Maintenance laws must be made gender neutral

Maintenance laws must be made gender neutral

A 69-year-old man, Mr T, has been ordered to pay $70,000 in maintenance to his former wife despite the fact that he is retired, she earns more than him and he paid the mortgage on their marital home.

Singapore's highest court recently upheld the maintenance order even as it acknowledged that it seemed a "little generous" based on the "facts of this case".

However, happily for Mr T, rather than tamper with the maintenance, the Court of Appeal lowered his former wife's share of the property proceeds from 90 to 55 per cent after scrutinising the couple's finances and their respective contributions to the marriage.

It also struck down the lower court's order for the retiree to maintain his adult children.

According to court documents, the retired expatriate lives on around $2,800 a month, the bulk of it being pension payments from his home country. His last drawn pay when he worked was $5,000.

His Singaporean ex-wife is a decade younger than him and earns between $4,000 and $7,000 a month as a self-employed corporate trainer.

Bias against men?

The former naval officer's predicament is not unique. As women earn more, Singapore's courts are seeing more cases of well-off ex-wives demanding large sums in maintenance from their former spouses. Some of these women earn more than the men.

Unlike divorce laws in countries like the United States, Australia, Canada and much of the European Union, the Women's Charter - which governs marriage and divorce matters in Singapore - does not allow men to claim maintenance from their wives.

In Britain, for instance, spousal maintenance is paid by the man or woman with the higher income to the one with the lower income. It is generally awarded when one party cannot support himself without payments from the other.

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