Refusing to pay ex-wife not the way to see son: Judge

A father was willing to be taken to court to settle a $4,134 tuition bill, claiming it was the only way to get his former wife to engage him over access to their son.

The man claimed the "last meaningful contact" with his son was eight years ago. The former wife had filed an application to get the court to enforce a 2010 court order which requires her former husband to foot half of the child's tuition and enrichment expenses.

"It appeared for the (former husband), this enforcement application was not about money per se, but his (alleged) utter lack of access to their son who is now 17 years old," said District Judge Kathryn Thong in judgment grounds released on Wednesday.

She said the case stood out because the man could afford the bill since he earned at least $10,000 a month. The case was also notable because even after their divorce six years ago, they continued to be bound in acrimony by the litigation involving numerous applications over the years.

The former husband said he refused to settle his share because he was not consulted first. His lawyer A. Rajandran said the man cannot be made to "helplessly" and "blindingly" pay for expenses he had never been consulted on.

The former wife, who appeared in person, countered that she was not required to consult him but had to only produce the receipts.

District Judge Thong said the judge who made the 2010 order clearly intended for payment to be due upon production of the receipts. She explained that if the former wife had failed to consult the former husband, "his recourse would be to invoke the penal notice, not to withhold payment".

The judge ordered him to pay for 21 of the receipts produced, pointing out that the hearing was an enforcement application, but also noted on balance that the former wife had failed to consult him.

Mr Rajandran had argued that consultation is the "last semblance of contact" and the former wife would only acknowledge her obligation to consult if her claims were disallowed. He added that this would enhance future cooperative conduct and can only be "conducive to the welfare of the child".

District Judge Thong, who noted that the former wife had had more than 10 lawyers before, "found her evidence to be unreliable on the issue of consultation as she was particularly evasive about it".

But she added that whether the former wife has made it impossible for the man to see his son is not relevant to the application for payment of half the tuition fees.

"But I would add that there are legal avenues to vary the 2010 order or to deal with the (former wife's) supposed breaches. Withholding payment is not the solution and is effectively a back-door enforcement against the (former wife) for failing to consult, and would be improper."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2016, with the headline 'Refusing to pay ex-wife not the way to see son: Judge'. Print Edition | Subscribe