Retiree, 65, remarried with young child, allowed to halve maintenance for ex-wife to RM2,050 a month


Family lawyers say that men can apply to stop giving spousal maintenance or reduce the sums given if there are material changes in circumstances since the maintenance order was made. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: ISTOCKPHOTO via The Straits Times/ANN

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN): A 65-year-old retiree, who wed a woman 27 years his junior after his divorce in 2012, was recently allowed to reduce the amount of spousal maintenance he gives to his 69-year-old ex-wife by half to S$600 (RM2,050) a month.

High Court Judge Choo Han Teck ruled that the man’s retirement in July 2023 was a material change in circumstances that justified the reduction in the financial support given. Justice Choo added that given the man’s age, he is “entitled to retire as he wishes”.

In the judgment, which was released on May 30, Justice Choo said: “The law of maintenance does not seek to create situations of lifelong dependency by former wives on maintenance from their former husbands. They are expected to regain some level of financial self-sufficiency.”

However, the judge noted that the courts cannot expect the ex-wife, at the age of 69, to find a job now, especially given her medical condition.

Diagnosed with a slipped disc in 2010, she has been unemployed since 2017 as she cannot stand for long periods of time.

The couple’s previous occupations were not stated in the judgment. They divorced after 24 years of marriage and have two grown-up children.

The man remarried in 2017 and has a six-year-old daughter from his second marriage. His second wife is a 38-year-old Chinese citizen who is unemployed.

He has about S$500,000 in CPF savings and proceeds from his company’s shares to fund his retirement. He is also hoping for his second wife to find a job to help with household expenses.

The man said he is unable to give his wife S$1,200 a month after his retirement, but he is willing to give her S$600 a month for the next two years.

The ex-wife argued that the man’s retirement was “self-induced” and that he has enough money to continue giving her S$1,200 each month.

Justice Choo found that while the man has more savings in his CPF and bank accounts than his ex-wife, he agreed with the man that the money is needed to provide for his new family.

The judge halved the maintenance for the ex-wife from S$1,200 to S$600 a month for two years with effect from June.

The judge also said the man’s second wife should continue to look for employment.

Justice Choo also had sharp words for their children, saying: “It is inexplicable that the two adult children seem to have vanished at a time they are most needed.”

Their son, 33, is living in the United States, pursuing a doctorate and working part-time. He graduated from Boston University, while their 29-year-old daughter graduated from University College London.

The daughter is working as a brand manager in Singapore while also running her own business. She moved out of her mother’s house to share an apartment with a colleague in 2022.

Both children benefited from a S$600,000 education fund the then couple started to finance their children’s overseas tertiary education.

The former couple have not heard from their daughter since May 2023. Likewise, they do not know their son’s current whereabouts or what he is doing now.

In 2022, which was the last time the man heard from his son, he transferred US$20,000 (S$27,000) to his son. In October 2023, the ex-wife transferred about S$13,700 to the son as he was “not doing well”.

Justice Choo said: “The responsibility for providing for the financial needs of the parents ought to be partially borne by their children, especially after they had benefited tremendously from the tertiary education fund set up by their parents.

“It is a pity that their son and daughter, one with a PhD and the other a university degree, are unable to contribute even a token sum towards their aged parents’ upkeep. The summons before me is not an appropriate summons for this court to make any order against the children.”

Mr Ivan Cheong, head of the Singapore family law team at Withers KhattarWong, said the case illustrates that, in general, retirement due to old age is a material change in circumstance that would justify the cancellation or reduction in maintenance sum given to the ex-wife.

He said: “This would be useful for ex-husbands who intend to retire but are concerned that they are shackled to a lifelong dependency of spousal maintenance to their former wives even when they are no longer receiving any income.”

Mr Cheong and the other lawyers interviewed are not involved in this particular case.

Under the Women’s Charter, if the court does not state an end date for the monthly spousal maintenance to be paid, the man has to continue supporting his ex-wife until she dies or remarries, said Ms Thian Wen Yi.

Ms Thian, a partner at Harry Elias Partnership, referred to a case she handled where a businessman in his 40s was ordered to continue paying $3,000 a month in spousal maintenance to his ex-wife.

Their marriage lasted 12 years, and he has been giving her spousal support for the past 10 years – even after he remarried and has a young child with his new wife.

The ex-wife, who is in her 40s, lived with her boyfriend – who is almost 30 years her senior – after the divorce.

In 2020, the man applied to rescind the ex-wife’s maintenance, but the judge dismissed his application as the ex-wife continued to be the primary caregiver of their three teenage children.

The judge said the ex-wife also had limited employability and earning capacity, having been a stay-at-home mother during the marriage.

Besides, the man, who is from one of Singapore’s richest families, could well afford to continue supporting his ex-wife, even after his remarriage, the judge said.

Family lawyers say that men can apply to stop giving spousal maintenance or reduce the sums given if there are material changes in circumstances since the maintenance order was made.

The typical reasons cited include if the man’s income falls significantly, or he retires, or the ex-wife is able to support herself financially.

But remarriage is not a free pass to avoiding paying spousal maintenance, as the courts have previously said, Ms Thian noted.

Mr Cheong explained that the purpose of spousal maintenance is to even out the financial inequalities for women who have sacrificed their careers to look after the children and family during the marriage.

Lawyers say that working women or women who have their own sources of income, among other factors of financial self-sufficiency, may not be awarded any spousal maintenance at all.

Ms Wong Kai Yun, co-managing director of Chia Wong Chambers, said having spousal maintenance awarded to ex-wives is not as common as it was in the past.

Ms Wong, who has been a lawyer for almost 30 years, said: “My own view is that this is also due to the progress towards gender equality in the workplace, where we see that women increasingly earn the same or even more than their husbands.” - The Straits Times/ANN

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