Having an affair: Who's to blame

PHOTO: The New Paper

A noticeable number of marriages in Singapore break down because of an unfaithful spouse: the wife.

Twenty veteran family lawyers and private investigators told The Sunday Times that out of every 10 cases they handle in which a spouse cheats, about half are because the wife strayed from the marriage.

A decade ago, only two to three out of the 10 unfaithful parties were the wives. And 20 or 30 years ago, an adulterous wife being cited in divorce proceedings was quite unheard of, they added.

Lawyer and former Member of Parliament Ellen Lee said that back then, divorce was not an easy option as women were financially dependent on their husbands.

Divorce was also less socially accepted. "If a woman committed adultery in the past, she would have been condemned and ostracised by society for breaking up her family and bringing shame to them. The condemnation is not as strong now," she said.

There also appeared to be acceptance of men having a mistress and that this was something wives had to tolerate, she added.

But that has been changing, with more women becoming financially independent, educated, assertive and vocal, said lawyers, private investigators and counsellors.

Counsellor Jonathan Siew said: "In the past, women were expected to sacrifice for their families. But now, there is a greater sense of individualism. Women are less afraid and more willing to pursue their own needs, compared with their mothers' generation."

There are also opportunities to fall for another man at work or through social media, lawyers said of the cases they handled.

And contrary to popular perception, unfaithful wives are not only found among professionals and corporate types, or white-collar or higher-income earners. They come from all walks of life, including housewives and low-wage earners, and many have children.

Lawyer Louis Lim tells of a client, a hawker's assistant in her 40s, who was physically abused by her husband. The mother of two teenage daughters fell for a man who delivered vegetables to her stall and filed for divorce.

While most of the women in divorce cases handled by the private investigators and lawyers were in their 30s and 40s, there were also grandmothers in their 50s who strayed. Private investigator Raymond Lim had such a case. A woman in her 50s, who runs a small shop, had an affair with a businessman. The pair would have meals and check into budget hotels almost weekly.

And there are key differences between men and women when it comes to affairs.

For one thing, an unfaithful woman is more likely than a man to end the marriage, said counsellors and lawyers.

In their opinion, this is because women do not necessarily seek an extramarital affair. They may have been unhappy in their marriage, till someone comes along and offers them the emotional intimacy they find lacking in their marriage.

Said Mr Siew: "When women cheat, they are, to some extent, already thinking of divorce. So they allow themselves to go into the affair, which they see as a long-term commitment."

This is unlike men, who often want to keep the other woman on the side for a variety of reasons.

Lawyer Koh Tien Hua said: "Some men see sex outside of marriage as no big deal and just as a matter of sexual release. Or they may have an emotional attachment - but one that is not strong enough for them to leave their wives."

So it is rare to see women who are "serial" adulterers, unlike some men who have one affair after another, lawyers said.

That is not to say there are no women who "go around shopping for better husbands", lawyer Ellen Lee said.

The wife of one of her clients cheated on him repeatedly. The man forgave her time and again for the sake for their two young daughters. But after her fourth affair, he decided enough was enough and filed for a divorce.

Between 2004 and 2014, based on data from the Department of Statistics (DOS), 1.3 per cent to 2.1 per cent of those who filed for divorce under the Women's Charter cited adultery as the main reason.

Of this group, between 27 per cent and 34 per cent were husbands who claimed their wives had been unfaithful, the DOS explained when asked about data obtained from the Statistics of Marriages and Divorces.

Lawyers said official data from the courts does not reflect the reality of what they observe - which is that between a third and half the divorces they handle involve one cheating spouse.

But few cite adultery as grounds for divorce as that requires evidence of an affair, and the third party must be named in divorce papers.

So most choose to cite unreasonable behaviour instead.

This is also because it can be costly to hire a private investigator to gather evidence. It costs between $5,000 and $8,000 for one week of surveillance.

