Family lawyers from PKWA Law, led by Senior Associate Director Ms Dorothy Tan and assisted by Ms Tan Rui Fen, have helped a client (the husband) win a Court of Appeal case on the division of matrimonial assets.
The husband won 75% of S$13.6 million in matrimonial assets, up from 25%. This is arguably one of the highest swings and the most substantial reversals on the division of matrimonial assets on appeal.
The Court of Appeal judges comprising Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash and Justices Belinda Ang and Woo Bih Li released a 60-page decision on 25 February 2020. The apex court had described the case as “complicated”, “challenging”, and “highly unusual”.
The case of TQU v TQT  SGCA 08 is highly complex. The summary case:
- The case was highly contentious. “Although this was a long marriage, the facts relating to the breakdown of the marriage were highly unusual… because of the sheer extent of conflict from 2001 onwards,” the three judges who heard the appeal wrote.
- The wife had filed numerous complaints against her husband with the authorities. This included allegations that he had unlawfully sold medicine and bribed patients, which eventually led to him being charged (and acquitted) in court.
- Between 2001 to 2016, she filed 3 divorce applications against the husband.
- After an interim judgment of divorce was finally issued in 2016, a High Court judge awarded the husband 25 per cent of the matrimonial assets.
- The husband then engaged PKWA Law to take his case to the Court of Appeal. PKWA Law’s team, led by Deputy Head of Family Law Ms Dorothy Tan and assisted by Ms Tan Rui Fen, prepared, drafted and filed the Court of Appeal arguments and paperwork (including the Appellant’s Case, Record of Appeal, Skeletal Arguments and the Bundle of Authorities). The husband appeared at the appeal hearing himself.
- The Court of Appeal, in a 60 page written judgment, overturned the High Court decision and increased the husband’s share to 75%, up from 25%.
- The assets – valued at about S$13.6 million in total – included nearly a dozen properties in Singapore, China and Malaysia and shares in various listed companies.
- Two major points of contention were the source of the funds used to buy the properties and the direct and indirect contributions of the couple. The wife alleged that they were acquired solely with income from a clinic her husband had opened, where she had helped out and that her indirect contributions were substantial.
- “Although this was a long marriage, the facts relating to the breakdown of the marriage were highly unusual… because of the sheer extent of conflict from 2001 onwards,” the three judges who heard the appeal wrote.
- The judges also found a “negative value” in the wife’s indirect contributions due to her misconduct in making the complaints, including the one that resulted in the husband’s criminal trial. “These acts of the wife amounted to harassment and undermined the co-operative partnership that marriage is intended to be,” the three judges said.
- “Courts have long strived to reach a fair outcome on the facts of each case, and the factual matrix of the marriage before us has complicated the matter and made our task more challenging,” wrote Justice Woo Bih Li on behalf of the 3 Court of Appeal judges.
- This case shows that while the courts have consistently “said that marriage is an equal co-operative partnership of efforts, this does not mean that the contributions of both parties in a marriage are always equal. Therefore, the court must have regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the extent of the contributions made by each party towards acquiring matrimonial assets and to the welfare of the family.”
Issues raised by PKWA Law in written submissions to Court of Appeal
The PKWA Law team comprising Ms Dorothy Tan and Ms Tan Rui Fen had raised the following issues in the Appellant’s Case on behalf of the Husband:
- The Judge failed to determine the operative dates for determining and valuing the matrimonial assets. The operative date for determination should be 28 June 2010, the date from which both parties agreed the marriage had broken down. The operative date for valuation should be March 2006, December 2001 or December 2010.
- The Judge erred by including properties that were gifts from his parents or were no longer in existence as matrimonial assets. The Pender Court property in Singapore and the Liang Feng Mansion and the Regalia properties, both in Shanghai, China, were gifts from the Husband’s mother, while the Hai Hong Plaza and Sun Island International Club properties were no longer in existence as of the operative date of determination of the matrimonial assets.
- The Judge erred in his finding on the parties’ direct contributions. The main source of the funds used to acquire the properties was the Husband’s gifts or inheritance from his parents, which are solely attributable to the Husband, not the clinic’s income. Moreover, even if the funds had been from the Clinic, the Husband was the sole owner and resident doctor, and the income should be attributed solely to him.
- The Judge erred in his finding on the parties’ indirect contributions. The Wife was largely absent from the family after 2001, and before that, she had the assistance of helpers and the Husband’s mother. The Husband was largely responsible for the care of the children, and the ratio of indirect contributions should be 90:10 in his favour.
- The Judge failed to consider the Wife’s misconduct as she caused harm to the children and constantly embroiled the family in vexatious legal proceedings.
- The Judge erred in his finding that equal division was appropriate before any adjustment. This was not a long single-income marriage, and the Husband’s contributions far outweighed the Wife’s contributions.
- The Judge erred in drawing an adverse inference against the Husband and awarding the Wife an additional 25% of the matrimonial assets. The Wife also failed to make full disclosure.
- The Husband submits that the Judge should have used the classification methodology. Accordingly, he submits that the value of the foreign properties and the Singapore properties purchased before 2001 should be divided 95:5 in his favour, each party should retain the Singapore properties purchased after 2001 in their own name, and the value of all other assets should be divided 72:28 in his favour.