Family Justice Courts appoint panel of financial experts for asset valuation in divorces

Currently, parties separately engage their own valuers and present their valuation reports to the Court. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - A new programme will allow the court to appoint third-party financial experts to give objective opinions of the valuation of assets being divided during a contentious divorce.

The pilot programme will begin in the first quarter of 2021, during which the Family Justice Courts (FJC) will work with financial experts on valuation reports of a handful of cases on a pro bono basis.

In line with the family justice system's adoption of "therapeutic justice" as its overarching philosophy, where the law helps divorcing parties to repair their relationships to a functional level, the project will allow experts to assist parties who are "embroiled in complicated and contentious financial disputes", FJC and the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (Isca) said in a joint statement on Wednesday (Dec 30).

Currently, parties separately engage their own valuers and present their valuation reports to the court. The court has to then evaluate each of these reports and determine the valuation to be used for the division of the matrimonial assets.

The process is time-consuming and costly as the judge has to resolve these preliminary financial issues. It may also create further animosity between parties, said a spokesman from FJC in response to queries from The Straits Times.

"(The new programme) allows the judge to focus on his or her main task of adjudication, and avoids disputes as to the appointment of the financial expert, thereby allowing justice to be administered more effectively and efficiently," said the spokesman.

FJC and Isca will review and later decide if the initiative should be implemented on a long-term basis. Should the pilot be a success, the FJC will work with the financial experts to iron out the structure of the programme, including the fees for the experts and whether the criteria for a case to be referred to the panel of experts should be expanded.

Lawyers ST spoke to agreed that the move could help to streamline the valuation process of assets.

Family lawyer Belinda Ang, who has more than 40 years of experience, noted that the new programme could be more fair as both parties will have access to a financial expert, who may otherwise be costly to engage. "They don't have to outbid each other to find a neutral financial expert," she said.

Mr Koh Tien Hua, partner and co-head of family and divorce and private client advisory at Harry Elias Partnership, said: "The new initiative will assist the court and the parties to choose a forensic accountant who is acceptable to the courts as having the requisite experience in producing these reports and the expertise in forensic accounting."

However, he cautioned that the selected experts from the panel must be neutral and not have any personal or professional conflicts of interest with the parties.

The panel of financial experts are Isca members with experience in providing advice on the division of matrimonial assets, dispute resolution or as expert witnesses in court cases.

It currently has six members who have all undergone training to better understand the divorce process.

They are Mr Ravi Arumugam, chief executive and managing partner of RT LLP; Mr Kon Yin Tong, managing partner of Foo Kon Tan LLP; Mr Lee Dah Khang, director of Yang Lee Consulting; Mr Michael Peer, partner at PwC Singapore; Mr Wayne Soo, managing partner of Fiducia LLP, and Mr Tan Wei Cheong, partner at Deloitte Singapore.

On the signing of the memorandum of understanding between FJC and Isca on Wednesday morning, the FJC presiding judge, Justice Debbie Ong, said: "The assistance of the financial experts is in line with our adoption of therapeutic justice in divorce proceedings, ensuring that the division of matrimonial assets can be conducted in a non-adversarial manner with the assurance that both parties can find a sustainable way forward financially after they part ways."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.