The division of matrimonial assets in Singapore after a Divorce is often highly contested. When the Court distributes the assets amongst a couple, one of them could end up with a far lower standard of living than the other. Several misconceptions could also lengthen the process.
For instance, people have the impression that the assets will be equally shared between the parties. This is not the case, as the Court doesn’t assume the position that both parties equally contributed their fair share during their marriage.
When going through a Divorce, couples need to define their share of assets beforehand. Knowing their share of assets avoids costly Court proceedings that add to the emotional toll of separation. However, this is only an ideal scenario. Divorcing couples often take financial matters to Court to legitimise whatever claim they make on their matrimonial assets. The Court must step in for a resolution in contested divorces wherein the parties cannot amicably share the assets.
1. What Is Considered A “Matrimonial Asset”?
The Women’s Charter defines what is and is not a matrimonial asset in Singapore. This charter is a wide-reaching legislative act aimed at protecting and advancing women’s rights in Singapore. Additionally, it includes clauses regarding matrimonial assets and defines which assets can form part of a matrimonial pool.
The following types of property fall under matrimonial assets:
- The matrimonial home (where the couple and the children lived while they were still married)
- Property that was acquired during the marriage
- Property that was acquired before marriage was:
- Ordinarily used by the family or enjoyed by both parties/their childrenSubstantially improved by both or the other party
- Gifts that have been significantly improved by both or the other party
Property that was acquired before the marriage does not otherwise constitute matrimonial assets.
Below is a list of assets that the Court does not include in its definition of “matrimonial assets”:
- Gifts or inheritance
- Gifts or inheritance that wasn’t substantially improved upon throughout the marriage
Some examples of matrimonial assets that can be divided include the following:
- CPF (Central Provident Fund) balances
- Lottery winnings
- Matrimonial home
2. How Will Matrimonial Assets Be Divided?
After the Court has handed down its interim judgement for divorce and is contested, it will schedule a date for Ancillary Matters. During the Ancillary Matters Pre-Trial Conference (APTC), the Court will exhaust all options, including an out-of-court-settlement spearheaded by a registrar.
If an out-of-court-settlement isn’t possible, the Registrar may refer the case for counselling or mediation. The Registrar will then order both parties to file an Affidavit of Assets and Means, where they swear in Court to declare all their assets, liabilities, income, expenses, debts, etc.
Once again, if the parties do not settle, the Court will proceed with the Ancillary Matters hearing. The division of matrimonial assets is considered an Ancillary Matter, along with issues such as:
The Court is empowered to order the division of any matrimonial asset according to an apportionment that is just and fair by giving adequate and appropriate weight to each party’s direct and indirect contributions towards the marriage:
- Direct contributions include financial contributions towards acquiring or improving the matrimonial assets. For example, the husband may have made a direct contribution in the form of cash payments for a housing loan or CPF savings.
- Indirect contributions include efforts to improve or maintain the well-being of the family. These contributions can be financial and non-financial, such as caring for children/sick/elderly/incapacitated household members, paying for school tuition fees, household expenses, doing household chores, cleaning, cooking, etc. The roles of the parties as financial providers or homemakers are equally recognised because both roles must have been performed equally for the marriage to continue or flourish.
3. What Factors Are Considered In The Division of Matrimonial Assets?
The Court will decide on how to divide/apportion the matrimonial assets after considering the following factors:
- Contributions made by each party towards acquiring, improving or maintaining the matrimonial assets (e.g. income and capital investment)
- The more contributions to the asset acquisition, the more the Court is likely to award.
- At the very least, a more significant contribution from a party would justify a greater proportion being awarded to that party.
- Debt owed or obligation incurred/undertaken by one party for the joint benefit of both parties or their children
- The Court may reduce the amount awarded to one party by the amount of the debt that the party incurred.