Adultery is also seen as shameful. So the offending party tends to negotiate with the spouse not to cite adultery as the reason, said lawyer Malathi Das.

Programme helps couple to rebuild marriage

After trying to have a child for over five years and going through several rounds of fertility treatments, Carol was over the moon when she conceived naturally.

But her joy was short-lived.

When she was two months pregnant, a woman from China told Carol that she has a six-month-old son with her husband.

It was a bolt from out of the blue.

But Carol, 40, (not her real name) decided to give her marriage a second chance for the sake of their unborn child - who is now a year old. Her husband Eric (not his real name), 42, also decided to end his two-year-long affair with the woman from China.

The couple, both professionals, attended Torn Asunder, a programme that helps couples to rebuild their marriage after an affair.

Reach Counselling, a charity, started offering the programme in 2010 as it noted that a sizeable number of couples were seeking help as one spouse strayed. Touch Community Services also offers the programme.

Reach Counselling's head Chang-Goh Song Eng said that to get on the programme, the cheating spouse must pledge, among other things, to stop the affair and the couple must want to save the marriage.

The programme helps couples address the pain of betrayal and helps them forgive and rebuild the marriage. Teaching couples to communicate and resolve differences is a key element.

After almost seven months of weekly therapy sessions, Carol and Eric realised what went wrong with their marriage.

He felt she was too preoccupied with fertility treatments and it was a blow to his ego that they could not conceive naturally.

They also had problems communicating. Eric tended to avoid problems rather than talk things through to resolve them. He said: "I found it hard to communicate with Carol. It seemed like she would shoot down whatever I said. So I sought refuge with another woman. She (the other woman) offered me a listening ear and made me feel important."

Things came to a head when his lover gave birth. Eric was in two minds. He could not bring himself to divorce Carol as she had been his "pillar of support", and yet he could not leave his lover and son.

He only found his resolve to end the relationship when he discovered that his wife was pregnant and was willing to give him another chance.

Through Torn Asunder, Carol realised how she had also caused their ties to sour: "I didn't realise I put him down and didn't give him the opportunity to talk, so much so that he felt he didn't have a voice."

She learnt how to listen and in turn, Eric opened up to her more.

"Have I forgiven him completely? Of course not. Forgiveness is a process," she said.

And what of the other woman and son born out of wedlock?

"We are still dealing with that, but I set some boundaries. He has to give the other side up and I don't let him see his son unless he is very sick," she said. "I know it is very difficult for him but we are taking it one step at a time. I'm happy I gave him a second chance or else I would have deprived my son of a father."

When the third party is a same-sex partner

In this day and age, the third party that causes a marriage break-up may not be the usual "other woman" or "other man".

Family lawyers say they have been seeing more marriages unravel on account of an affair with someone of the same sex.

It is not common, but the 20 lawyers and private investigators that The Sunday Times interviewed say it is a noticeable development.

Many of the lawyers handle one or two such cases a year now. But there were hardly any such cases 10 to 15 years ago. At most, it was just one case every few years.

Lawyers and counsellors say many of the men and women involved may be gay, lesbian or bisexual, but repressed their feelings to conform to social norms or to please their parents by getting married and having children. But with society more open today, more of them are acting on their feelings.

Lawyer Tan Siew Kim said: "I think being attracted to someone of the same sex is not so taboo any more. So all these people... feel it is now more acceptable to pursue their happiness, if they meet someone of the same sex."

Private investigators say the proliferation of social media and dating websites has made it easier to seek and establish such relationships, especially for gay men.

Lawyer Gloria James-Civetta said one of her clients was suspicious when her husband, a hair stylist in his 30s, became more conscious of his appearance and was frequently out till late. The private investigator the client hired found that her husband often patronised gay clubs. When confronted, he confessed to being gay and told her he wanted to divorce her.

Ms James-Civetta said of the couple, who have two children: "He told her he felt pressure from his parents to marry. She felt deceived, like he did not really love her at all."

