Divorces drag on as spouses slug it out

Divorces drag on as spouses slug it out

A housewife wants a divorce but her husband pleads for a reconciliation. She agrees on condition that his parents, who live with them, move out. She claims that her in-laws are a constant source of friction.

The husband disagrees. And he lists his own set of demands: He will not pay a cent towards her upkeep, she must forsake all claims to the matrimonial flat they own jointly and she must start paying for half of the children's and household expenses, though she does not work.

She is also not to ask about his whereabouts if he returns late, and she cannot see her own family.

The judge granted the woman a divorce on the grounds of his unreasonable behaviour.

"Ironically, his demands exhibited his unreasonable behaviour to the court very well," said the woman's lawyer, Ms Ellen Lee.

Ridiculous demands by warring spouses can mire divorce proceedings in angst and anger and cause some cases to drag on for years, say lawyers, who welcome the new judge-led process of handling divorce cases.

The Family Justice Act, passed by Parliament this month, aims to help resolve family conflicts in a less adversarial manner, with judges focusing on relevant issues concerning the children, maintenance and division of assets.

Ms Lee, a family lawyer for 33 years and a Member of Parliament, said the new Act could help lower the chances of divorce being a "grievance-led process in court".

"Sometimes, it is difficult for lawyers to tell clients to cut to the chase as they feel they are denied justice," she said.

"They are far more likely to take the same advice from a judge, especially a judge who has the skills and training to show support and sympathy."

Family lawyer Anuradha Sharma has been involved in several cases where parties insist on making public irrelevant or sometimes deeply embarrassing details in court documents.

In one case, an aggrieved wife listed details of the sexual demands she said her husband made.

Ms Sharma, who represented the husband, said: "My client was mortified at the thought of 30 or more pages of intimate details being made public, especially since he had already agreed to the divorce."

Eventually, the woman took the judge's advice and agreed to not contest the divorce. "But by then, a lot of time and money had already been spent," said Ms Sharma.

In another case, a wife filed for divorce three years after her husband left her and went to live with his parents. Under Singapore laws, a couple can divorce if they have been separated for three years and both parties agree to end the marriage.

Although the man agreed to a divorce, the wife insisted on producing lengthy affidavits in court - complete with photographs from Facebook - to show that he had an affair during their separation.

"All she wanted was to make him admit to the affair in court, although according to him, it occurred well after their separation," said Ms Sharma. Once more, the case dragged on for a year.

"The new judge-led approach will hopefully cut this unnecessary acrimony in court," said the lawyer.

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