Woman's divorce on grounds of separation wrong: Judge

District court should have dismissed claim as she was the one who walked out: High Court

Hearing a husband's appeal on the grounds for his divorce, the High Court said his wife should not have been allowed to divorce him on grounds of separation because she was the one who had walked out.

Instead, her husband's claim that she had deserted him was correct, said Justice Choo Han Teck.

Madam Law Fay Yuen had cited separation from her husband, Dr Teng Cheng Sin, for the preceding four years when she successfully applied to a district judge for divorce last year.

But the same court had also allowed Dr Teng's counter-claim that he be allowed to divorce her because she had deserted him.

Both cited June 28, 2010, as the date they parted.

"If the operative date was indeed 28 June, 2010, the husband's claim was correctly granted but the wife's claim ought to have been dismissed," Justice Choo Han Teck said in judgment grounds released yesterday.

The judge said desertion is based on one party being at fault while separation is a "neutral ground with no adverse inference or finding of fault". It is understood the point, which the judge noted was not raised by either party during the hearing, could affect how the assets are divided following the split.

The judge said desertion is based on one party being at fault, while separation is a "neutral ground with no adverse inference or finding of fault".

It is understood the point, which the judge noted was not raised by either party during the hearing, could affect how the assets are divided following the split.

"It may be considered by the court when assessing the non-financial contributions of a party and the time period could be discounted by the period of desertion," said Harry Elias Partnership lawyer Koh Tien Hua.

The couple, who are in their early 50s, were married in 1990 and have three children aged 18 to 23.

They were in the news more than a decade ago. Dr Teng ran a family practice clinic and operated a bubble tea shop on the same premises, while his accountant wife worked as his clinic assistant.

The district court had allowed his counter-claim for desertion as grounds for divorce but rejected his claim of her "unreasonable behaviour" as an additional ground.

Dr Tan was seeking a time extension from the High Court to file an appeal against the district court's decision not to grant the additional ground.

Justice Choo rejected his application, however, finding there was no point in his pursuing the appeal and urged the parties to proceed "expeditiously" to deal with follow-up matters related to their divorce.

"The claims by the husband that the wife had acted unreasonably are neither necessary nor sufficient... for him to obtain a divorce since he has already succeeded on the ground of desertion," said Justice Choo.

Dr Teng had catalogued several instances of alleged unreasonable behaviour by his wife, which included her complaint to the medical authorities that he sold controlled medicine illegally. He was charged in court but acquitted when the court found that it was the wife who sold the medicine at the bubble tea shop without his knowledge.

She had also complained to the authorities that her husband had bribed two of his patients to testify for him. But after a 15-day trial, he was acquitted when it was found that it was she who had offered the patients $50,000 not to testify.

Justice Choo said his claims of unreasonable behaviour, most of which occurred more than 10 years ago, could be considered, if necessary, for the post-divorce ancillary orders.

The case prompted the judge to recall the three wars between Rome and Carthage, which lasted more than 100 years from 261BC, after both realised they "could not live together side by side".

Things turned nasty for both as they had no court to resolve their quarrel in a civil manner.

"Here the recriminations between husband and wife are rife, and although the court will no doubt hear all their claims, it is not bound to allow them to dwell on petty points," said Justice Choo.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2016, with the headline 'Woman's divorce on grounds of separation wrong: Judge'. Print Edition | Subscribe