One of the most common misconceptions regarding divorce pertains to the division of parties’ assets. More specifically, many people have the mistaken impression that upon getting divorced, both parties’ assets will be split equally.
In this article, we will delve further into the law on matrimonial assets and explain to you how the division of matrimonial assets works in Singapore.
What is a matrimonial asset?
First and foremost, it should be highlighted that not all of the parties’ accumulative assets may be divided upon divorce.
Only “matrimonial assets” will be considered in the matrimonial pool for division – the statutory definition can be found in section 112(10) of the Women’s Charter, which states that a “matrimonial asset” means:
a) any asset acquired before the marriage by one party or both parties to the marriage —
- ordinarily used or enjoyed by both parties or one or more of their children while the parties are residing together for shelter or transportation or for household, education, recreational, social or aesthetic purposes; or
- which has been substantially improved during the marriage by the other party or by both parties to the marriage; and
b) any other asset of any nature acquired during the marriage by one party or both parties to the marriage
What does this mean in practical terms?
The statutory definition as set out above means that asset(s) acquired during the marriage by either spouse will automatically be classified as a matrimonial asset(s).
This would mean that these assets acquired during parties’ marriage would be subject to division upon divorce.
This does not mean that assets acquired before marriage can never be considered matrimonial assets.
Such assets would still be classified as matrimonial assets if they are used or enjoyed by both parties and/or their children during the marriage.
Hypothetical Scenario 1:
John bought and fully paid a property in 2012. He later married Jane in 2017. The married couple has children and lives in this property.
This property is now a matrimonial asset. In the event that John and Jane divorce, this property will be part of the pool of assets to be divided between parties.
Another instance where an asset acquired by one spouse prior to the marriage will be “transformed” into a matrimonial asset is when another spouse substantially improves it.
Hypothetical Scenario 2:
Jane started her own business in 2012. She later married John in 2017 who then began to help her with the business. As a result of John’s efforts, the business has grown greatly.
This business is now a matrimonial asset. In the event that John and Jane divorce, this property will be part of the pool of assets to be divided between parties.
What about gifts and inheritance?
The definition of matrimonial assets in section 112(10) of the Women’s Charter goes on to exclude assets which has been received by one spouse as a gift or inheritance.
As such, gifts and inheritance received by a spouse will not be considered a matrimonial asset, which means that the asset(s) will not be subject to division between parties upon divorce.
This exception does not apply if the non-recipient spouse of the gift or inheritance substantially improves the asset(s) during the marriage.
How will matrimonial assets be divided then?
Once matrimonial assets have been identified, these assets will form the matrimonial pool that is liable to be divided. This division will be done by the Courts who will do so in a “just and equitable” manner, as provided for in section 112(1) of the Women’s Charter.
There is no one size fits all formula to break down what a “just and equitable” division entails as this will vary on a case-by-case basis.
However, our lawyers at Gloria James-Civetta & Co. will be able to advise you on the likely outcome once we have ascertained the particular factual matrix of your case.
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