Beware these dirty divorce tactics

A divorce can, unfortunately, bring out the worst in your spouse. This is because they may be so aggrieved and resort to underhanded or undesirable conduct. If your spouse is bent on spoiling for a fight, here are some common divorce tactics that you should be aware of. These are common issues that arise whether the divorce is in Singapore or elsewhere.

We do not recommend these divorce tactics, and some of them are illegal. However, you should be aware of them and get advice on how to protect yourself. These tactics are used in almost every jurisdiction, and it is always good to be prepared.

The best thing you can do is to identify these dirty tricks and learn how to combat them. Of course, preventing them from occurring in the first place is the best plan but if not, anticipating them and learning how to deal with them when they happen is also important.

 

1. Your spouse is secretly dissipating assets

Most divorces do not happen overnight. So if a couple is already thinking of a divorce, some spouses may try and divest themselves of assets to show they have modest means. No matter how much or how little wealth and assets they have, it is not an uncommon reaction to downplay wealth and hide assets. They do this by putting assets in a relative’s name, moving monies out, or claiming that they have lost money in bad investments.

If your spouse is dissipating assets, you can apply for a court injunction to prevent your spouse from dissipating or withdrawing any asset. The court will require a high burden of proof that your spouse is indeed hiding assets, and such orders are not easy to obtain. Mere suspicion is not enough – you must show that your spouse is dissipating assets to thwart any judgment you may obtain.

The injunction order should mention the institution holding the accounts and the account numbers served on the financial institutions with the court order to freeze the accounts.

If the court is persuaded that there has been dissipation, that property could be ‘added back’ into the parties’ pool of assets and treated as though your spouse has already obtained their share for property settlement. The effect is that your spouse receives less of the remaining assets available for division between the parties.

However, it is tough (and costly) for your lawyer to be able to chase and recover after assets have been dissipated. Most times, it is impossible to recover once the dissipation has taken place.

In Singapore, parties have a legal obligation to disclose their assets and means in Singapore fully. If a spouse fails to do so, the court will draw an adverse inference against them, which may be far higher than the actual amount of wealth stashed away.

 

2. Your spouse has stopped your maintenance

If one spouse has significantly more financial resources than the other, it is not uncommon for money to be used as leverage. This usually takes the form of cessation of maintenance to cause the other spouse to have little or no money for legal representation.

However, as with everything else on this list, this strategy can backfire. For instance, if the husband stops maintaining the wife even though that was the case throughout the marriage, this forces her to take out an application for maintenance. On the other hand, if the husband chooses to resist the application, not only will he likely be ordered to continue paying maintenance, but possible back-maintenance and costs as well – on top of his legal fees.

 

3. Your spouse has cancelled your Dependent Pass

Sometimes, an expatriate may choose to divorce in Singapore. Many expatriate spouses are in Singapore with a Dependant Pass (DP) pegged to the other spouse’s work pass (also known as a ‘trailing spouse’). Arguably, the trailing spouse cannot expect to be provided with a DP indefinitely as parties must be married for the DP to be renewed.

However, a common tactic employed is the early cancellation of the DP before it expires. This will likely throw the trailing spouse off as they are forced to relocate almost immediately. Upon cancellation of the DP, the trailing spouse will only be able to stay in Singapore for 30 to 90 days, and they are not allowed to work during this period.

The stresses of relocation aside, the most onerous downside is that the trailing spouse will have to leave without their children more often than not. Under Singapore law, a parent cannot take the children out of the country without the other parent’s consent. Doing so will entitle the other parent to apply for the leaving parent to bring the children back. Usually, the ones who really suffer are the children as they will lose daily contact with the parent left behind.

 

4. Your spouse is secretly recording evidence and accessing personal information

When a spouse is suspected of having an affair, the other spouse may resort to various surveillance techniques – secret recorders in the home, car, or office or hiring a private investigator. For example, a client once found out her husband bugged her car to log where she was going. Unfortunately, she only found out when her car mechanic found the device in her car. Although it appeared to give the husband the satisfaction to catch her red-handed, there was no legal need to obtain this evidence.

The same goes for secretly recording information from a spouse’s computer and feigning ignorance about obtaining the information. Methods include purchasing software or equipment to download the device’s hard drive, or an IT expert is secretly called in. These are common but almost always illegal methods that, if found out, will do more harm than help the case as the spouse is left exposed to civil and criminal liabilities.

We do not advise clients to resort to secret recordings or illegal access to computers. It is usually the case anyway that a lot of information will not be useful. Clients are better off (and stay clear of illegal wrongdoing) by obtaining information relevant to their case via the compulsory court discovery process.

 

5. Your spouse is using ‘social media to taunt you

Some spouses may turn to social media or other public platforms to sling mud at the other spouse. This could be because the other spouse has abandoned the family, committed adultery or neglected to maintain the family. Nevertheless, this usually does nothing more than add fuel to an already stressful situation.

Such actions can also have negative consequences, as they will reflect badly on that spouse’s case. The court also does not look too kindly on such behaviour involving children, as children should be kept out of their parents’ divorce as much as possible.

Also, proceedings might be dragged out further as applications might be taken out to stop the harassment if it gets out of hand.

 

6. Your spouse is using children as ‘weapons’ in the divorce

We have seen many instances of parents turning their children against each other. These parents are so hurt that they want to get back through the children. They are determined to punish the other parent by refusing contact with the children or ‘poisoning’ the children’s minds. We have come across cases where one parent calls the other “useless’, ‘ugly,” “good-for-nothing” in front of the children. Or, one parent repeatedly tells the children that the other parent does not love them. Or refuses to let the children see the other parent.

As lawyers, we end up making urgent applications to court to solve the problem. This is unnecessary and costly. Moreover, the repeated episodes of using the children as weapons often leave a big emotional scar on the parents and the children.

It is imperative that divorcing parents communicate with the children that both parents love them and that the divorce has nothing to do with the children.

Our philosophy at PKWA Law – and among many responsible family law specialists – is to make the client’s divorce as amicable as possible.

In a divorce, the real victims are the children. So, however you feel, do not use your children as ‘weapons’ in divorce.

 

Conclusion

It is better to conduct divorce properly and civilly. The goal of a good divorce lawyer is to encourage settlements, not arguments. While emotions may run high in a divorce, unreasonable and hostile conduct will only prolong the litigation and hurt parties’ pockets or, worse, adversely affect the children.

Author

Low Jin Liang

Deputy Co-Head, Family & Divorce Practice Group

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