Ex-wife to get $76k as court rejects bid to void divorce

A woman will get $76,000 in matrimonial assets following her divorce instead of the $1,000 willed to her by her late former husband, after the top court here refused a bid to void the divorce.

Madam Hou Wa Yi, 52, a Chinese national based in Shanghai, had obtained a provisional divorce order, or decree nisi, in 2006 against her then spouse Yap Kiat Cheong. But Mr Yap, a Singaporean, died in 2011 at age 78 before the decree could be made absolute.

A decree nisi is issued by the court to signify there are no obstacles to the divorce and to enable all ancillary matters such as maintenance issues and how to apportion the couple's assets to be settled before a decree absolute is made.

Two years after Mr Yap died, the executors of his estate applied for the decree nisi to be cancelled, claiming that the marriage had been dissolved in Shanghai a year before divorce proceedings started in Singapore in 2005.

If the court ruled in their favour, Madam Hou would lose the $62,176 granted as her share of the couple's matrimonial assets and a lump sum maintenance payout of $14,400. These were granted in 2010 in ancillary proceedings on the back of the decree nisi granted by the district judge in 2006.

Under Mr Yap's will, Madam Hou was to get $1,000 while the bulk of the estate was left to his niece and nephew Yap Chai Ling and Yap Swee Jit, who were his executors.

The High Court rejected the executors' application last year.

The duo's lawyer Koh Tien Hua appealed to the apex court while Madam Hou, represented by lawyer Dorothy Chai, contested the claims. The top court, comprising Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Andrew Phang and Justice Quentin Loh dismissed the application.

In judgment grounds released yesterday, Judge of Appeal Phang said it is "incongruous if a decree nisi cannot be made absolute once death of a party to the marriage intervenes, but can be set aside by all and sundry, except the parties".

Describing the case as "unfortunate and unusual" involving an "important point of law", the court noted that "there appears to be a high degree of animosity and acrimony between the parties".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-wife to get $76k as court rejects bid to void divorce'. Print Edition | Subscribe