Battle over child custody spawns key point of law

Orders under guardianship Act subject to review in a divorce: Judge

A MARRIAGE between a German man and a Ukrainian woman that spawned a child and separation within 19 months also gave birth to a new important point of law.

The woman had won care and control of their child under the Guardianship of Infants Act (GIA) before the couple divorced in 2012, but the court has now ruled that such orders are subject to review in a divorce, when the court settles matters such as asset division and child custody.

This means a court order in the mother's favour under the Act may swing in the father's if the High Court deems it should, on the merits of a case.

COURT RULING

In order to not deny the parties and the child of the broader discretion conferred to it pursuant to the (Women's) Charter, the Ancillaries Court would have to consider the issues of custody, care and control and access afresh.

- Justice Belinda Ang

"In order to not deny the parties and the child of the broader discretion conferred to it pursuant to the (Women's) Charter, the Ancillaries Court would have to consider the issues of custody, care and control and access afresh," said Justice Belinda Ang in judgment grounds released last week.

The 48-year-old German businessman had met and married the 38-year-old woman in Singapore in 2007 after a short cyberspace courtship, which led her to come here from Germany.

Some eight months after their daughter was born the following year, the couple began to live apart.

"All in all, the parties' virtual meeting, (her) marriage to (him), relocation to Singapore and pregnancy happened almost impulsively in smooth succession. Sadly but not surprisingly, the marriage was very short-lived," noted the judge.

The couple separated in 2009 and the woman filed for divorce three years later. An interim divorce judgment was given, pending settlement of ancillary matters by the court, such as the question of whom the child was to live with.

The husband's lawyer, Mr Ranjit Singh, asked the court to order shared care and control, urging it to relook the arrangements made under the GIA.

Shared care and control meant the child would have both parents in her life, he said.

Objecting, the woman's lawyer, Ms Bernice Loo, argued for the GIA order to stand except that access terms be changed to take into account the primary school schedule of the child, who is now seven years old.

Justice Ang said a shared arrangement may not be practical as the child was transitioning from kindergarten to primary school, among other things.

She ruled that care and control remain with the mother, with liberal access for the father to be worked out. The couple would have joint custody.

The judge also raised the woman's share from their joint asset - their matrimonial home - to $100,000, less the $40,000 she had already received.

The judge also ordered that he pay her $3,075 in monthly maintenance.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2015, with the headline 'Battle over child custody spawns key point of law'. Print Edition | Subscribe