Often after a divorce, a party may lack the financial means to look after themselves. They may have been the homemaker and had given up their career to focus on the family. Now after the divorce, they may not be able to find employment or even lack the necessary skills to rejoin the workforce. There are also times when a spouse has gotten accustomed to a certain standard of living that they may not be able to sustain should they find themselves divorced. Thus they may need financial assistance to get back up on their feet or to maintain such a lifestyle. The Singapore Courts understand this need and the need for Spousal Maintenance.
Spousal maintenance (also be known as alimony to some), is one spouse legal obligation to provide financial support to the other spouse. This obligation to financially support your spouse exists during the marriage and may continue after the divorce.
So what is the purpose of spousal maintenance?
The Court may make an order for spousal maintenance so that one party who may lack the financial means to get back on their feet is given the necessary means to do so.
Maintenance in Singapore: Who can claim for Maintenance in Singapore?
In Singapore, the right for maintenance is found within the Women’s Charter. While most of us would assume that maintenance is only given to the wife or former wife, Parliament has recently introduced new legislation that has created a narrow exception for husbands or former husbands to claim for maintenance if they are incapacitated.
Is there Maintenance for any other purpose?
Yes. Maintenance can also apply to other situations such as maintenance of the child(ren) of the marriage. The Singapore Courts have deemed that the welfare of the child(ren) of the marriage is paramount. Should the child(ren) require financial support they or their guardian (as the case may be) may take up legal proceedings to seek for maintenance from their parents (biological or even non-biological). The Court will arrive at a final maintenance order after taking the child’s needs (education, fiancés and living expenses). To find out more about child maintenance, please refer to our article titled .
On a separate note, maintenance can also apply to roles other than spouses. In Singapore, the child or the children of the marriage are entitled to financial support from their biological parents. A child is entitled to child maintenance. As long a financially able parent neglects or refuses to provide the child with reasonable financial support the child or the guardian can take up legal proceedings to seek for maintenance. The Court will arrives at a final maintenance order after weighing the child’s education, finances and other living expenses. To find out more about child maintenance, please refer to our article entitled .
How do I Apply for Spousal Maintenance?
To apply for maintenance, you must go to the Family Registry (Level 1) of the Family Justice Courts Building with your identification card, a photocopy of both your marriage and birth certificate. You will then fill out a form for maintenance. Upon submission of the application for maintenance, you must swear or affirm your statement before a Magistrate of District Judge, otherwise known as a Magistrate’s Complaint. If your application is in order, you will pay a relatively small sum for the issuance of a summons to your spouse from whom you want maintenance money. A letter will be sent to your spouse for him or her to accept the summons at the Maintenance Registry of the Family Justice Courts on the service date.
What happens after sending the letter?
After the letter has been sent to your spouse. Both you and your spouse will be able to try and mediate the matter of maintenance. If a settlement between parties is reached, it will be recorded by the Courts, and the terms be made into a Maintenance Order. You can find out more about this mediation process in our article title .
It is important to note that not all meditation sessions conclude amicably. If a settlement cannot be reached between you and your former partner, both parties will be given a court date to have the matter resolved before a Judge.
What happens during the Court appearance?
In the next Court appearance, your case will be heard in the Family Justice Courts before a District Judge. The Judge will consider whether agreement may resolve the case. If an agreement cannot be reached, the Judge will take into consideration the relevant facts and will view the relevant documents such as Bank and CPF statements, Salary Slips, IRAS documents, Statements from the parties and affidavits from the parties. Subsequently, a date for trial will be fixed.
What happens if you are unable to attend Court?
If you, fail to attend any of the Court dates without any justifiable reasons, your application may be voided.
What this means is that you would have to file another Magistrate’s Complain and you would need to go through the entire process again and bear the respective fees.
However, if your spouse fails to attend Court without any justifiable reasons, the Court may issue a warrant of arrest against him or her so as to compel him or her to attend the Court session.
During the open Court hearing, the party seeking maintenance will present their case by presenting documents to the court and giving sworn evidence. The other party resisting the maintenance will be able to cross-examine the documents and the statements made. Should you engage a Lawyer, they will make the necessary submissions for you and assist you in drafting the relevant documents.
In the end after looking through the relevant documents and hearing the submissions made by both parties the Judge will decide whether or not to grant the application for maintenance.
How does the Judge or the Court decide on how much maintenance is to be paid?
The Court has the discretion to decide on the amount of maintenance to be paid to the (former) spouse. To determine the amount of any maintenance to be paid by one spouse to the other, the Court will regard all of the following conditions (Section 114 of the Charter):
- The income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources each party possesses/possessed in the marriage or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
- The financial needs and responsibilities that each party has/had in the marriage or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
- The standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage;
- The age of each party to the marriage and the duration of the marriage;
- Any physical or mental disability of either of the parties to the marriage;
- The contributions made by each of the parties to the welfare of the family, including any contribution made by managing the home or by caring for the family; and
- In the case of proceedings for divorce, the value or benefit of anything of either party that would be unobtainable after the dissolution of the marriage.
The aim of the Singapore Courts is to be Fair when granting spousal maintenance, the court aims to put the former spouse in a financial position similar to what s/he would be in if the marriage had continued.
What if my spouse wants a high amount for maintenance?
This principle of fairness applies to spouses who formerly enjoyed a high living standard. For example, in the case of Lee Yong Chuan Edwin v Tan Soan Lian (2000) SGCA 68, the Respondent (Tan Soan Lian) was granted a lump sum maintenance of $960,000, calculated on the basis of $8,000 per month for ten years, but the Appellant (Lee Yong Chuan Edwin) argued the monthly maintenance ought to be capped at $4,000 a month.
The facts of the divorced couple are as follows: The Appellant was the wealthy executive director of LKTH, a well-known company in Singapore’s construction and property development industry Both him and his wife were accustomed to a high standard of living. They lived together in a luxurious condominium in a prime area and was not financially restricted. In the past, the couple went on expensive holiday vacations, travelled first or business class, stayed at high-end resorts…etc.
As of 2000, Lee Yong Chuan Edwin and Tan Soan Lian were married for almost 12 years and had two children together. Regarding the factors accounted for by the Court, the wife contributed to the welfare of the family during the marriage by managing the home and caring for the family. Furthermore, she had not worked since 1983, and there was no possibility of her being able to return to the workforce to earn enough to sustain the lifestyle with which she had become comfortable. In light of the high standard of living enjoyed by the Respondent while married to the Appellant, the lump sum maintenance awarded to her by the Judge was not much by comparison. Due to these factors in tandem, the Appellant’s appeal on the quantum of maintenance is dismissed. Therefore, a person who has grown accustomed to a lavish lifestyle can be allotted a sum that will allow for a similar lifestyle post-divorce.
Conversely, if the wife is earning a sufficient salary, the Court may be reluctant to award a high quantum in maintenance fees to the wife, if any. On top of that, if the wife is given a big portion of the marital assets, the Court may use this as justification for a smaller maintenance amount for the wife.
What will the Maintenance Order do?
The maintenance order will state the amount of maintenance to be paid, when it is to be paid, to whom it will be paid, and the method of payment (payment to a bank account is advised for the purpose of evidence).
Do I have to pay Tax for the maintenance I receive?
No, spousal maintenance is exempt from tax. Maintenance can be paid to your spouse in either a lump sum or in periodic instalments via bank transfer or cheque (the agreement for the payment can be in the form of property as well). The duration of such maintenance payments typically for the half the length of the marriage or till the spouse re-marries.
Can there be a change in the Maintenance?
If there has been a material change in the circumstance of either party such as the loss of employment or a sudden medical condition that requires additional support, either party may need to have the Maintenance Order changed.
Both parties at any point in time may take out a Variation of the Maintenance order. The Court upon hearing the request and having sight of the relevant documents may choose to change or cancel any order for maintenance.
What happens if you don’t Pay Spousal Maintenance
If a spouse neglects to make maintenance payments, the other may wish to apply for enforcement of the order and try to recover the debt by going to the Family Justice Courts and reporting the location of the husband’s home. The Courts may take action. The following are the possible measures the Court may enact:
- Impose a fine or a sentence on the Respondent, which then subjects him or her to imprisonment for less than one month for each month of debt.
- Issue a warrant to seize and sell any property belonging to the Respondent and pay the proceeds to the Complainant.
- Impose an Attachment of Earnings Order for the employer of the husband to deduct the maintenance payment out of his salary. In such cases, the wife is advised to find out the name and the address of the spouse’s employer.
- Order any debtors who owe the Respondent to pay the Complainant instead of the Respondent.
- Order the Respondent to undergo mandatory financial counselling or community service.
If on the other hand, the Respondent is subject to certain conditions in which he or she in unable to afford the spousal maintenance payment, he or she is to immediately notify the Court to avoid being seen as lacking credibility or attempting to deceive the former spouse.
We Want to Help You through the Divorce
Matters such as Divorce, Separation, Maintenance, Division of Matrimonial Assets and Child Custody are difficult matters to tackle alone. We at I.R.B. Law LLP understand that handling such matters is not as easy as it seems, navigating through the legal requires for each application is tricky. We at I.R.B. Law LLP have an experienced team of lawyers who are well versed in family law among other legal areas.
We pride ourselves on focusing on you, not your wallet. We will handle your case thoroughly and offer solutions expeditiously so you can bounce back on your feet. Generally, your first consultation is free, so please don’t hesitate to email us a [email protected] or call us at +65 6298 2537 to schedule an appointment with one of our lawyers.