- Needs of the children
- For example, the needs of the children may require that the matrimonial property not be divided and that the children be allowed to live in the property until the youngest child is 21 years old. This occurs because the Court recognises that needs of the children are paramount.
- Contributions made by each party towards the welfare of the family (e.g. homemaker, caregiver for children/dependents)
- This accounts for the nonfinancial contributions of the homemaker who helped to create and maintain a positive home environment.
- Agreement between the parties relating to the ownership and division of the matrimonial assets made in contemplation of divorce
- Whether the Court will recognise a prenuptial agreement will depend on the unique facts of each case. A prenuptial agreement or a prenup is a contract that spouses enter before marrying. Most couples use a prenup to determine ownership rights over property, custody matters, maintenance, etc..
- A prenup can be enforceable only if it contains the basic requirements of a legal contract. The Court is also within its jurisdiction to scrutinise the prenup. They may also refuse to uphold the terms of the agreement. This is the case if there are clauses in the prenup that contradict some provisions within the Women’s Charter.
- Period of rent-free occupation (or other benefits) enjoyed by one party in the matrimonial home to the exclusion of the other party
- Assistance or support (financial and nonfinancial) given by one party to the other party
- This includes the assistance or support given by one party which has helped the other party carry on an occupation or business.
- Amount of maintenance paid to the former wife/husband
- For the longest time, only the husband was required to give maintenance to his former wife wherever necessary. However, changes to the Women’s Charter have also allowed husbands to apply for maintenance. The Court will examine whether the husband or wife has consistently met their spousal maintenance duties.
4. How The Court Divides Matrimonial Assets In A Structured Manner
There may be a concern that the Court will put greater weight on financial or direct contributions. To prevent this, the Court has recently adopted a more structured way of dividing matrimonial assets. In the case of ANJ vs ANK, both indirect and direct contributions were on equal footing. Below is a step-by-step process of how the Court arrived at its decision:
- Step 1: The Court will assess both parties’ direct and indirect contributions. Then, it will set a preliminary ratio relative to both.
- Step 2: The Court will average the values after getting the ratio percentages for direct and indirect contributions. The resulting figure serves as the basis of the proportions. It also guides the Court in arriving at a just and equitable division of matrimonial assets.
Each case is different, and the Court may weigh other factors in favour of such contributions. There are unique circumstances and case-specific details that the Court must consider. Therefore the judge must ensure all evidence of assets presented by the former husband and wife are credible.
Conclusion About Division Of Matrimonial Assets In Singapore
Contrary to popular belief, the Court does not follow arbitrary rules when dividing matrimonial assets in Singapore. Instead, they refer to financial/non-financial contributions, debt, children’s well-being, prenuptial agreements, and many more. The Court also refers to past cases in distributing the assets.
Due to the complexity of matrimonial assets, it is advisable for separating couples to consult with an experienced divorce lawyer in Singapore to help out. Call us at The Singapore Lawyer. We’ll assess your case and walk you through the different options available. Our clients’ interests are always at the forefront of what we do.
Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with us at The Singapore Lawyer now, or learn more about corporate, litigation, bankruptcy, criminal law, and more about our legal services.
Frequently Asked Questions About Matrimonial Assets In Singapore
What Happens To A Matrimonial Home After A Divorce?
The matrimonial home (private property or an HDB (Housing & Development Board) flat) is part of the matrimonial assets. The Court will have to distribute it equitably among the parties.
Is Inheritance A Matrimonial Property In Singapore?
No. The Court excludes inheritance or gifted assets from the division of assets.
Does The Wife Get Half In A Divorce?
No. Contrary to popular belief, neither the wife nor husband automatically gets 50% of the matrimonial asset share. Instead, the Court will adopt a structured approach in dividing the assets based on direct/indirect financial/non-financial contributions.
What Assets Cannot Be Divided During A Divorce?
The Court excludes the following from the division of matrimonial assets:
- Gifts and inheritance
- Premarital property
- Property per an agreement (pre or post-nuptial)