10 common pitfalls to avoid when you file for divorce in Singapore

When you first told your spouse you wanted to file for divorce, you may have said things like, “I only want what’s fair for both of us and the kids” or “I’m not looking to turn this into an all-out war.”

But wanting a fair divorce and working through what’s fair in a divorce settlement are two completely different things.

And if you’re like most out there, you neither planned, wanted or prepared for a divorce. But life happens to us and sometimes there’s just no way out anymore.

Lack of information about the divorce process, combined with the emotional angst you’re facing, could cause you to make improper decisions that can have negative repercussions for years to come.

Meet Angie and Derrick. Angie is represented by us, Derrick by his own lawyer. We’ll be using them as a case study on what to do and what to avoid during a divorce settlement.

1. Not getting enough parenting time and child issues

Angie and Derrick really love their kids and they’re having a hard time deciding matters related to their kids. So they look to their lawyers for advice. 

“Joint custody is the norm. Sole custody is the exception” our Lawyer tells Angie, “let me explain how this works”

Raising a child goes far beyond money. There are 4 main aspects to look at:

  • Major decision-making rights: education, major operations, religion etc
  • Care and control: which parent will look after their day to day needs?
  • Access: how often can they spend time with their children? 
  • Maintenance: how much financial support is required to raise them?

Our Lawyer adds that the child maintenance order is valid only until their kids are 21 years old unless expressly stated otherwise. 

Angie also realized she’ll need even more child maintenance because as their children grow older, their expenses increase especially tertiary education and insurance premiums. 

Our Lawyer then sits through with Angie and goes over what she needs to consider.

2. Not knowing how much spouse maintenance to ask for

Angie is thinking of applying for spousal maintenance. But she’s capable of earning a decent income herself so her chances of being granted maintenance are lower. 

Wife maintenance

The court will look at the facts and determine whether Angie has such a need; and if so, the appropriate maintenance. Factors that will influence Angie’s maintenance include:

  • Both Angie and Derrick’s earning power, previously, currently and in the future.
  • The assets owned by Angie and Derrick
  • The financial needs, obligations and responsibilities of Angie and Derrick in the foreseeable future. 
  • The standard of living enjoyed by the family before the marriage broke down.
  • Angie and Derrick’s age and the duration of the marriage.
  • The contributions made by both of them to the family and any sacrifices made.
  • Any potential losses suffered as a result of the divorce.

Husband Maintenance

Good news for Derrick and other husbands.

Since the recent update to the Women’s Charter, men are now allowed to apply for maintenance as well, under the following circumstances:

If he can prove during the subsistence of the marriage, was or became
(i) incapacitated, by any physical or mental disability or any illness, from earning a livelihood; and
(ii) unable to maintain himself; and
(b) continues to be unable to maintain himself

Basically, if a man isn’t able to sustain himself, he has reasonable grounds to apply for the maintenance. Speak to our lawyers if you need more information about this. 

3. Clueless about dividing your marital assets and marital debts

Myth:
The wife always gets half of the assets.

Fact:
For Derrick and Angie, and most other couples, a 50-50 equal split may not always be the best way forward. On the surface, it seems fair but may not be so when we dive into the details.

Calculating the split

Angie was told to review her and Derrick’s respective financial and non-financial contributions to the marriage, their matrimonial home and their joint assets.

Financial contributions: Downpayment, mortgage, paying for utility bills, household expenses etc. 

Non-financial contributions: Taking care of children, taking care of spouse, looking after aged parent or dependent 

In this case, Angie and Derrick agree to have a 60-40 split. 

They’re just about to shake hands when our Lawyer reminds Angie that she has to:

  • Check that whoever’s buying has the financial ability to buy out their share of the property
  • Check if they have fulfilled the minimum occupancy requirement (if they plan to sell or if relevant, especially for BTOs)
  • Check with HDB or the bank if she has the capacity to borrow what she needs 
  • Check if any CPF refund is needed and if there is enough to refund. If not enough, what can be done
  • Check the buyer’s CPF valuation limit and CPF withdrawal limit (just in case the buyer hits the bank loan and CPF limits, and the buyer needs to have sufficient cash on hand)

4. Not considering mediation

Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution. It’s not about saving the marriage (though sometimes it can be) but more about helping the parties find solutions to meet their needs and concerns.

Angie heard from her friends about mediation and asked our Lawyer if it was necessary. 

While mediation isn’t compulsory pre-divorce, many couples have benefited from the sessions.

