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The Court of Appeal has in ATE v ATD recently laid down three broad guiding principles as to when nominal maintenance may or may not be awarded.

Divorce and Maintenance for Wife and Children – Under Singapore law, a man can be ordered to pay maintenance to his wife or former wife, either during matrimonial proceedings, or after a divorce, judicial separation, or nullity of marriage has been finalised.

Recent changes to the law have made it possible for a man to claim maintenance from his wife if he is:

  1. Incapacitated by a physical or mental disability, before or during the course of marriage.
  2. Unable to earn a living as a result of the disability.
  3. Unable to support himself.


The Court of Appeal has in ATE v ATD recently laid down three broad guiding principles as to when nominal maintenance may or may not be awarded.

“First, nominal maintenance is not awarded automatically or as a matter of course.

Second, the court will not award nominal maintenance merely based on a wife’s assertion, without more, that her situation will change in the future.

Third, the court in deciding whether to award nominal maintenance must always bear in mind the underlying rationale and purpose of an award of maintenance to former wives. In relation to the final principle, we made the following observations (at [31]): 31 … As this court stated in Foo Ah Yan v Chiam Heng Chow [2012] 2 SLR 506 (“Foo Ah Yan”), the overarching principle embodied in s 114(2) is that of financial preservation, which requires the wife to be maintained at a standard that is, to a reasonable extent, commensurate with the standard of living she had enjoyed during the marriage – but we also cautioned that s 114(2) had to be applied in a “commonsense holistic manner that takes into account the new realities that flow from the breakdown of marriage” (at [13] and [16]; emphasis in original).

Important Court of Appeal observations: .C

1. As the power to order maintenance is supplementary to the power to order division of matrimonial assets, courts regularly take into account each party’s share of the matrimonial assets when assessing the appropriate quantum of maintenance to be ordered: see, for example, BG v BF [[2007] 3 SLR(R) 233] at [75]−[76], Rosaline Singh [[2004] 1 SLR(R) 457] at [13]; Tan Bee Giok at [27] and AQS [[2012] SGCA 3] at [51].

2. The award of maintenance for a former wife takes into account the fact that the former wife ought to try to regain self-sufficiency and that an order of maintenance is not intended to create life-long dependency by the former wife on the former husband (see the Singapore High Court decision of Quek Lee Tiam v Ho Kim Swee (alias Ho Kian Guan) [1995] SGHC 23 at [13], [21] and [22].

How is Maintenance calculated?

It is important to note that currently, Singapore does not peg the amount of maintenance as a percentage of earnings or salary.

After a divorce, there is usually maintenance to be given to a former wife and more recently, to disabled former husbands. It is important to bear in mind that every case is different and there is no hard and fast rule in determining the quantum of maintenance to be given.

Under section 114(1) of the Women’s Charter, the court will take into account all circumstances of the marriage, including the following factors, in assessing the amount of maintenance due:

a. The income and earning capacities of both parties;

b. The financial needs of both parties;

c. The standard of living enjoyed by the family before the divorce;

d. The age of both parties;

e. The duration of the marriage;

f. The existence of any physical or mental disabilities in both parties; and

g. The contributions of each party to the marriage.

There are other factors not specifically mentioned in the Women’s Charter that will be taken into account as well. For example, the likelihood of remarriage of the spouse being maintained and an estimate as to how long both parties can continue working. Furthermore, if the marriage were a short one, the usual period of maintenance (that is until the maintained spouse remarries or either party passes away) may not apply.

The recent trend is not to award maintenance or to award a minimal sum  if the wife gets a substantial share of the division of assets.

After a maintenance order is made, if there are changes in your circumstances that either affect your ability to afford the current level of maintenance or to warrant a higher maintenance, you may apply to Court to vary the maintenance order.