Case Update: ANJ v ANK [2015] – structured approach, division of matrimonial assets

ANJ v ANK [2015] 4 SLR 1043: click here for copy of judgment.

Significance: Court of Appeal laid down a structured approach to division of matrimonial assets placing equal weight on direct and indirect contributions of spouses as a default position.

Divorce Family Singapore Law

The Court of Appeal in ANJ v ANK laid down a structured approach to the division of matrimonial assets at [22]:

First, the court is to ascribe a ratio representing the parties’ direct contributions relative to each other.

Second, the court is to ascribe a ratio representing  the parties’ indirect contributions (non-financial or indirect financial contributions) relative to each other.

Finally, the court is to average both the direct and indirect contributions, while keeping in mind that the average ratio is not a binding figure, and that adjustments would be made where necessary.

The strength in the structured approach lies in the fact that it paves the way for the court to put financial and non-financial contributions on an equal footing, as opposed to the traditional “uplift” approach that places direct financial contribution as the foremost consideration. S 112 of the Women’s Charter does not give pre-eminence to any of the factors enumerated in s 112(2). For the very same reason, the approach proceeds on the basis that the collective indirect contribution made by both parties carries equal weight as the collective direct financial contribution made by both parties. This may well be the case in many instances, but there will also be instances where one component necessarily assumes greater importance than the other on the facts and correspondingly greater weight should be attached to that component as against the other. In cases that fall within the latter category, the court should tweak or calibrate the “average ratio” in favour of one party to reflect what would be a just and equitable result in the circumstances of each case. To do so, the court must engage in a non-mathematical balancing exercise to determine the appropriate weight that should be accorded to the parties’ collective indirect contribution as against their collective direct contribution. We stress that the balancing exercise should be non-mathematical in nature, and should instead be based on the court’s sense of what is fair and just. This is fact-sensitive inquiry where context is paramount. Put simply, the “average ratio” is a non-binding figure; it is meant to serve as an indicative guide to assist courts in deciding what would be a just and equitable apportionment having regard to the factual nuances of each case: [26].

The Court of Appeal at [27] also highlighted three non-exhaustive broad situations where the weight to be attributed to direct contributions as against indirect contributions may necessitate adjustment:

(a) Direct contributions would usually be accorded more weight as opposed to indirect contributions where the marriage was a short and childless one (see Ong Boon Huat Samuel v Chan Mei Lan Kristine [2007] 2 SLR(R) 729 (“Ong Boon Huat Samuel”) at [28]).

(b) Direct contributions would also command greater weight in marriages where the pool of matrimonial assets is exceptionally large and had been accrued by one party’s exceptional efforts (see Yeo Chong Lin).

(c) The weight to be accorded to indirect contributions requires finetuning having regard to the nature and extent of indirect contributions. For example, where a domestic helper was engaged to reduce the responsibility of homemaking and caregiving, the weight accorded to these activities should be reduced. In the same vein, where one party has made significant sacrifices to take on caregiving and childrearing responsibilities, more weight should be given to indirect contributions.

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