When a contested divorce starts, mediation is compulsory if the couple has a child under 21 years old.

Why mediation?

5. Forgetting to update their estate documents

It doesn’t matter what age you are, you should always keep your documents up to date. And even more so when you are going through a change in your marital status. 

Our Lawyer asks Angie if she has any estate documents to be updated. Angie shakes her head. It’s something new she has to consider.

Wills

If you’ve written a will where your spouse is the beneficiary, you might want to change that.

Or in the event that the divorce does not conclude before your death, and you die without a will, you wouldn’t want your spouse to get half of your assets either. 

CPF & Insurance Policies

As you go through your divorce, do remember to change your spouse’s name as the nominee on your CPF and your life insurance policies to someone else. 

6. Trying to punish your spouse

This is a very bad idea for two reasons. 

First, the courts aren’t there to punish your spouse but to ensure a fair outcome. 

Secondly, being so aggressive will only cause more communication breakdown. Meaning you’ll be stuck as a married person longer. You wouldn’t want that.

When negotiating anything in general, if you want to get something you want, you may have no choice but to build rapport. And there’s always an element of give and take.

For the sake of expediting the process and getting out of their misery sooner, Angie and Derrick agreed to cooperate one last time.

7. Believing your spouse will volunteer financial details

This is common in many marriages where there’s a housewife and a working husband who handles all the financial documents. The wife is clueless about most things that have to do with money.

There are also cases like Angie and Derrick where Angie handles the daily expenses like food and other household expenditures, while Derrick handles the recurring bills. 

Derrick handles his side of the house and Angie handles hers. But now they face a problem. Who is paying for what and how much? Does Derrick own more assets than he is letting on?

Discovery Process

In an ideal world, couples would tell each other what they are worth. In the real world, it may not happen.

Our Lawyer will try to help Angie find out what Derrick is truly worth so that our Lawyer can know what’s fair for Angie.

For a complex divorce procedure, especially in contested divorces, if mediation doesn’t succeed, the couple will have to go through a process of discovery. 

Sometimes, the couple may need to go through the discovery process before resuming any settlement talks.

The court will ask both parties to file an affidavit of assets and means. It will be the duty of each party to make full and frank disclosure. 

Your lawyers will go through with you how to spot any unusual transactions, review documents, raise discrepancies, even get a Private Investigator to keep surveillance if there’s really a need.

For the most part though, if you want a smooth transition and a friendly goodbye, it makes sense to work with each other.

8. Letting emotions get into the way of your decisions

The matrimonial home is a big issue for many couples. There’s a lot of sentimental value attached. 

Some people end up fighting for an expensive home that they cannot afford to upkeep. That’s not a wise move because you have to think about the long term commitment to the house. 

Maintenance works, repairs, paying off the loan. Is it worth fighting for? 

On the other hand, don’t let your impatience to get the divorce over and done with, cause you to be at a disadvantage either. 

Angie and Derrick are humans too. But for their future happiness, they kept their cool.

They trusted their lawyers and communicated with their advisors on what they wanted (and didn’t want), allowing the experts to make the right call.

9. Assuming your lawyer knows your wishes and will handle everything

While a good lawyer is there to represent you and guide you through the whole divorce process, you still need to give your lawyer as much information and input as possible to get the best settlement.

Our Lawyer doesn’t have superhuman powers. He can’t read her mind.

But our Lawyer worked well with Angie, Angie shared with our Lawyer her thoughts, goals and aspirations, and our Lawyer kept Angie objective about things.

10. Disregarding the impact of taxes in a divorce settlement

Can you get taxed on marital assets you receive after the settlement? You may!

Derrick and Angie want to sell their condo and split the proceeds. But they realise that they bought it not long ago and will have to pay Seller’s Stamp Duty (SSD).

Unexpected taxes may have caused Angie and Derrick a rude shock if they did not consult their Lawyers on it!

Angie and Derrick had a clean break and are trying at their attempt at a fresh lease of life.

If you are facing a divorce, how you handle it can mean the difference between whether you get a good settlement or a marginal to poor one.

With so much at stake, it is well worth it to do some research and find an experienced family law attorney.

Why Family 360?

Divorce is not about fearing the unknown and living less.

We at Family 360 will bring to your life the firm’s 35 years of experience and advice on family law to make you fear less and live more.

It’s about knowing what’s ahead; what to expect and how to navigate with less fear and greater certainty.

When we understand the facts of your case, we will chart the course for you and tell you options you have. You will then have better perspectives and greater control of your own life and future and that of your children if you have them.

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