The cost of breaking up

So the wedding's off - but the damage goes beyond your broken heart.

Aretha Loh investigates how much soon-to-wed couples have to cough up if they part ways.

*Names have been changed.


Sarah*, 28, had only been dating Mike*, 33, for six months before they decided to tie the knot last September.

"There wasn't a lot of love between us, but he was a nice, stable and caring guy. Our families also pressured us to get married," says Sarah.

But three months before the wedding, she realised they were incompatible and decided to call it off. As the one initiating the break-up, she offered to bear the cost of their wedding banquet, favours and home renovations of his studio apartment. The total sum? $17,000.

"I'm still recovering from a failed business, so paying back a huge sum is definitely not easy. But he's agreed to let me pay him in monthly instalments," says Sarah.

A break-up inflicts blows to your heart, mind and ego - but the most severe blow of all may be the one to your wallet, regardless of whether you were dumper or dumpee. Here's a breakdown of what a break-up might cost you.

Home

"Want to buy a flat?" are the four words synonymous with a marriage proposal. But they may land you in a financial quagmire if you split after paying the down payment and legal fees for your future home.

Cheryl*, 26, bought an HDB resale flat with her ex-fiance Sean*, 26, in November 2010, and this set her back by a hefty $23,500 when they broke up. She ended the relationship in 2011 after she caught him cheating on her.

"When we bought the flat, he had just completed his National Service and didn't have much savings, whereas I had been working for a year. So, I paid for all of the house-related expenses," says Cheryl.

These included $20,000 for the cash over valuation (COV), $3,000 for the property agent's commission, and about $500 for the fire insurance, utilities and town council fees.

The cost of breaking up:

If you bought a resale flat with your man, you'll have to return the property to the Housing Development Board (HDB), which will buy it back at a price that may not be the same as what you paid.

If you have signed the Sale and Purchase Agreement under HDB's fiance/fiancee scheme:

  • For a Build-To-Order (BTO) flat, you will lose 5 per cent of the cost of the house, deducted from your down payment.
  • For an Executive Condominium (EC), you will lose 20 per cent of the cost of the house, deducted from your down payment.

For a private property, you will have to sell the unit. Once you find a buyer, you'll have to pay an agent's commission - 2 per cent of the cost of the property. You'll also have to pay additional stamp duty fees for selling a property that is less than four years old, on top of the usual stamp fees.

You will also lose:

1) solicitor's fees, which are typically 0.3 to 0.6 per cent of the purchase price of the property;

2) administration and valuation fees for the mortgage, totalling between $200 and $300 $500 to $3,600 in stamp fees to the Iras.

Wedding banquet and honeymoon trip

The elaborate ceremonies with a 10-course dinner and extravagant decor, and the romantic honeymoon to destinations like Paris or the Maldives - all these have to be cancelled.

Peiling, 27, an online shop owner, split from her 30-year-old banker fiance just two weeks before their wedding banquet.

"I realised that our personalities were not compatible and even though it was difficult to end a five-year relationship, I did," says Peiling.

Because they cancelled so close to the date, Peiling and her ex ended up paying for everything in full. That included $50,000 for the banquet, $500 for the car rental and $14,000 for a bridal package that included the clothes, pre-wedding shots in Greece and photography on the actual day of the wedding.

"Even though it was hard for him to accept the break-up, he was still willing to pay for half the expenses," she said.

"Thankfully, the hotel was kind enough to let us hold two separate dinners for our families," she adds.

The cost of breaking up:

Most hotels we spoke to charge a fixed deposit for the wedding banquet that ranges from $5,000 to $9,000, or a fixed percentage of the total price, which includes the cost of food, beverage and room.

As a rule of thumb, if you cancel within four months of your wedding, you could lose the entire sum.

Four travel agencies we spoke to also required a deposit - $300 to $500 per person - when you book an overseas trip (ie your honeymoon).

Generally, if you cancel within seven days before the trip, you'll have to foot the total bill.

What you can do:

1) Try negotiating with the hotel. They might allow you to hold another dinner on a different date to replace your wedding banquet.

2) As for the honeymoon trip, you might be able to get a partial refund, change the date of your air ticket or transfer it, unless it's a promotional ticket.

Joint bank account

You might have set one up while you were dating, for convenience's sake - to pay for dates, holidays and, of course, to save up for big-ticket items.

Mary*, 26, a civil servant, currently shares a joint account with her fiance to save up for their wedding this December and an HDB flat.

"To date, we have about $17,000 in the account, half of which came from me," she says.

"Apart from checking the amount every month to see how much we have, I've never really felt the need to safeguard it," she says.

The cost of breaking up:

He could withdraw all the money and close the account without telling you if the account operates under an "either to sign" authority. This means that any one of the two account holders can operate the account on their own.

What you can do:

1) Opt for "both to sign" authority when you set up the joint account. It means that both of you will have to give instructions to withdraw or transfer any money from the account.

2) If you want to switch from an "either to sign" to a "both to sign" authority, some banks will ask you to close the account and open a new one, while others may not. Either way, both of you will have to go to the bank and fill up new forms.

Shared business

Some dating couples are business partners too. But before you and your fiance start your own venture, think about whether you're capable of working with each other through thick, thin and separation.

Gan Kwok Yee, 28, director of Jigger & Pony, co-owns the bar with fiance Indra Kantono, 29.

"We each put in our own share of capital and hold our shares separately - we have individual share certificates," she says.

The couple also handles different aspects of the bar - Kwok Yee takes care of the daily operations, while Indra assists her and manages the finances.

This way, the corporate structure of the business won't change even if they split.

They've also signed a shareholders' agreement - an informal written agreement among the shareholders of a business - that outlines what would happen if they break up.

"We've agreed that he will be a silent partner and that I will run the bar," she shares.

The cost of breaking up:

Your partner could skip town while the company's in financial dire straits, leaving you to settle the outstanding debts. And if there are major disagreements over how to manage the business or who should take over, you could lose your capital.

"The problem is that the relationship and business get mingled. A couple in love may think that nothing will go wrong. But things do go wrong, sometimes very wrong," says Alfred Dodwell, lawyer at Dodwell & Co.

In an emotionally charged battle, the only way out is a clear agreement that reflects what both of you have previously agreed on for the business.

What you can do: Alfred recommends getting a formal shareholders' agreement, drawn up by a lawyer, that clearly states what the agreed payment is for each party.

For instance, if you are the manager and shareholder of the business and there is a profit of $200,000, you could agree to be paid a salary of $3,000 and split the remainder of the profits with him.

As it's impossible to split a business, one of you will have to take over if you break up. The other will be paid based on the current value of the business, the value of its brand name and assets, and any outstanding debt.

"Usually, the calculations can become hotly disputed, so keep a meticulous record of what you contribute to the business," says Alfred.

Keep track of things like company and personal bank statements, invoices, receipts, delivery orders, renovation costs and the cost of items, like furniture, that have a tangible value. hw

*Names have been changed

 

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