Apex court: Lawyers must do their part to assist the court to achieve a just outcome

The Court of Appeal said lawyers involved in divorce cases, especially complicated ones, need to do their part in assisting the court in achieving a just outcome.
The Court of Appeal said lawyers involved in divorce cases, especially complicated ones, need to do their part in assisting the court in achieving a just outcome.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Lawyers representing parties in divorce cases, especially complicated ones with myriad issues relating to the valuation of assets, play a crucial role in apprising the court of their clients' positions and the supporting evidence on all key issues, said the Court of Appeal.

The three-judge court said this in a judgment in which it ruled that the value of matrimonial assets of a business consultant and a housewife should be $26.2 million, instead of $15.6 million as determined earlier by the High Court.

The bulk of the difference related to $10.3 million in fund transfers and missing proceeds from the sale of assets that the husband could not account for.

In the 64-page judgment released on Wednesday (Nov 21), the apex court also noted that the High Court judge had made several calculation errors in arriving at the original valuation.

"It is unfortunate that the judge did not receive adequate assistance from counsel, and that despite the judge's directions, counsel did not clearly set out their positions on several issues which arose in the course of the proceedings," said the apex court, which comprised Judge of Appeal Steven Chong, and Justices Belinda Ang and Quentin Loh.

"This case thus underscores the need for counsel to do their part to assist the court in achieving a just outcome in each case," said the judgment, written by Justice Chong.

The case involved a 53-year-old man and a 42-year-old woman who married in 2001 and have two sons. The wife started divorce proceedings in 2012 after four years of separation from the husband, who has lived in China since relocating there for work in 2008.

In November last year, the High Court determined that the total pool of assets was $15.6 million, which was to be equally distributed between the couple.

The judge also ordered that the husband pay maintenance of $7,000 a month for the sons but ordered no maintenance for the wife.

Both sides filed appeals.

When they came before the Court of Appeal, both sides agreed that the High Court judge had made three calculation errors - a double counting of the outstanding liabilities in respect of two properties and a typographical error regarding the value of the wife's investment account.

However, the apex court said the judge was "not entirely at fault".

The apex court said the judge had specifically instructed the lawyers, in tabulating information relating to the assets, to leave out liabilities attached to specific assets. However, the tabulation that was submitted included such information.

In the days following the High Court judge's decision, neither side pointed out the errors.

The apex court also drew an adverse inference against the husband over unexplained fund transfers and missing proceeds, adding $10.3 million back to the pool.

The court said the husband should get 65 per cent of the assets and the wife, 35 per cent.

For single-income marriages in the 10 to 15-year range, the trend has been to award the non income-earning party about 25 per cent to 35 per cent of the matrimonial pool.

The court said the wife should get a 35 per cent share, given that she became solely responsible for caring for the family, including the husband's aged parents and daughters from a previous marriage, after he left for China.