Case Update: TNL v TNK [2017] SGCA 15 – Division of Matrimonial Assets in Long Single Income Marriages

In TNL v TNK [2017] SGCA 15, the Court of Appeal held that the structured approach towards the division of matrimonial assets set out in ANJ v ANK [2015] 4 SLR 1043 (“the ANJ approach”) should not be applied to marriages where one spouse was the sole income earner and the other played the role of homemaker (“Single-Income Marriages”). 

The ANJ approach tended to unduly favour the working spouse over the non-working spouse. This was because financial contributions were given recognition under both the first and second steps of the ANJ approach. On the other side of the equation, this meant that the non-working spouse was, in this sense, doubly (and severely) disadvantaged. 
Generally, a 50:50 division of the matrimonial assets is applied to long Single-Income Marriages unless there are facts which warranted a different division. 

On the issue of costs of the appeal, the Court of Appeal made no order as to costs as this was a cross-appeal situation in which both parties had been partially successful. The Court of Appeal noted that in the context of matrimonial appeals, there was a clear interest in encouraging the parties to move on to face the future instead of re-fighting old battles. Therefore, generally, appeals would not be sympathetically received where the result was a potential adjustment of the sums awarded below that worked out to less than ten% thereof. Even where such appeals were allowed because the court had established that there was an error of principle, costs might be awarded against the successful party if the court was satisfied that the appeal was a disproportionate imposition on the unsuccessful party.

The Court of Appeal also observed that regardless of the approach our courts had taken in the past, unsuccessful appellants in matrimonial appeals in the future should expect to have costs awarded against them. This remained subject, of course, to the overall justice of the case. Additionally, costs might also be awarded on an issues basis against a nit-picking appellant who raised unmeritorious issues on appeal.

From Supreme Court Note: TNL v TNK [2017] SGCA 15 (division of matrimonial assets, costs in matrimonial appeals) (4 April 2017). 

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