With a divorce rate in Singapore of around 6.8%, it is not unreasonable to rationally think what might happen if the unthinkable happens. Perhaps due to human nature or superstition, we tend to avoid entertaining thoughts of the worse cases happening, but that’s also the reason why many divorces lead to financial ruin of one or both parties.
By understanding the legal and moral obligations in a divorce, you would be able to avoid some needless financial hardship and allow both parties to move on to a new chapter in their lives.
One of the biggest concerns in going ahead with a divorce are the legal fees. There is a possibility of going through the divorce proceedings without a lawyer but the complexity involved may cause you to hire a lawyer anyway.
The type of fees can be categorised as:
1) Professional charges: lawyer fees for their legal expertise and representation
2) Disbursements: filing fees for your divorce papers, court fees, commissioning fees,etc.
An Uncontested Divorce
An uncontested divorce occurs when a couple has come to an agreement on all issues relevant to their marriage and its dissolution. Ancillary matters such as child custody and the division of assets are expected to be resolved as well.
Some law firms offer a fixed package for uncontested divorces that includes the costs of the lawyer’s advice and the paperwork that needs to be filed.
This generally includes:
- Drafting and filing of the divorce papers
- Court Fees
- Bankruptcy searches
- Commissioner for Oaths
- Photocopying, postage and other miscellaneous items
- Interim Judgement
- Final Judgement
If you were not to pay the fixed package, you would have to incur the individual cost of filing these papers:
|Writ of Divorce||$42|
|Statement of Claim||$7|
|Statement of Particulars||$7|
|Entering any judgment or order||$35|
|Final Judgment for Divorce||$14|
Table 1: Breakdown of filing fees
However, there are also different combination of services included in these packages.
- Without any children, property or maintenance involved.
- With children, HDB and maintenance involved.
- With children, private property, CPF and maintenance involved.
These combinations are not exhaustive and the costs would obviously differ.
Alternatively, you could pay per hour to seek a lawyer but the costs of a fixed package may be lower.
Typically, an uncontested divorce can take 4-5 months to be settled.
A Contested Divorce
A contested divorce happens when your spouse does not agree to your terms involved in the divorce proceedings such as who gets custody of the children.
Unlike an uncontested divorce, there are no fixed packages because the amount of work and the length of the proceedings depends on how long the other party would drag the proceedings for.
For such a divorce, you would be paying your lawyer per hour. These fees can range from $100-$150 per hour for regular law firms but these fees can go up to as high as $350-$450 per hour for reputable law firms.
You can expect complicated cases where every agreement from maintenance fees to dispersal of assets is contested to range from $10,000- $3,0000.
Division of Assets
The division of matrimonial assets can be done by the court under the Section 112(10) of the Women’s Charter based on the following:
- Assets acquired by one or both parties during the marriage
- Assets used by one or both parties or their children for various purposes
- Assets acquired before the marriage but substantially improved in quality during the marriage
Assets which are excluded from the definition of matrimonial assets are:
- Assets received as gifts or inheritance
- Gifts or inheritance that has not been substantially improved during the marriage
Having said this, it is also not true that assets would indefinitely be divided equally between both parties. The court would adopt a structured approach when dividing the matrimonial assets.
This is done by taking into account the contribution of direct and indirect contributions of both parties before averaging out the ratio to derive each party’s overall contribution. The court may also make further adjustments to this average ratio at their own discretion.
The table below shows this structured approach in the division of matrimonial assets:
|Indirect Contributions ( Financial and Non-Financial)||50%||50%|
|Average percentage contributions||60%||40%|
In addition to considering the percentage of contributions that each party makes, the court would take into account other factors such as if there have been any dishonest declarations of matrimonial assets. Therefore the court would probably allocate a higher amount of assets to the other party
For simplicity’s sake, let us assume that the total amount of matrimonial assets adds up to $100,000. Therefore the husband would get $60,000 and the wife would get $40,000.
Children and spousal maintenance fees
The next major concerns are children and spousal maintenance fees. Under the law, a child must be maintained until he/she reaches 21 years old.
There are numerous factors affecting the decision of how much maintenance should be contributed to the child such as the parent’s financial capabilities, the kind of environment the child was brought up in, the education of the child etc.
A clearer set of guidelines based on data would be released early next year to give lawyers and judges a better set of rules to follow on how much should maintenance should be awarded to a rear a child in Singapore. This is because, such rules are still non existent and information concerning the living expenses of their children that are mostly declared by their parents involved in the divorce suit can be inflated by them.
For simplicity’s sake, let us assume the wife would get custody of the child.
Like the maintenance fees of children, spousal maintenance for the ex-wife depends on many factors as well.
One of them includes the length of the marriage where the longer the marriage, the higher the maintenance fees can go. For ‘short marriages” that lasted for 6 years or less, there is a possibility that no maintenance fees will be paid or a lump sum can be paid.
This calculation becomes more complex with marriages that lasted longer. The court would calculate a ‘multiplier’ and multiplicand in their mathematical calculations to determine the maintenance fees. The ‘multiplier’ represents the number of years that the husband should be paying the maintenance fees and the multiplicand represents the monthly expenses needed to be paid to the wife.
Let’s use an example.
Assuming in our case that:
- The husband is 60 years old
- The wife is 55 years old
- Married for 25 years
Step 1: Calculation of the multipler
Multiplier = [(Average life expectancy of a Singaporean woman + Retirement age of Singaporean male) / 2] – Wife’s present age
Multiplier = [( 85 + 65 ) / 2 ] – 55 = 20
Step 2: Decision of the multiplicand
This is at the discretion of the court to decide and depends on certain factors:
- Wife’s financial needs
- Ability to be re-employed and support her pre-marriage lifestyle
- Husband’s financial ability to pay the maintenance fees
- Wife’s portion of matrimonial assets
For simplicity’s sake, let us assume the court decides that the multiplicand should be $500 per month.
Step 3: Calculation of lump sum maintenance fee
Lump sum maintenance fee = Multiplicand x 12 months x Multiplier = $500 x 12 x 20 = $120,000
From the calculations of the above costs incurred during a divorce, it is evidently clear that it is the difference between an uncontested and a contested divorce that influences the total costs of your divorce proceedings. The difference can be as huge as $18,000! Therefore, out of court discussions are important in ensuring that additionally costs are not incurred when they could have been used on something more useful such as letting it go to supporting the children.