20 July 2018
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Woman drops claim on third party's share of home in divorce

Straits Times
04 Jul 2018
K.C. Vijayan

In the first reported case of its nature after a recent landmark Court of Appeal ruling, a woman opted not to fight to have her brother-in-law's share of her matrimonial home be included in the pool of assets to be split between her and her former husband.

Her decision comes in the wake of a ruling by a five-judge Court of Appeal in April that claims made by a third party on property involved in divorce proceedings could not be heard by the Family Justice Court and had to be decided by the High Court.

The $4.8 million house in Changi, which was the retiree couple's home in a marriage lasting nearly 29 years, was held by them both with 10 per cent owned by the husband's brother.

The woman had initially insisted the couple had beneficial ownership of his share and it should be included in the matrimonial assets.

But her brother-in-law indicated he wanted his 10 per cent rights from any sale of the house. The contest would mean the claim would have to be referred to the High Court to be resolved there first and the Family Court hearing on the division of matrimonial assets deferred until that was settled.

The top court's ruling found that under the Women's Charter - the law that provides for marriage and divorce - a Family Justice Court has power only to divide assets in the specific context of matrimonial proceedings involving the two spouses.

A separate civil suit has to be started to determine the ownership of a disputed property before proceedings to divide matrimonial assets can continue before the Family Justice Court.

The woman notified the Family Court last month to drop the 10 per cent claim, enabling the case to be moved ahead instead of being stayed until the 10 per cent issue was settled.

"Following the Court of Appeal decision... these proceedings concerning the division of matrimonial property can thus continue, and only the parties' 90 per cent share held in their names would be included in the pool of matrimonial assets," wrote Justice Debbie Ong in decision grounds last week.

It is understood there could be more such cases where the affected spouse may forgo claiming disputed properties that have third-party interests.

In a separate pending divorce case, a woman, represented by Salem Ibrahim LLC, decided not to commence a civil suit to pursue her claim for a share of the $6 million matrimonial home, which is in the name of a third party.

"In a very long marriage, documentary proof can often be deficient. That lacking may not pass the rigours of a High Court civil suit where strict property rights are applied in contrast to the rough and ready reckoning norm in the Family Court," said Mr Salem.

In the case involving the $4.8 million house in Changi, Justice Ong ordered the assets of the couple worth some $21.3 million, which included several properties, to be divided on a 50:50 basis, after considering their direct and indirect contributions to the family of four during their marriage.

The judge noted their split was both bitter and acrimonious and both even fought over ownership of the marriage certificate, which was in the husband's possession.

The wife, represented by lawyer Foo Soon Yien, argued it was a matrimonial asset and sought for it to be awarded to her, claiming it would help her recover from the trauma of a failed marriage if she had it. She had undergone psychiatric treatment for post traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

The husband, defended by lawyer See Chern Yang, objected, alleging she wanted the certificate in order to destroy it, which she denied.

Justice Ong ruled the certificate was not a matrimonial asset and made no order on it.

"It proves the parties were married, but the subsequent court order has dissolved this marriage. This matter on the marriage certificate should not be a cause for further acrimony between the parties," she added.

The parties' names in the case were redacted.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.