TQU v TQT [2020] SGCA 8: Court ruled in favour of husband in a high profile divorce case, citing lack of contribution from wife as main reason. (Photo credits: Zoriana Starkhniv)

CASE SUMMARY

In TQU v TQT [2020] SGCA 8, the parties married in 1990. The wife filed for divorce in 2001 but her application was dismissed in 2005. She then filed a second time in 2010 but again, her application was dismissed in 2015. It was only on her 3rd attempt that she succeeded in 2016. Thus, legally speaking, the marriage lasted some 26 years (from 1990 to 2016). Their 3 children (comprising 2 sons and a daughter) were above 21 years old by the time the matter reached the Court of Appeal.  

In a marriage of 26 years with 3 children, the established cases show that the norm is for the wife to be awarded half the assets. This was what the High Court Judge (“the Judge”) did holding that the parties’ direct (financial) and indirect (non-financial) contributions were equal. On top of that, the Judge was of the view that the husband did not make full disclosure of his assets; on account of that, the Judge increased the wife’s share to 75%.  

The husband’s appeal was allowed with the Court of Appeal reversing the ratio below in the husband’s favour. Various reasons were given for its decision, including the following: 

(a)The husband’s direct contributions far outstripped that of the wife in the ratio 90:10; and 

(b)The husband’s indirect contributions also far outstripped that of the wife in the ratio 80: 20.  

Based on the above, the average ratio was 85: 15 in the husband’s favour. However, the court increased the wife’s share by another 10% (to 25%) due to the husband’s failure to disclose all his assets for which an adverse inference was drawn. Therefore, if not for the adverse inference, the wife would only be entitled to 15%; this despite a long marriage of 26 years.  

Our focus here is on the reasons given by the court for finding that the wife’s indirect contributions was only 20%. This is a surprisingly low figure as in most cases, it is usually (though not inevitably) the wife who scores a higher ratio in terms of indirect contributions. 

COURT’S DECISION

First, the court was of the view that although legally, the marriage lasted 26 years, in reality, it had broken down in 2001 when the wife first applied for a divorce.  

Second, the court noted that the wife, by her admission, had made no indirect contributions to the children after 2010; by then, all 3 children were living with the husband who was their sole caregiver.  

Third, the court attributed to the wife a negative contribution.  

It is on this third aspect of the court’s decision that we wish to elaborate on.  

The law on negative contributions of a spouse 

In its 2015 decision in Chan Tin Sun v Fong Quay Sim [2015] 2 SLR 195 (“Chan Tin Sun”), the Court of Appeal recognised for the first time that certain misconduct may justify a reduction of a spouse’s share of the assets by the court ascribing a negative value to that spouse’s indirect contributions. The Court of Appeal however emphasised that only conduct that is “extreme and undisputed” is relevant for this purpose. The rationale is that if it were otherwise, then ancillary hearings will degenerate into a scenario where parties engage in spurious mud-slinging. In that case, the wife had systematically poisoned her husband for which she was charged and convicted. As a result, the Court of Appeal discounted her share of the assets by 7%.  

Since Chan Tin Sun, many divorcing litigants have sought to persuade the courts to impose a negative value on their spouse’s indirect contributions but without any success. What then were the factors which persuaded the Court of Appeal in this case to do so? There were in the main 2 factors:  

(a) First, the husband produced evidence from independent third parties, namely psychologists and a court-appointed child representative, which showed that “the two sons appear to have had a difficult time when they lived with the wife, and eventually returned to live with the husband in about March 2010.” 

(b) Second, the court noted the sheer extent of conflict since 2001 brought about primarily by the wife’s conduct. For example, the wife lodged a complaint against the husband, a medical doctor who ran his own clinic, that the latter had engaged in corruption and other regulatory offences in connection with the clinic. The husband was prosecuted and resoundingly acquitted at the end of a 15-day trial. The judge in acquitting the husband made scathing remarks about the credibility of the wife, who was the key prosecution witness. In the opinion of the Court of Appeal, the wife’s acts “amounted to harassment and undermined the co-operative partnership that marriage is intended to be.”

CONCLUDING REMARKS

This decision stands out for 2 reasons:  

(a) First, it shows that it is not an inflexible rule that the wife in a marriage will be attributed a higher ratio as regards indirect contributions. In an appropriate case, the courts will not hesitate to rule in favour of the husband; and 

(b) Second, the Court of Appeal has re-emphasised that conduct that fundamentally undermines the co-operative partnership of the marriage and harms the welfare of the other will result in a negative value provided that evidence of such conduct is undisputed. 

To read the full judgment, click here.