Briton loses fight for his divorce to be heard in Singapore

Aussie judge rules that it would be to his wife's advantage for case to be heard in Australia

A $1 million-earning Singapore-based chief executive has failed to convince an Australian court that the split with his estranged Australian wife should be heard in Singapore, not Melbourne.

The judge accepted the "unusual feature" of the couple and their three young children all living in Singapore to be the strongest argument of the husband, a Briton, but ruled that the wife was likely to get a better hearing in Australia as Singapore courts may not recognise pre-marriage contributions in the division of assets.

"The (Singapore) legislation is not that clear. The authority relied upon is so qualified that I could only conclude that a Singaporean court has a discretion but it would be inappropriate to speculate how that might be exercised," said Australian Family Court Justice Paul Cronin in judgment grounds released last month.

"On balance, I am satisfied that there is a juridical advantage to the wife in being able to litigate in Australia," he added.

The couple began co-habitating in Singapore in 2000 and continued doing so in China three years later following the man's career move. They had two children there before they married in 2006 and three years later, returned to Singapore after a promotion for the husband, who works in an international organisation.

They had a third child in 2009 and all three now attend school in Singapore. But the couple permanently split in January last year.

The 44-year-old Australian wife, who works part-time here, then applied for financial relief and a divorce in Australia. But the husband objected, arguing that Singapore was the appropriate forum to hear the case.

His lawyers said Melbourne was inappropriate as both parties would have to fly in and out of Singapore, among other things.

The judge did note that "Singapore is clearly the community where both parties live".

But the wife's lawyer countered that she had a juridical advantage in Australia in relation to her rights in the de facto relationship before they wed. Any claim she might have to a share in the husband's assets would be prejudiced in Singapore as it does not recognise de facto relationships, he added.

The husband's expert pointed to the Women's Charter in Singapore, which provides for pre-marriage assets to be considered, subject to conditions.

The judge commented that any such advantage might be questionable and ruled it was open to the Australian court to find that Australia provides an advantage to the wife in relation to the de facto issue with no disadvantage to the husband.

Both sides used opinions from Singapore family law experts for the case.

Drew & Napier director Veronica Joseph provided a perspective for the husband, while Rajah & Tann partner Kee Lay Lian represented the wife in providing an expert opinion on the Singapore case.

The wife's Australian lawyer argued she had no litigation funding in Singapore and cannot "participate easily", whereas in Australia, she could apply for interim funds.

But the husband said he was willing to help, given his much stronger financial position than the wife.

"I am more comforted by the knowledge that such an application can be quickly brought in Australia if the husband was not true to his word," said Justice Cronin.

He said there was no question that both parties can participate in the proceedings in either country "on an equal footing". The issue was whether "Australia is a clearly inappropriate forum", he added.

He dismissed the husband's application and ordered the case to be brought up next month for further action.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline 'Briton loses fight for his divorce to be heard in S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe