Judge rebukes pair in divorce dispute

21/2-year case 'a classic example' of how split should not be managed

It lasted 21/2 years, involved 47 affidavits, 21 pre-trial conferences, four summonses and four magistrates' complaints.

District Judge Regina Ow-Chang described the epic break-up of Singaporean IT consultant Rajat Sharma and his insurance executive wife Bhatara Shajia as "a classic example of how a matrimonial dispute should not be litigated".

Responding to her judgment grounds, lawyers have told The Straits Times that this case was one which could have been settled in a quarter of the time under the new Family Justice Act.

Enacted earlier this month, it seeks to replace the adversarial approach driven by duels between the parties with one led by a judge who controls the pace and direction of cases.

It requires affidavits to be filed according to standard templates and that cases do not overrun to vent latent animosities.

Unfortunately, the new Act came too late for Mr Sharma and Ms Bhatara.

The couple, in their mid-30s, married in India in 2007 but obtained an interim divorce judgment in Singapore just five years later. Legal hearings followed to deal with the matrimonial assets.

District Judge Ow-Chang, in grounds released last month, said the 21 pre-trial conferences were held because both parties - particularly the husband - did not comply with court directions in a sufficiently early manner.

Noting the main stake involved about $180,000 in value, she said time, costs and resources would have been saved had the duo "been less intractable and more amenable".

Ms Bhatara had sought a $150,000 lump sum as maintenance but her former husband argued that she should not get a cent.

The judge pared the sum down to $30,000 after hearing the evidence and also ordered that their Duxton Road home be transferred to the husband's name, with Ms Bhatara getting 25 per cent of the asset value - an estimated $180,000.

The judge noted that both parties had presented "diametrically opposite pictures" of their indirect contributions in a bid to get a bigger share of the flat.

The couple also fought over each other's jewellery before agreeing to return the items given to them by the other party's family.

The judge turned down the husband's bid for a court order to have the couple inspect a bank vault in India and verify its contents in relation to the jewellery.

Family lawyer Anuradha Sharma said that such a contentious case could have been settled within six to eight months had both parties settled through mediation.

"The new Act will also enable the court to control the key issues and cut the bitterness and acrimony that lead to protracted battles," she said.

The couple, who do not have any children, are appealing against the judgment.

Mr Sharma has hired lawyer Johnson Loo from Drew & Napier while Ms Bhatara will appear in person.


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