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Latest Family Law Update: Singapore High Court rules presence of domestic helper justifies downward adjustment of wife’s claim to matrimonial assets.

By Mr Lim Chong Boon, Head of Family Law, PKWA Law

· Divorce Lawyer,division of assets

This decision means that the engagement and presence of a domestic helper (especially when the wife worked full time) is a material fact that may affect the weight given to the wife’s indirect contributions. In TPY v TPZ [2017] SGHCF 02 dated 18 Jan 2017, the High Court said (emphasis added):

26 First, the presence of domestic help throughout the marriage is a material

consideration that justifies a downward adjustment of the DJ’s findings.

Generally, the presence of a domestic helper in a household reduces the burdens

of homemaking and caregiving for both parties. This, as observed by the Court

of Appeal in ANJ v ANK at [27] may have an impact in determining the parties’

indirect contributions:

…the engagement of a domestic helper naturally reduces the

burden of homemaking and caregiving responsibilities

undertaken by the parties, and to that extent, the weight

accorded to the parties’ collective indirect contributions.

Nevertheless, I caveat that the presence of a domestic helper within a household

should not be treated as an overriding factor in the determination of the parties’

homemaking and caregiving contributions. Domestic helpers play different

roles and provide differing extents of help to the families they assist. In some

families, it is also possible that the parties continue to contribute actively as

homemaker and caretaker even in the presence of domestic help. This is

consistent with the view taken by the Court of Appeal in AQS v AQR [2012]

SGCA 3 where it stated at [40] that:

Having domestic help does not mean the wife made no

contribution as a homemaker at all, especially when the parties’

household here included two children.

Accordingly, the specific role that domestic helpers play within each household

should be carefully considered in determining its effect on the parties’ indirect

contributions. The parties’ participation in the management and supervision of

the domestic helper should also be considered.

27 In the present case, both the Husband and the Wife worked full-time

throughout the marriage and relied on the domestic helper substantially for

homemaking and caregiving in order to focus on their respective careers.

Nonetheless, the Wife was the main supervisor of the domestic helper as the Husband frequently travelled for work throughout the marriage and was not at

home in those periods. Notwithstanding the fact that both parties had benefitted

from the domestic helper in terms of reducing their homemaking

responsibilities, the fact that the Wife was the main supervisor and manager of

the domestic helper weighs slightly in her favour.

28 Second, although I accept that the Wife made certain sacrifices in her

career in order to care for the Child, I do not find them sufficient to justify the

70:30 ratio awarded by the DJ and a ratio of 60:40 in favour of the Wife is more

appropriate. It is undisputed that the Wife worked full-time throughout the

marriage even after the Child was born. It follows that for a significant part of

each working day, the Wife was not at home and the Child was most likely cared

for by the domestic helper. The Husband also worked full-time throughout the

marriage and frequently travelled for work. This meant that for some periods,

the Wife was the only parent at home with the Child and some regard should be

given to this fact. Given the evidence of the stagnation of the Wife’s salary in

the early years of the marriage, I accept that the Wife may have given up certain

employment opportunities (ie, working abroad or taking up a job that requires

frequent travel) in the light of the marriage and the Child. Nevertheless, I am

cognisant of the fact that the Wife has succeeded tremendously in her career and

in fact earned more than the Husband in the latter years of the marriage. In the

circumstances, I find that a 60:40 ratio in favour of the Wife is more justified

than a 70:30 ratio.

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