Working mum to get $1 in maintenance

Nominal sum preserves divorced woman's right to apply for maintenance in future

A working mother who divorced her pilot husband has been awarded $1 in annual nominal maintenance after the Court of Appeal clarified a previous ruling, a decision which means she can apply for further maintenance in future if her circumstances change.

Last October, the High Court ruled that the couple's $1.65 million matrimonial home should be divided 70:30 in favour of the wife, while a $1,500 monthly maintenance for their child should be borne equally by both parents.

However, the judge made no order as to her maintenance but made it clear that she had a legal right to apply for it in the future.

The woman, 42, a bank officer, appealed to the apex court against the whole judgment in July. It dismissed her case but explained that "no order" maintenance was not appropriate to reflect the judge's ruling.

Instead it granted her nominal maintenance, which preserves her right to apply for maintenance in the future should the need arise.

"In order to preserve a wife's right to apply for maintenance to the court in the future, an order for nominal maintenance is required," wrote Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, on behalf of the Court of Appeal in judgment grounds released this month. "What the judge was doing, in substance, was to equate the legal effect or result of an order for nominal maintenance with that for an order that there be no order on an application for maintenance. With respect, we disagree."

The 43-year-old former Republic of Singapore Air Force pilot and the working mum, whose salary soared after she got her master's degree, will share custody of their 11-year-old child despite the wife's bid for sole custody.

The couple cannot be named for legal reasons. Their marriage broke down in 2010 after 12 years and she cited his unreasonable behaviour.

She was represented by lawyer Koh Tien Hua, while he was defended by Ms Sim Bock Eng.

In a commentary on the appeals court's decision, two Singapore Management University law graduates have suggested that the award of $1 maintenance orders as the default position should be reviewed.

This should be considered "in an age when women are increasingly financially independent and spouses share familial responsibilities more equally", Ms Beatrice Yeo and Ms Fiona Chew wrote in a commentary published in Singapore Law Watch last week. "Arguably, the award of $1 maintenance simply to preserve the wife's future right to maintenance without further justification might also be said to be out of touch with the realities of today's more gender-equal era."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2015, with the headline 'Working mum to get $1 in maintenance'. Print Edition | Subscribe