Woman fails in legal bid to punish ex-spouse over photos

Justice Ong said the divorce had affected the wife so deeply that during the earlier hearing on ancillary matters, she asked for the marriage certificate to be given to her as a matrimonial asset.
Justice Ong said the divorce had affected the wife so deeply that during the earlier hearing on ancillary matters, she asked for the marriage certificate to be given to her as a matrimonial asset.ST PHOTO: JASMINE CHOONG

Seeking return of family album, she claimed he breached court order following divorce

A divorcee who gave up her marriage of almost three decades may now also have lost a collection of memories, after the High Court dismissed her unusual legal bid seeking the return of a family photo album.

The case follows the June 2016 divorce of a couple - who cannot be identified but are believed to be around 60 years old - which saw a 50-50 division of all their matrimonial assets including their $3.7 million home in Toh Crescent, Changi.

When the woman went to the property last December, she could not find the prized yellow album and applied to court again, claiming her former husband had breached a High Court order made last year on ancillary matters and asset distribution following the divorce.

She claimed a clause in the order prescribed that he return her personal belongings, including the photographs at the property.

However, the High Court dismissed her move, ruling the court order on which the woman based her action was not "sufficiently clear" to enable the court to punish the ex-spouse for contempt.

"There is neither a stipulated time nor sufficient clarity on how the return of the items is to be effected," said Justice Debbie Ong in oral decision grounds released last week.

"The husband interpreted the order to mean that he was not to keep the items and the wife could retrieve them as she had access to the Toh Crescent property."

The ex-husband deposed to the court that he had asked his daughter - one of their two children - to pack his ex-wife's items but she had disposed of some items including the photo album, being unaware that her mother wanted it.

The judge did not find that the ex-husband had intended to breach the order which was a necessary element to have sustained a court contempt charge.

"I made it clear at the hearing that there was never any finding by the court that the husband had the items in his possession or had kept them," said Justice Ong.

"Returning the items can be done in a number of ways and one must take a sensible view of how things work in real life, especially after divorce, considering also the context of how the order came to be made."

Justice Ong found it "likely" that the ex-husband was unable to locate the items and that their daughter could have disposed of them.

Justice Ong said the divorce had affected the wife so deeply that during the earlier hearing on ancillary matters, she asked for the marriage certificate to be given to her as a matrimonial asset.

The woman, represented by lawyer Foo Soon Yien, had argued that receiving the certificate would help her recover from the trauma of a failed marriage but the husband, defended by lawyer See Chern Yang, objected to the move.

Justice Ong, in refusing to hold the marriage certificate to be a matrimonial asset, had made clear then that the issue should not be "a cause for further acrimony" between the couple.

The judge noted the order to return the photographs was made to help resolve issues but had instead become a "source of further conflict resulting in these committal proceedings".

Justice Ong said permission was granted for the ex-wife to start court contempt proceedings as there was a prima facie case, given that the items had not been returned.

"However, considering the context of how the order came to be (made)... and the facts surrounding the whereabouts of the items, the wife's action in bringing these committal proceedings has undermined the original intent and spirit of the order," said Justice Ong.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2019, with the headline 'Woman fails in legal bid to punish ex-spouse over photos'. Print Edition | Subscribe