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Adultery and unreasonable behaviour: do they affect how marital assets are split?

It’s common to hear the terms ‘adultery’ or ‘unreasonable behaviour’ crop up in the vocabulary of divorce. While either might contribute to the breakdown of a marriage, and do come into play when filing for divorce, this is a separate consideration from the division of marital assets.

When commencing divorce proceedings in Singapore, there is one sole ground upon which the divorce petition can be based: the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The parties then need to prove that the marriage has so broken down by establishing one of five reasons, which is where adultery and unreasonable behaviour come in.

However, despite their suggestions of fault or wrongdoing, or either party’s personal feelings on the matte, adultery and unreasonable behaviour actually have no bearing on how the court divides assets in a divorce. Rather, the law stays clear of the dangerous waters of moral judgement: instead, a structured formula is applied, based on the ratio of each party’s direct financial contributions to the marital assets and their indirect contributions to the marriage. The two are then averaged out, with each component carrying an equal weightage, and apportioned between the parties accordingly. Although the court has a broad discretion over the process, guided by a list of statutory factors, neither adultery nor neither adultery nor unreasonable behaviour feature on this list.

As such, adultery and unreasonable behaviour are only pertinent to whether the court decides to grant the divorce itself, and are not considered when it comes to the division of assets – a process that cannot be an exact science, but has nonetheless has little room for decisions underscored largely by emotion. Regardless of any lingering hurt or resentment, or with whom any fault might lie, playing the ‘blame game’ in divorce carries little benefit.

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