US court upholds S'pore judgment

US court upholds S'pore judgment

A United States judge has refused an American woman's bid for the court to forgo a Singapore judgment relating to her divorce, and found her guilty of contempt of court instead.

Her Singaporean former spouse, a company director in his 40s, had gone to New York to register and enforce their Singapore divorce judgment, complaining that she had interfered with his access to their two children.

The couple, who cannot be named, married here in 2005 and have two Singaporean children aged six and eight. They lived here for six years before their divorce. The woman, who is in her 40s, took the children to her family home in Rochester, New York.

An interim divorce settlement by consent in the family court here in 2011 allowed the wife to relocate the children to New York.

But the judgment secured through the husband's Singapore lawyer, Koh Tien Hua, provided for him to have "liberal and unsupervised" access to the children. This included overnight stays, travel to Singapore and contact via phone, Skype and the Internet.

The woman, who had care and control of the children, sought to cancel the access provisions under the Singapore judgment.

She urged the New York court to discard the Singapore court's divorce judgment. She claimed that her husband was violent towards her, had bipolar disorder and that his smoking habit endangered one of their sons' asthma.

New York State Supreme Court Acting Justice Richard Dollinger was not convinced, noting she used "a shotgun approach to discredit her former husband", with no supporting evidence.

In judgment grounds released last week, the judge noted she did not contest that the Singapore court had jurisdiction over her and the children at the time of the divorce.

The woman appeared to be reneging on what she agreed to in Singapore and the judge barred her from trying to "upend" the terms of the Singapore judgment.

Among other things, the wife never allowed the children to travel to Singapore and never allowed them to stay overnight with their dad when he visited Rochester.

When he went to Rochester during the last Christmas break, the wife enrolled the children in a programme that occupied most of their day and refused him access to them without her presence.

Justice Dollinger took issue with her claim that her former husband's access rights violated her "fundamental human rights".

"The Singapore court's inclusion of the 'liberal and unsupervised visitation terms'... does not constitute a step that can be considered vicious, wicked, or immoral, and/or shocking to the prevailing moral sense of the court, or violative of the wife's fundamental human rights."

The court ordered the Singapore judgment to be registered in New York as sought by the husband and found her guilty of contempt of court, for disobeying the Singapore court order by interfering with the father's access.

The court ordered her to make up for it by allowing her former husband two sessions, of a week's length each, with the children for the rest of the year, with more the next year, among other things.

The father was also allowed to take them to Singapore for entire vacation breaks next year.

The judge stressed it was in the children's best interests to bond with both parents and access was premised on that ground.

"There is no evidence to suggest that the best interests of the children would not be served by their father's presence in their lives," said Justice Dollinger.

This article was first published on Nov 1, 2014.
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