Woman from HK fails to get S'pore court hearing

Pursuing maintenance bid here unfair to illegitimate son's dad: Judicial commissioner

Too late to seek maintenance for her autistic son from his Singapore-based father through the Hong Kong legal system, a woman decided to pursue the case here.

But the High Court has rejected her bid, ruling that there was no suggestion that family justice is lacking in Hong Kong, where she and the son live.

The woman, 57, and her son - who is over 21 - are Chinese citizens. She met the 62-year-old British father in Hong Kong in 1988 when they both worked there. Both of them were married then, but they continued their affair and had two children, including a daughter who is now 23. She is also supported by the woman, who divorced her husband in 1999.

A month before the son turned 21, the woman applied to a Singapore court for maintenance from the father , who is now the regional head of a foreign bank in Singapore.

In Hong Kong, maintenance can be claimed for a legitimate child up to age 21. It is up to 18 years if the child is illegitimate. In Singapore, it is 21 years in both cases.

The boy's father objected to the woman's application and argued that Hong Kong was the more appropriate forum, but he was overruled in the district court here.

While conceding that Hong Kong was the more appropriate forum, District Judge Kimberly Scully held that stopping the action in Singapore would deprive the child of maintenance from the father.

The father appealed. His lawyer Gloria James-Civetta argued that there would be "fundamental injustice" to the father as the court will alter the rights of those protected by Hong Kong laws.

The mother, defended by lawyer Koh Tien Hua, countered that there were special circumstances as to why the case should be heard here, pointing to the son's welfare and the father's refusal to take responsibility for him.

But Judicial Commissioner Foo Tuat Yien, in judgment grounds released this week, said different age limits for maintenance of illegitimate children reflect different responses by different legislative systems. "Weighing the quality of justice available under these differing legislative responses undermines international comity," she said.

She pointed out that it would be unfair to the father to allow the case to continue in Singapore, and it was not reasonable for the mother not to have pursued maintenance in Hong Kong before the son reached 18 years of age. "The laws of Hong Kong provide the reference point for the parties to arrange their affairs," she said. She noted that the mother "appears capable" and had held high-paying positions in investment banks in Hong Kong. In any case, she said, the courts in Singapore were no longer empowered to grant maintenance as the son was now over 21.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'Woman from HK fails to get S'pore court hearing'. Print Edition | Subscribe