In a substantial reversal of the distribution of matrimonial assets from a divorce, a former husband was awarded 75 per cent of the total $13 million in assets by the Court of Appeal instead of the 25 per cent he was originally apportioned, while his former wife will get 25 per cent of the assets instead of the 75 per cent she had earlier been given.
But in doing so, Singapore's top court made clear it did not "readily interfere" with how a lower court divides matrimonial assets as these were "squarely within the trial judge's discretion".
"To warrant appellate intervention, the trial judge's decision must be shown to be clearly inequitable or wrong in principle," said the court, comprising Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash and Justices Belinda Ang and Woo Bih Li.
The couple were married in 1990 but the marriage began to break down in 2001. They have three grown-up children.
The wife, 56, obtained an interim judgment for a divorce in 2016 - after 26 years of marriage - on her third application after two earlier applications in 2001 and 2010 had been dismissed.
Both parties were embroiled in numerous legal proceedings, including a criminal trial based on her complaint against her husband in which he was acquitted.
"We raise this to highlight that although this was a long marriage, the facts relating to the breakdown of the marriage were highly unusual," wrote Justice Woo on the appeal court's behalf.
The husband, 57, worked as a doctor in a clinic he had set up in 1991 and his wife, an accountant, quit her job to help him in the clinic till 2001.
During the marriage, both parties acquired properties in Singapore and overseas, which the husband claimed were purchased with money he had received from his parents.
She, however, said they were matrimonial assets bought with income from the clinic.
The High Court in 2018 found all the parties' assets had been acquired with income from the clinic and ruled each should get 50 per cent of the assets, but adjusted the ratio of division in the wife's favour as the judge drew an adverse inference against the husband for failing to shed light on the assets.
The final result was a division of 75:25 in favour of the wife. The husband appealed.
Upon hearing the appeal, the top court found instead the ratio of the parties' direct contributions to be 90:10 in favour of the husband, noting it was likely that the assets had been acquired with a combination of both clinic income and the husband's gifts and inheritance from his parents.
They noted that the parties had a large pool of financial resources to draw on, among other things.
In the case of indirect contributions, which refer to intangibles such as care of the household and children, the court ascribed a negative value to the wife's share and drew an 80:20 ratio in the husband's favour, finding she had undermined the cooperative partnership and her spouse's welfare.
It found that the wife's multiple complaints had directly affected the clinic's business and she had left the matrimonial home when the children were between three and eight years old, living with the family only for brief periods after that. This supported the husband's submission that he was mainly responsible for caring for the children.
Amount the former husband is entitled to
The former wife's portion
Total value of matrimonial assets
Assigning equal weight to direct and indirect contributions, the average ratio was 85:15 in favour of the husband. However, the court adjusted the ratio by a further 10 per cent in favour of the wife because of the husband's failure to make full and frank disclosure of the matrimonial assets.
The final ratio was therefore 75:25 in the husband's favour, which meant the husband is entitled to $10,250,895.54 and the wife's portion is $3,416,965.18, given the total value of matrimonial assets as $13,667,860.72.
The couple whose names were redacted, represented themselves at the appeal.
"Courts have long strived to reach a fair outcome on the facts of each case, and the factual matrix of the marriage before us has complicated the matter and made our task more challenging," wrote Justice Woo in judgment grounds issued last week.
"While we have said that marriage is an equal co-operative partnership of efforts, this does not mean that the contributions of both parties in a marriage are always equal. The court must have regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the extent of the contributions made by each party towards acquiring matrimonial assets and to the welfare of the family."