Ugly divorce cases nearly made me shun marriage

Ugly divorce cases nearly made me shun marriage

Veteran family lawyer Ellen Lee is a staunch supporter of the new Family Justice Act.

It is long overdue, said the 57-year-old MP in Sembawang GRC who has handled more than 2,000 divorce cases in the past 33 years. But only a handful of couples parted on cordial terms.

Ms Lee tells Tham Yuen-C why her work almost made her lose hope in marriage, how vengeful some spouses can be and what more the law can do to bring peace to a warring family.

She also talks of her role as the new president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association and explains why the national team cannot do away with foreign-born players.

Did you start your legal career in family law?

No. In the beginning, I tried everything - corporate work, probate, civil and criminal litigation plus a bit of family law.

I also gave a lot of free legal talks then. Inevitably, people wanted to hear about family matters, such as divorce and wills.

That's how I ended up focusing on family law.

Did you have a personal interest in family law?

Yes, because I'm interested in counselling.

When people suffer family breakups, it's not just legal advice they need, but also practical advice on housing, schooling, money, jobs, relationships and how to walk away relatively unscathed.

In the 1980s, many who divorced also faced humiliation as society was scornful of them and people would spurn them.

I wanted to help them get through it and move on.

How many divorce cases have you handled over the years? What are the main reasons for the breakdown of marriages?

I must have dealt with 2,000 to 3,000 cases, but not all ended up in court.

In the 1980s, the most common reason was adultery, usually by the men.

The women would usually be sued for unreasonable behaviour, like being neglectful of their husbands and not fulfilling their duties as wives.

But from the 1990s, I began to see more women committing adultery.

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