not go ahead at that time because of his wife's fragile emotions over the dogs' health.

The dogs were diagnosed terminally ill one after the other in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and the man wanted to give his wife some time to process the loss.

His patience finally wore out due to his wife's refusal to face the reality of their marriage, and he began divorce proceedings in July 2020.

THE JUDGE'S DIFFICULTY WITH THE WIFE'S CASE

The judge said she had difficulty with the wife's case. She had tried to argue that the couple continue to associate as husband and wife despite living apart.

The evidence the wife relied on included the husband's text messages, where he offered to buy food for her, and her passport showing that her husband had indulged her desire to travel.

She also showed veterinarian document records of the pet dogs and cats.

The judge disagreed with the wife that the couple had continued to associate with each other as husband and wife after the man moved out.

"Even according to her own evidence, they had ceased sexual relations sometime in 2015 and she detected a change in the husband's behaviour in late 2018 when he started 'picking fights' with her," said the judge.

She said she disagreed that the husband's procurement of food and essentials was a factor proving their association as husband and wife, finding instead that the husband had done this out of pity.

In her conclusion, the judge said: "A marriage need not be a happy one all the time; it is characterised by the dispositions of the parties to it, who are themselves subject to the ebb and flow of life’s challenges."

"However, when meaningful communication breaks down completely over a prolonged period, it affects the functioning of the marital union. In this case, the evidence overwhelmingly pointed to an unhappy pair that had been unable to live as husband and wife for many years," she said.

She quoted another court decision, which said: "The respondent wants to save the marriage ... But the petitioner’s stand was also clear and the court must not be asked to play the role of trying to put together a marriage that has broken down or try to put a Humpty Dumpty of a marriage together again."

She ordered costs to be fixed at S$8,500, payable by the wife to the husband.

Source: CNA/ll(zl)
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