The divorce process is an exhaustive, straining, and incredibly sensitive matter for all parties involved, especially within a family.

A cause of contention typically addressed by the court is the division of matrimonial assets between the parties.

The three-step approach for this division is as follows:-

  • Identifying the assets to be placed into the pool of matrimonial assets;
  • Proportioning/dividing the pool of assets; and
  • Making the actual division.

Step 1: Identifying the asset to be put into the pool of matrimonial assets

To start the process, we have to understand – what is a matrimonial asset?

The definition of a matrimonial asset can be found under section 112(10) of the Singapore Women’s Charter 1961. It defines a matrimonial asset as:

  • Any asset acquired before the marriage by one party or both parties to the marriage –
  • Ordinarily used or enjoyed by both parties or one or more of their children while the parties are residing together for shelter or transportation or for household, education, recreational, social, or aesthetic purposes; or
  • Has been substantially improved during the marriage by the other party or by both parties to the marriage; and
  • Any other asset of any nature acquired during the marriage by one party or both parties to the marriage.

These types of assets are all liable to division.

What are the exceptions to the above?

Section 112(10) of the Women’s Charter does not include any asset (not being a matrimonial home) that had been acquired by one party at any time by gift or inheritance and that has not been substantially improved during the marriage by the other party or by both parties to the marriage. In addition, it excluded assets acquired after marriage.

Therefore, from the above, we know that if a house was purchased by one party before the marriage, a long as the other party can prove that they had substantially improved the house during the marriage through their efforts or join efforts between the parties, it can be considered a matrimonial asset. However, where contributions are proved to be negligible (‘de minimis’) and unable to constitute as substantial improvement, the property can be treated as not a matrimonial asset and not divisible (Shi Fang v Koh Pee Huat [1996] 1 SLR(R) 906; [2019] SGCA 28).

What are the different types of assets?

A few examples of matrimonial assets are real properties (being that of houses, apartments, etc), money, club memberships, cars, shares, jewellery, business assets and more. In fact, CPF moneys of a member accumulated after marriage can be considered as a matrimonial asset as well. However, the court subjects the division to the CPF Board (Central Provident Fund Board v Lau Eng Mui [1995] 3 SLR 109).

What time period does the Court consider?

Regarding this, the court looks to the operative dates of a marriage. This refers to the active period within the marriage to determine the pool of matrimonial assets. The court generally relies on the date of interim judgement as the starting point to determine the contents of a pool of matrimonial assets (BPC v BPB and another appeal [2019] 1 SLR 608; [2019] SGCA 3, following ARY v ARX [2016] 2 SLR 686). Therefore, any asset gained past that would not be counted into the pool. However, the dates ae still left to the discretion of the court and can change in different circumstances.

Step 2: Proportioning and/or dividing the pool of matrimonial assets

Here, the court determines the proportion that each party receives. The considerations taken by the court when ordering division of the assets are found in section 112(2) of the Women’s Charter:

  • Financial contributions or property or work towards the assets;
  • Debts or other obligations incurred for the benefit of the family;
  • The needs of the children;
  • Non-financial contributions to the welfare of the family;
  • Any agreement between parties (before/after marriage);
  • Any period rent-free occupation;
  • Assistance or support by one party to the other party’s occupation or business (whether or not of a material kind); and
  • The matters referred to in section 114(1) as relevant.

Matters within section 114(1) of the Women’s Charter are as follows: the income and earning capacity of the parties to the marriage, the financial needs which each party of the marriage has, the age of each party and the duration of the marriage, non-financial contributions, and any value of any benefit.

The factors in section 112 are non-exhaustive. For instance, negative contributions and value can be ascribed to a party’s/the parties’ conduct and contributions.

Step 3: Making the actual division of the matrimonial assets

The last step would be to ‘realise’ the proportions and determine how much each party gets. For example, if you were assigned 35% of the assets, what would this actually look like? Here, the court is more concerned with apportioning the value of total assets overall (looking at the big picture) and not in dealing with each individual item.

The possible approaches used for this division include: The Structured Approach, and the revisited structured approach found in TNL v TNK [2017] SGCA 15.

The ‘Structured Approach’

From ANJ v ANK [2015] 4 SLR 1043; [2015] SGCA 43, the structured approach is as follows:

  • Court derives a ratio which represents the parties’ respective direct contributions towards the acquisition or improvement of matrimonial assets;
  • Court derives a second ratio to represent the parties’ indirect financial and non-financial contributions towards the welfare of the family;
  • Court averages the two ratios to derive the parties’ respective overall contributions to the family.

The approach affirms a need to exercise in ‘broad strokes.’ This essentially means that when the parties’ respective direction contribution is being assessed, court makes rough approximations of the figures when having regard to the contributions.

This structure works well and is ideal for Dual-Income marriages (i.e., marriages where both spouses are actively working and are able to make direct as well as indirect financial contributions to the household and family).

The revisited structured approach

In TNL v TNK and another appeal and another matter [2017] 1 SLR 609; [2017] SGCA 15, the Judge recognised that the Structured approach is not as effective in marriages where one spouse is the sole breadwinner and the other typically plays the role of a homemaker due to it being more favourable to the working spouse. Such marriages are referred to as ‘Single-Income Marriages’.

Precedent cases for long Single-Income marriage typically award a 50:50 (i.e., equal) division of the matrimonial assets (as seen in Tan Hwee Lee v Tan Cheng Guan [2012] 4 SLR 785; Lock Yeng Fun v Chua Hock Chye [2007] 3 SLR(R) 520; Yow Mee Lan v Chen Kai Buan [2000] 2 SLR(R) 659). An outlier case was in Yeo Chong Lin v Tay Ang Choo Nancy [2011] 2 SLR 1157 where the ratio was 65: 35 (majority was awarded to the Husband)due to its unique circumstance.

Where you might require more advice and consultancy about your case and the legal procedures, it is ideal to consult a lawyer for guidance and representation. Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu of Amarjit Sidhu Law Corporation has represented numerous clients in a wide variety of matters over the years, from traffic offences to high-profile criminal cases – to family and divorce matters. With a vast knowledge of Singapore’s laws and wealth of experience, Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu will be able to provide valuable and timely advice for your situation. For more information, feel free to contact us for a consultation.

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