For years, the authorities have been scratching their heads trying to find ways to get deadbeat husbands to pay the maintenance owed to their former wives and children.
And they have found one method that works - putting defaulters on a credit blacklist, making it harder for them to get credit cards and loans such as for housing. Some 80 per cent of the 229 claimants so far on this scheme recovered at least some of the money owed to them.
A credit information and debt recovery firm has collected about $2.5 million on their behalf since the scheme started in 2011, its spokesman told The Straits Times.
The DP Information Group was appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development to track maintenance debts.
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A person who is owed maintenance can take the court order to DP's SME Commercial Credit Bureau, which will record the debt and share the information with its more than 800 members, which include banks, retailers and moneylenders.
Being on the blacklist makes it harder for these individuals to obtain loans, said those interviewed.
A DP spokesman said: "In Singapore, most people place great value on having a good credit standing. Knowing that a record of your matrimonial maintenance debts is kept by a credit bureau will motivate defaulters to keep up to date with their obligations."
But one limitation is that not many women want to put their former spouses on the credit blacklist, The Straits Times understands. Some may also not be aware of this avenue. This explains why there are just 200 or so claimants so far.
The sums owed range from $100 to $3,600 a month. The largest sum paid was a one-time settlement of $180,000. DP declined to say more about this case. DP staff often act as mediators to establish alternative arrangements for those who cannot afford to pay, for example, if they have lost their jobs. They may negotiate for the maintenance to be paid in smaller sums, which will increase once the former spouse finds a job.
Many claimants are housewives with no income. After the divorce, with their limited education and skills, they can find only manual or hourly paid jobs that often pay less than $1,200 a month. But a few claimants are men seeking maintenance from their former wives for their children.
Lawyer Lim Chong Boon calls the scheme "highly effective", as eight in 10 applicants got at least some of their maintenance.
Lawyer Malathi Das said: "These days, many people live on credit. For example, once a person is blacklisted, it may be a hassle for him to get loans or credit cards and this puts the onus on defaulters to pay."