Man given 10 days by court to make first payment for son’s overseas studies or face jail time

The interior of the Family Court at 3, Havelock Square.
The interior of the Family Court at 3, Havelock Square.PHOTO: ST FILE

A man who was ordered to pay 60 per cent of his polytechnic graduate son's study abroad as maintenance was taken to court by the son for failing to pay the first payment of $10,172 due in March.

The 60-year-old father claimed he had retired two months before the court hearing in May but could not explain how he spent $291,258 last year, with $433.58 left in his bank accounts.

"I drew the conclusion that the father had not made full and frank disclosure and determined that the father did indeed have the means to pay for the agreed arrears," said District Judge Suzanne Chin in judgment grounds last week.

The Family Court judge, who heard the son's application in May to enforce the maintenance order, gave the father 10 days to pay up or face two days' prison for default.

The father, through his lawyer A.P. Thirumurthy, applied in June to stay the order pending a High Court appeal on the case.

The son's present enforcement move follows a decision in February, when a Family Court judge ordered the father to fund 60 per cent of his son's degree studies in Canada, finding that the son was entitled to seek such maintenance.

The son was 22 years old when he applied for maintenance under the Women's Charter, which allows the court to approve such payouts if the child is over 21 and if it is satisfied that the maintenance is necessary for the child's education.

The 60-year-old father claimed he had retired two months before the court hearing in May but could not explain how he spent $291,258 last year, with $433.58 left in his bank accounts.

When ruling on the case, the first such reported one involving a grown-up diploma-holder seeking funds for studying abroad, District Judge Jinny Tan had cited a 2018 Court of Appeal decision which held that the duty to maintain children included children over 21 receiving instruction at an educational establishment and that the court "has a discretion in determining where the duty ends".

But District Judge Tan had then ruled it unreasonable for the father to bear the entire maintenance burden and ordered that the 54-year-old private tutor mother bear 40 per cent of the required sum, based on income proportion.

The parents divorced in 2004 when the child was eight and it was agreed then that the father should not pay maintenance for him as part of the split.

The father has since remarried and has two stepsons, while the mother remained single and supported the son.

All the parties were not identified in the judgment.

 

The son had sought maintenance to study for four years in Canada as his local results were not good enough to get a job, but his father claimed the son would use the money instead to lead a lifestyle abroad that he disapproved of.

The son's lawyers Vineetha Gunasekaran and Benedict Tan had notified the father that payment was due on March 15 and the delay meant the son had to apply three times to the tertiary institution for an extension to pay tuition fees for the school year starting this month.

District Judge Chin was not convinced the father had officially retired and had no sources of income.

The judge found that he provided nothing to support his claim that the company he owned was in debt and that he sold it for $2 to a friend.

"Lastly, I was of the view that the father had not provided any satisfactory explanation as to what had happened to (a) the sum of $291,258 which he claimed he had spent between January 2018 and December 2018 and (b) the sum of $43,625 standing in his accounts in March 2019," said the judge.

She noted that the father did not dispute that he had the monies to pay the maintenance amount due on March 15 this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2019, with the headline 'Man given 10 days to make first payment for son's overseas studies'. Print Edition | Subscribe