Appeals court excludes ex-hubby's share of parents' home from matrimonial assets

Family lawyers say the appellate court's decision will provide greater clarity as to what will be considered a matrimonial home when deciding a couple's assets for division. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PEXELS

SINGAPORE - A woman who lived with her husband in his parents' home, of which he had a one-third share, will not get any portion from the $1.77 million interest upon their divorce, after an appeals court ruled that the interest was not a matrimonial asset for division between the pair.

The decision earlier this month by the Appellate Division of the High Court reversed the High Court's judgment last year which included the one-third share as part of the matrimonial assets, since the property was their matrimonial home.

Family lawyers say the appellate court's decision will provide greater clarity as to what will be considered a matrimonial home when deciding a couple's assets for division.

The 36-year-old dentist had lived with her husband, a 37-year-old chief executive, in the Third Avenue property since they were married in 2015 until she moved out with their child some 33 months later.

The couple divorced last year.

Both parties appealed against the High Court's judgment on the division of matrimonial assets which, among other things, considered if the one-third share of the property on Third Avenue should be included.

The three-judge Appellate Division of the High Court held it was not to be considered their matrimonial home but a gift from the woman's father-in-law to her husband.

"A legal interest coupled with residence will not necessarily mean that the property in question constitutes a matrimonial home to be included as a matrimonial asset for the purpose of division," wrote Justice Woo Bih Li of the Appellate Division on the panel's behalf.

The court noted that the husband had acquired the one-third share as a gift from his father in 2004 before the marriage and this did not change in any form whatsoever.

The woman had argued the property was their matrimonial home, since they lived there together.

But the court disagreed, saying her husband's parents were the master and mistress of the household and the property was indisputably their matrimonial home.

"Put differently, the parties lived in an extended household. Whether or not other people have lived in the property and how it was used such that it served as their home instead of a matrimonial home for the parties is a relevant circumstance," added the court.

Its decision means the husband will pay less than half of what he was ordered to pay his wife by the lower court. The appellate court valuation of all the assets for division totalled $2,443,942, down from the High Court's total of $5,416,252.

The husband succeeded in the appeal in reducing the amount payable by him to his wife in the division of matrimonial assets from S$1,128,957.62 to S$585,289.98.

Family lawyer Michelle Woodworth from Quahe Woo & Palmer LLC said the decision showed a part interest in the property did not mean the spouse's share can be added to the pool.

"The decision elaborates that each case will turn on its own facts with various factors taken into account.

"Couples should communicate their intentions on living arrangements when entering a marriage. These are difficult conversations to be had, especially if there are other family members involved, and the sensitivities surrounding the conversation, but it will alleviate uncertainty on ownership of property and hopefully put the minds of all involved at ease," she added.

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