How does the Court deal with the division of matrimonial assets in a divorce?
Recently, our team of divorce lawyers led by Deputy Head Dorothy Tan won a significant case at the Court of Appeal for the husband (Twiss, Christopher James Hans v Twiss, Yvonne Prendergast  SGCA 52). This is a landmark case because the Court of Appeal reaffirmed and summarised the new Singapore law on the division of matrimonial assets.
The court uses a 3-step structured approach
This case is important because the Court of Appeal reaffirmed and clarified its recent decision in ANJ vs ANK that, in determining what a fair and equitable division of matrimonial assets is, the court will follow a structured approach consisting of 3 broad steps. These 3 broad steps are:
- Express as a ratio the parties’ direct contributions relative to each other, having regard to the amount of financial contribution each party made towards the acquisition or improvement of the matrimonial assets;
- Express as a second ratio the parties’ indirect contributions relative to each other, having regard to both financial and non-financial contributions; and
- Derive the parties’ overall contributions relative to each other by taking an average of the two ratios above, keeping in mind that, depending on the circumstances of each case, the direct and indirect contributions may not be accorded equal weight, and one of the two ratios may be accorded more significance than the other.
What are matrimonial assets?
The first step in determining how to divide matrimonial assets is to ask: what assets are classified as matrimonial assets?
Under section 112(10) Women’s Charter, matrimonial assets include any other assets of any nature acquired during the marriage but may also include assets acquired before the marriage.
The cash balance in the parties’ respective Central Provident Fund Accounts, the family car, jewellery, shares and savings, all accumulated during the marriage, are considered matrimonial assets and therefore will be divided between the parties to the marriage upon the marriage being dissolved.
After a marriage has been dissolved, the Court would decide how the matrimonial assets are divided between the husband and the wife. Then, the Court has to make an order as to the division between the parties of the matrimonial assets or the sale of any such assets and the division of the proceeds of such a sale in such proportions as the Court considers fair.
How does the Court decide on our share of the matrimonial assets?
The law on the division of matrimonial assets in Singapore is fairly entrenched and established. The Singapore courts have consistently opined that a ‘broad brush’ approach will be used to achieve a “just and equitable” division.
Under section 112(1) Women’s Charter, the court will divide matrimonial assets in a “just and equitable” manner.
Under section 112(2) Women’s Charter, the Court will look at the following factors to help it achieve a “just and equitable” division:
- The extent of the contributions made by each party in money, property or work towards acquiring, improving or maintaining the matrimonial assets;
- The needs of the children of the marriage;
- The extent of the contributions made by each party to the welfare of the family, including looking after the home or caring for the family or any aged or infirm relative or dependent of either party;
- Any agreement between the parties with respect to the ownership and division of the matrimonial assets made in contemplation of divorce.
- The Court is directed to pool all the matrimonial assets together, give appropriate consideration to the above factors, and then decide a just and equitable division of the total value of this pool of matrimonial assets.
Orders the Family Court may make
The Court may make any one or more of the following orders on the division of matrimonial assets:
- an order for the sale of any matrimonial asset or any part thereof and the division of the proceeds;
- an order vesting any matrimonial asset owned by both parties jointly in both the parties in such shares as the Court considers just and equitable;
- an order vesting any matrimonial asset or any part thereof in either party;
- an order for any matrimonial asset or the sale proceeds thereof, to be vested in any person to be held on trust for such period and on such terms as may be specified in the order;
- an order postponing the sale or vesting of any share in any matrimonial asset, or any part of such share, until such future date or until the occurrence of such future event or until the fulfilment of such condition as may be specified in the order;
- an order for the payment of a sum of money by one party to the other.
Consult an experienced divorce lawyer early
Division of matrimonial assets is one of the most complicated areas in divorce law and you should always seek advice from an experienced divorce lawyer. Should you require any assistance in this matter, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.