Lie Chin Chin

Maintenance Orders Following a Divorce

SUMMARY:

Can you afford to continue to provide for your children in the same way as during the marriage? What if the maintenance claimed by your spouse is more than you can afford within your financial means?

Securing a maintenance order that is fair and equitable would help to ease your financial burden and make it easier for you to move on and rebuild your life post-divorce. This article will provide you with a general idea of what to expect when it comes to maintenance orders.

 

No matter whether you are paying or receiving maintenance, knowing the factors that the Court would consider when making an order for maintenance will better prepare you for the court process.

Can I get maintenance from my ex-wife?

While an ex-wife has the right to seek maintenance from her former husband, generally, there is no right for an ex-husband to be maintained by his former wife. However, the Court may order that a former wife pays maintenance to her incapacitated former husband. The husband must prove the following:-

 

  • He is mentally or physically incapacitated (not by choice); and
  • He is unable to maintain himself.
Will I still be able to get maintenance from my ex-husband if I have been financially independent throughout my marriage?

Generally, if the wife in a marriage is financially independent and sufficiently able to support herself, the Court may not grant maintenance, or may order nominal maintenance (e.g. a monthly maintenance of $1.00). If the wife is awarded care and control of the children, she may still be able to receive a maintenance contribution from her ex-husband for the children’s benefit.

How long can I expect to pay/receive maintenance from my ex-spouse?

Maintenance for a former wife lasts (a) for as long as is specified in the Order of Court for maintenance, (b) until she remarries, or (c) until she passes away. The maintenance may be secured or unsecured. If maintenance is secured, it lasts until the occurrence of one of the aforementioned events. On the other hand, unsecured maintenance ends upon the former husband’s passing.

 

As to maintenance for children, payment generally ends in respect of a particular child when that child attains 21 years of age. However, it is common for the Court to order maintenance for that child until the child completes full-time national service or tertiary education for his/her first university degree.

 

Children with disabilities or who are financially dependent

Both parents have a duty to maintain their children who are unable to maintain themselves e.g children below the age of 21 years. However, the court may order maintenance to be paid for children above 21 years if they suffer from a mental or physical disability, or are still pursuing their education up to tertiary level.

I am facing financial troubles and cannot afford to pay maintenance, will I still be forced to pay large amounts of maintenance?

While the law sees both parents as having equal responsibility for maintaining their children, this does not necessarily translate to the Court choosing to strictly impose equal financial contributions by the parties.

When ordering maintenance, the Court considers factors including:-

 

  1. The financial needs of the wife or children;
  2. The income , earning capacity, and financial resources of the husband and wife or children;
  3. Any disability of the wife or children;
  4. The age of each party to the marriage and the duration of the marriage;
  5. The contributions made by each of the parties to the marriage to the welfare of the family, including any contribution made by looking after the home or family; and
  6. The standard of living enjoyed by the wife or children before the husband or parent, as the case may be, neglected or refused to provide reasonable maintenance for the wife or children.

Calculating Monthly Maintenance

The formula for calculating monthly maintenance is as follows:

Your spouse’s monthly income X Monthly expenses for the child(ren)

Your monthly income + Your spouse’s monthly income

– Lie Chin Chin “Instant Legal Protection for Your Family”, page 130

Calculating Lump Sum Maintenance
The formula for calculating lump sum maintenance is as follows: (Amount of monthly maintenance X Number of months maintenance is needed) – A certain multiplier percentage assessed by the Court – Lie Chin Chin “Instant Legal Protection for Your Family”, page 130

Case Study 1 – No maintenance was ordered for an ex-wife:

We encountered a case where Ms P was claiming maintenance from our client, Mr E. Ms P claimed that she had been working part-time occasionally. Ms P never had a steady stream of income of her own. She also claimed that she had injured her neck and waist and could not continue with her part-time job.


The Court dismissed Ms P’s claim for maintenance, and did not award her any maintenance. The Court stated that there was no evidence that Ms P’s injuries would persist, and even if they did, there was nothing to prove that her injuries would prevent her from finding a different job. The court adjudged that Ms P was fully capable of working, and since the parties’ children were all working adults at the time of the divorce application, she only had herself to provide for. In the circumstances, the division of the other matrimonial assets was deemed fair to both parties, while the Court found that Mr E was advancing in age and did not have a job of his own. The Court thus did not award any maintenance to Ms P.


Case Study 2 – Amount of maintenance payable:

Ms A and Mr C were married for 17 years and had two teenage children. Ms A had worked during the marriage, and during the division of matrimonial assets , she was awarded the matrimonial home, another property worth $875,000, a car, and various other items. She proved to the Court that her monthly personal needs would amount to $3,200.


The Court ordered that Mr C pay Ms A $1,500 per month as maintenance for Ms A and $750 per month for each of their children. This was decided based on what the Court thought was fair and equitable in the situation considering Mr C’s financial means, the fact that Ms A was still able to work, and that Ms A would have multiple properties to her name after the divorce.

As we can see, the Court has wide discretion and can make decisions based on what they think would be fair and just in any particular situation. The Court looked at Ms A’s ability to draw her own income and the fact that the division of matrimonial property was fair. Although Ms A was able to prove that her monthly expenses were of a certain amount, the Court decided that in light of the division of matrimonial assets, and to be fair to Mr C, they could award Ms A a lesser sum.


Case Study 3 – Varying the amount of maintenance ordered and achieving a fair outcome for the parties:

At the time when Ms Tan and Mr Lim were getting a divorce, Mr Lim was drawing a salary of $7,000 per month. During the divorce, he agreed to continue to pay Ms Tan more than $2,000 per month. However, Mr Lim sustained a very serious back injury, which resulted in him having to leave the legal industry. After he underwent and recovered from back surgery, Mr Lim found employment as a corporate manager and received a take-home salary of $3,200 per month. He and Ms Tan came to a settlement whereby he would reduce the amount of maintenance he paid to her to $2,000.


Unfortunately, the company Mr Lim had started to work for experienced some financial difficulties and he was asked to resign. Mr Lim was jobless for two months, and when he finally found new employment, his new salary only amounted to $3,000. As Mr Lim’s situation did not improve, he applied to Court to cease his maintenance payments. Ultimately, Mr Lim was ordered to pay Ms Tan monthly maintenance of $1,100. The Court said that this reduction was justified and fair as there was a material change in Mr Lim’s circumstances. The agreement to pay $2,000 per month was based on the expectation that Mr Lim’s financial position would improve. Since this expectation never materialized, it was only fair that Mr Lim be allowed to pay less maintenance.


The Court stated that the aim of imposing a duty to pay a former wife maintenance was to even out any financial inequalities that may arise between the spouses post-divorce, taking into account any economic prejudice the former wife suffered (e.g. loss of employment opportunity to raise children) during the marriage. Again, we are able to see that the Court is concerned with achieving the fairest outcome for both parties while taking into account the parties’ specific circumstances.


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