Wife gets larger share of marital assets of $1.2m, after ex-husband claims he has less than $500 cash

The Court of Appeal concluded that the man had failed to disclose about $1.8 million in assets. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A partner in a law firm, who earned at least $4.5 million from 2010 to 2016, declared in divorce proceedings that he has only $425.44 in total in all his bank accounts.

But the Court of Appeal in a judgment on Monday (Nov 2), after scrutinising his finances, concluded that the man had failed to disclose about $1.8 million in assets.

The three-judge apex court added this sum back into the pool of matrimonial assets, and as a result, the man's wife is now entitled to $1.2 million of the couple's combined assets.

"The wife has therefore been awarded a somewhat larger amount of matrimonial assets than she would probably have obtained had the husband been frank in his disclosure from the start," said the court.

In the judgment, the court accepted that parties in a functioning marriage often do not keep "fastidious records" and it is understandable that they may genuinely be unable to recount past transactions.

However, it said there was sufficient basis for a closer look at the man's cash flow in the case.

"The husband's disclosed cash balance of less than $500 did not gel with his significant income from his law practice. Having taken a closer look into the husband's finances, we agree that an adverse inference should be drawn against him," said the judgment written by Justice Debbie Ong.

The couple, who have no children, ended their 16-year marriage in 2016.

The husband is a practising lawyer and an equity partner of a law firm, where the wife worked as an administrator from 2010 to 2013.

According to the wife, their relationship soured in 2013 after she found out that he was having an affair. He filed for divorce in November 2014, and she followed with a counterclaim.

In High Court proceedings to divide the matrimonial assets, the husband asserted that his expenditure from 2010 to 2016 totalled $4.1 million.

This included $2 million in living expenses, $120,000 for pilgrimage trips, $110,000 in gifts to various relatives, $40,000 for astrological advice, and $141,000 for the upkeep of his firm.

The High Court rejected various items of expenditure and drew an adverse inference against the husband for failure to disclose his assets.

The High Court initially assessed the wife's share of the pool of assets to be 32 per cent, but increased it by eight percentage points to account for the undisclosed assets.

This resulted in the wife getting 40 per cent, or about $763,000 of the pool of matrimonial assets, valued at $1.9 million.

The wife appealed.

The apex court, which also comprised Judge of Appeal Steven Chong and Justice Woo Bih Li, rejected even more items of expenditure.

The court also took a different approach to account for the undisclosed assets.

Instead of the High Court's method of increasing the wife's proportion of known assets, the Court of Appeal quantified the undisclosed assets and included that value in the matrimonial pool.

The apex court, in comparing the two approaches, said the High Court's method resulted in the wife receiving almost a third less than she would have under the quantification approach.

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