No sole ownership of flat for divorcee

A partially paralysed Singaporean woman who won a $4.6 million insurance payout due to an overseas car accident has failed in her bid to gain sole ownership of an HDB flat that she co-owned with her former husband.

The dispute over the matrimonial flat and maintenance payable to her following their divorce was brought up in the High Court on Tuesday.

Madam Ho Shin Hwee, 35, and her husband Mark Kwik, 36, separated a year after the accident in July 2003 in Brisbane, Australia, which left her with serious head injuries. As a result of the accident, Madam Ho was wheelchair-bound and needed permanent medical and domestic care.

They had married in Singapore some 10 months earlier and she had joined him in Brisbane, where he worked as a technician. The following year, Mr Kwik moved out of the five-room Sengkang flat. She divorced him in 2011.

In August 2011, Madam Ho received a A$3.8 million (S$4.6 million) insurance payout for the accident in Brisbane.

Her lawyers urged the court not to include the payout sum in the matrimonial assets to be divided. Mr Kwik accepted this but argued that the payout showed that she could support herself. Madam Ho had sought sole ownership of the flat - currently worth $495,000 - without having to refund her former husband's CPF monies that were used to pay for the flat.

The issue at hand was the HDB Home Protection Insurance Scheme (HPIS), which kicked in following her accident. Funds from HPIS had helped to settle the flat's mortgage debt.

Her lawyers, Mr Irving Choh and Ms Lim Bee Li, argued that the HPIS payout entitled her to fully own the flat as it raised her contribution towards it to 78 per cent. She had also paid for various expenses to maintain the flat, they added.

But lawyer K. Manicavasagam, who represented Mr Kwik, countered that the HPIS was meant as an insurance for the flat and not for the homeowner. He cited a landmark Court of Appeal decision last year in a divorce case under similar circumstances.

In that decision, Appeals Judge Chao Hick Tin wrote that "the character of the HPIS... clearly indicated that a payout under the HPIS pertains to the insured member's property rather than to the insured CPF member". Mr Kwik asked the court to grant equal sharing from the sale proceeds of the flat.

Judicial Commissioner Lionel Yee awarded Madam Ho a 47 per cent share and Mr Kwik a 53 per cent share of the matrimonial flat. He was also ordered to pay $54,000 as a lump sum in maintenance monies for Madam Ho.

Madam Ho was in the news earlier this year when the Singapore lawyer, Mr M. Kurubalan, handling her accident insurance claim was suspended for six months in Singapore for professional misconduct. He had tried to get her to pay 40 per cent of her A$3.8 million payout, which is at least 10 times more than what he should have charged her.

vijayan@sph.com.sg


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