A recent High Court judge’s statement that wives who don’t depend on their husbands for money need not be paid maintenance have got some lawyers and a woman’s rights group talking about another change.
Why not pay maintenance to husbands who are unemployed, earn less than their wives or become househusbands?
The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) thinks that provision of maintenance in the Women’s Charter should be gender neutral, moving from wife maintenance to spousal maintenance. This is a move that has long been established among family courts in the United States and Britain.
AWARE’s executive director, Corina Lim says, “I agree that the Woman’s Charter is a bit out dated. Decisions on maintenance should be made on the basis of fairness, not gender. And they should likewise be available where it would be equitable for a woman to support her former spouse.”
Lim also emphasised that AWARE’s 2013 survey still showed that more women are handling domestic affairs compare to men.
“[But] if the wife does not rely on the husband, I think there is no need for maintenance. Why give the window of opportunity?” said Sharma Anuradha from Winchester Law LLC
Sharma is also the lawyer in a recent divorce case, where High Court Judge Choo Han Teck ruled that if the wife had not depended on her husband financially, there should just be “no order for maintenance”.
Today, women are beginning to earn as much as their spouses, or more sometimes, noted family lawyer Louis Lim.
Lim, who is a partner at William Poh and Louis Lim law firm, said: “In some of these cases that I have encountered, the wife divorced the husband because she had enough of shouldering the bills in the marriage.”
The lawyer questioned how these husbands are going to pay for wife support.
“If you look at the forums online, you will find there are a lot of divorced husbands who want the Woman’s Charter to be repealed so that things are made more equal for them.”
Sharma said that the present maintenance regime is also unfair for genuine home dads.
She noted: “Though there are not many home dads here, the trend can catch on. They deserve recognition.”
“If the dad takes care of the children and does not work, and the court orders him to contribute to the children and wife financially in the event of a divorce, it is not fair. If women who stay at home with the children can get a maintenance fee, then the husbands who do the same should too.”
Another lawyer who does not want to be named said: “The court usually gets around it by increasing the amount of assets for the husband to make things more equal. This happens in cases where the husband has given up his career to support his wife, or has given up work for the family.”
In a divorce case in 2009, the family court awarded 40 per cent of a couple’s shared assets to the husband, though he had contributed only 20 per cent to it. The court said the husband gave up his job to look after the couple’s three sons as the reason for the ruling.
The lawyer added: “Husbands who have given up work to support the family … How are they going to provide for themselves, or pay maintenance to their wives if they have always been dependents?
“I think a wife and husband’s contributions must be taken into account. How much has one sacrificed for the family? The maintenance provision should be set accordingly.”
Though many family lawyers welcome changes to the maintenance provision, family lawyer Jeannette Chong Aruldoss has reservations.
Chong said: “If we change the law to substitute “wife” for the gender neutral term “spouse”, this would mean that a wife – especially one who had financially supported her husband during the marriage – would have a duty to maintain her husband during their marriage and even after it has ended.
“Unless we are ready to impose such a financial duty on a wife, the current maintenance provisions in the Women’s Charter should remain unchanged for the time being.”
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