Maintenance for all men will level playing field

Office workers at Raffles Place.
Office workers at Raffles Place. PHOTO: ST FILE

I am disappointed that spousal maintenance will not be extended to able-bodied men ("MPs debate maintenance payouts for men"; Tuesday).

The arguments that the majority of women still lag behind men financially; that many women put their jobs on hold to raise children, thereby finding it difficult to secure jobs upon divorce; and that maintenance payouts could further burden divorced women struggling to care for their families do not hold water.

As noted by Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, the courts will consider all the circumstances, including the income and earning capacity of the wife (and husband), financial needs of both parties and the needs of their children.

Treating divorce cases on an individual basis is more ethical and allows for better implementation of justice. The party who needs maintenance, regardless of gender, will be given his or her due. Women, too, will not be burdened more than they have to be.

In the debate on spousal maintenance for men, the MPs have missed the big picture.

It is precisely the current law, which requires only men to support women financially, that has been holding women back all these years and limiting them largely to the role of caregiver.

It is easier for a woman to give up her career or work part time for her family. Maintenance laws provide a safety net for her.

The move to allow only incapacitated men spousal maintenance will still reinforce the notion that a woman's main role is that of a caregiver.

Extending spousal maintenance to all men sends a strong signal to society that responsibilities in a marriage are gender neutral. It also levels the playing field for both men and women.

A less successful man married to a highly successful woman and who spends more time managing the home is assured of his contributions being given due recognition in a divorce.

His highly successful wife also benefits, as she can progress at work with her husband's help at home.

Singaporean women have it good. Many have been accustomed to men providing for them.

Many men have been sent to jail for defaulting on spousal and child maintenance. No woman has ever been jailed for defaulting on child maintenance.

Changes have to be made to keep up with the times. It starts with extending spousal maintenance to all men.

Sulthan Niaz

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2016, with the headline 'Maintenance for all men will level playing field'. Print Edition | Subscribe