According to counsellors, when women get involved with a same-sex companion, it is usually the result of having developed a strong bond with someone who offers them the emotional intimacy they find lacking in their husbands.

Lawyers say some women even decide to end the marriage and leave the children to be with their new partners.

Lawyer Rina Kalpanath Singh, who has handled such cases, said: "They tend to shy away from fighting for custody. They may feel ashamed as same-sex relationships are not so accepted by society yet and they don't want to put their children through living with two parents of the same sex."

Understandably, the discovery that their husband or wife is gay or lesbian is traumatic. And many of these spouses demand a divorce, lawyers say. Ms Singh said: "The betrayal cuts even deeper when they find out the third party is someone of the same sex as their spouse."

Lawyers say adultery is not cited as grounds for divorce in cases of infidelity involving same-sex partners. This is because adultery is legally defined as a sexual relationship between a man and a woman who are not married to each other, but to other people. So these individuals file for divorce citing "unreasonable behaviour".

Lawyer Helen Chia said: "I'm certain this has been going on for some time. It is just that no one talks about it. The world we live in is more accepting, so people now dare to come out and talk about it."

More people asking for prenatal DNA testing

Pregnant women who are uncertain if the husband or a lover is the father of the unborn child are using prenatal paternity testing to help them decide on their next course of action.

A number of firms have been offering such prenatal DNA tests here for some years now.

Easy DNA Singapore, which was set up in 2012 and has offered such tests since 2013, said the number of people asking for tests has more than doubled every year. Director Sharifah Khairiyah Syed-Mohamad said: "I think the increase has to do with greater awareness of prenatal paternity testing. But it could also be because there may be more extra-marital affairs going on."

In the first four months of this year, it conducted 12 tests - the same number as the whole of last year. Each test costs $2,350 and involves drawing blood from the pregnant woman and extracting the baby's DNA from the blood. This is because fragments of fetal DNA can be separated from the woman's genetic material in her blood. This is then checked against DNA material from the man, obtained with a cotton swab applied to the inside of his cheeks.

Dr Kenneth Wong of Obgyn Centre, who also performs prenatal paternity tests, says most women who ask for the test are married professionals in their 30s and 40s who have had flings or affairs. They abort if the baby is not the husband's, he said. On average, he performs one to two prenatal tests a month. Each test costs $5,000 to $6,000.

Unlike Easy DNA's method, Dr Wong gets tissue samples for DNA testing from the foetus through procedures known as chorionic villus sampling, or through amniocentesis. This can be done from as early as the 10th week of pregnancy. But the woman has to bring her lover for his blood sample to be taken as well. If there is a match with the baby's tissue sample, then paternity has been established by exclusion, he said. This means that if the lover is not the father, then the child is the husband's - who is none the wiser about the wife's affair.

Dr Wong cited the case of a patient who had a fling with her tour guide when she went trekking. She later arranged for the guide to fly here for tests. It turned out he was not the father, so she continued with the pregnancy.

The Health Sciences Authority's (HSA) DNA Profiling Laboratory also processes prenatal paternity tests, but handles fewer than 10 such tests a year.

Demand for conventional paternity tests after the birth of a child is also growing, according to Easy DNA and another firm, Baby DNA.

Easy DNA carried out 93 paternity tests last year - a figure which has increased by about 30 per cent a year since it was set up in 2012.

Baby DNA declined to give figures, but said demand for paternity tests has been rising each year.

A basic paternity test costs around $500 at both firms.

The HSA, which started processing paternity tests in the mid-1990s, says that in the past decade, it had handled between 180 and 220 paternity tests a year .

Lawyers say that for husbands, establishing paternity means that those who file for divorce can argue against having to provide maintenance if the child is not theirs.

Lawyer Louis Lim had a client who not only found out that his wife was unfaithful, but also discovered, through paternity tests, that both his sons were not his. He was heartbroken, Mr Lim said, adding that the man filed for divorce.


This article was first published on May 15, 2016.
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