Couple in their 80s in court to finalise divorce

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Judge settles division of assets, laments children's role in pushing frail couple into case so as to claim inheritance

A man and the woman he married have been apart for more than 30 years. Now in their 80s, and ailing, they were in court to get divorced and a judge expressed her sadness that their children were behind this.

The motive: To claw back some inheritance from their father.

The 83-year-old retired businessman had six children by his first wife, whom he married in 1955. Nine years later, her younger sister became his second wife and they had three children. The families lived together in Johor until 1980, when the first wife left the matrimonial home with her six children and never returned.

In 2013, the first wife, now 81, sued for and obtained the divorce, making them perhaps the oldest couple here to be involved in such proceedings.

"It was clear to me throughout the various hearings and submissions from counsel that the prime movers of this divorce case are the children of the parties and not the parties themselves," said District Judge Regina Ow-Chang Yee Lin in judgment grounds released yesterday to settle the division of matrimonial assets.

  • More long-time unions breaking up

  • 1,433 Couples who were married for 20 or more years ended their marriages in 2014, a 35 per cent increase from the 1,062 pairs who broke up in 2004

    1,054 Women aged 50 and above who got divorced in 2014, nearly twice the 543 who did so in 2004

    1,833 Men aged 50 and above who got divorced in 2014, nearly twice the 949 in 2004.

The woman, currently suffering from lung cancer, had sought $126,000 in lump-sum maintenance from the husband and a share of the matrimonial assets, which she placed at $2.43 million.

She claimed to have helped manage the logistics of his Malaysian automobile business, which is now a multimillion-dollar enterprise.

The woman, represented by lawyer Wong Soo Chih, claimed that pressure from her husband and his second wife - her sister - had forced her to leave the matrimonial home along with her children. But the husband, with lawyer Liew Chen Mine in his corner, denied that his first wife was forced to leave home.

He said that, in fact, it was her parents who had encouraged him to marry her younger sister. He said it was he who had helped the business succeed and it grew over the past 20 years largely on account of his second wife and her three children.

The businessman also said that his first wife was seeking a divorce, more than 30 years after the couple had split, at the instigation of her children, who wanted a share of the business and his inheritance.

The judge, after considering all factors, awarded the wife 25 per cent of the couple's assets as at 1980, when they separated.

This amounted to some $33,250. The judge added $36,000 in a lumpsum maintenance award, bearing in mind that both were not well, their ages and the wife's cancer.

The judge said it was "sad that in their frail and sickly age, andafter such a long lapse of time..." the parties were brought to courtby their children.

"Even if the children feel that their mother has been ill-used by their father and their aunt, this is a matter for the older-generation folks to resolve themselves before they meet their makers. I hope that peace will return to the families," the judge wrote.

• Additional reporting by Priscilla Goy

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Couple in their 80s in court to finalise divorce More long-time unions breaking up'. Print Edition | Subscribe